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The Rookie Card Tier

My opinion only, (as if it matters) (Updated May 20th, 2022)

Rookie cards are the pinnacle of all collector's want lists. I mean, ask anybody if they'd give their whole collection or most of their collection for a Tom Brady Rookie and you'll find out what I mean. But there is a certain tier of Rookie cards that you may not know about. This page here is to explain what that tier is:

1) The Basic Rookie:  The "Basic Rookie" card is a solid yet easily attainable Rookie card. These would even be considered part of the base set. These are more "old school", (i.e. very few sets are like this today), hence they are easily found. The 1997 Upper Deck set, for example, was Upper Deck's last set that didn't have either numbered rookie cards or short-printed rookie cards, (See the 1997 Upper Deck "Dwayne Rudd" #18 RC right). Upper Deck's 1998 release was its first to have "Short-Printed" Rookie cards. While technically un-numbered, they were still hard to get.

2) The Numbered Rookie:  Numbering cards is the hobby's newest way to add value and legitimacy to a Rookie card. Now when I say, new, that is not to say, it is in the last 2 or 3 years. Manufacturers have been doing this since 1998, (Note: Collector's Edge did this way back in 1992, but that was for the entire set. I'm only talking Rookie cards here.). As I mentioned above, the 1998 Upper Deck set had "Short-Printed" cards or "SP" cards, but numbering them came into play in a large way in 1999. The first Rookie cards to be numbered came from Upper Deck's "SP" title. The Manning and Moss rookies were numbered to "2000" in that set. The value of the Rookie hinges a great deal on its number. For example, the 2008 Upper Deck Ultimate set had rookies #'d to /275. That is a pretty scarce number. To me, anything under 500 is a solid #, (See the 2008 Upper Deck Ultimate "Calais Campbell" #137 RC below).


1997 Upper Deck: “Dwayne Rudd” #18 RC

2008 Upper Deck Ultimate Calaus Campbell.jpg

2008 Upper Deck Ultimate: “Calais Campbell” #137 RC

1999 Upper Deck SPx Donovan McNabb Rookie Auto.jpg

1999 Upper Deck SPx: “Donovan McNabb” Auto RC #132

3) The Memorabilia Rookie:  The memorabilia Rookie is, by far, the fastest-growing type of Rookie card in the hobby today. Ever since the "Rookie Jersey" cards were released as an insert back in 1998, they have been a hobby staple, (Note: Upper Deck did have a Jersey set as an insert back in 1996 with Marshall Faulk being a part of that set). Today's releases have a Rookie Jersey card as part of its base set not just as an insert, (See the 2001 Playoff Honors "Freddie Mitchell" #219 RC right).

4) The Autographed Rookie:  This is the pinnacle by which all sets are judged. Card manufacturers MUST have Rookie autograph cards as part of their release

2001 Playoff Honors Freddie Mitchell Rookie Materials.jpg

2001 Playoff Honors: “Freddie Mitchell” Rookie Premiere Materials RC #219

product today or else they just aren't major players in the hobby.  Skybox, in 1996, had an insert set called "1996 Rookie Autographs", as part of their "Skybox Impact Rookies" release, they might have been the first to include them as an insert set, but they definitely were not the first to include them as part of the base set. That award goes to Upper Deck's SPx set, (See the 1999 Upper Deck SPx "Donovan McNabb" #132 Auto RC below left). It was a full 3 years later too. It shows you how ahead of its time that Skybox release really was.

5) The Memorabilia Combo Rookie:  The Rookie Memorabilia Combos are an actual delight to get. Some include Jerseys & Shoes or Jerseys & Helmets or whatever combination the manufacturer dreams up. These are almost always numbered and are one rung shy of being the top tier of a Rookie card scale, (See the 2001 Leaf Certified "Andre Carter" Freshman Fabric RC #143 right). 

2001 Leaf Certified Andre Carter Freshmen Fabrics.jpg

2001 Leaf Certified: “Andre Carter” Freshman Fabric RC #143

2001 Upper Deck SPx Richard Seymour Rookie Auto.jpg

6) The Memorabilia Autograph Rookie:  This Rookie card here is the Top Tier of all Rookie cards. Anytime you can get a Rookie that has autographed memorablia and is numbered, you can't get any better, (Well you could, it would be a Memorabilia combo that is autographed, but we'll leave that off of the list for now). Anyway, any time you are putting a base set together and have to include Autographed Memorabilia rookies on your "What to Buy" list, you know it is going to get pretty pricey, (See the 2001 Upper Deck SPx: "Richard Seymour" Rookie Stars Jersey #104PB left).

2001 Upper Deck SPx: “Richard Seymour” Rookie Stars Autograph Jersey RC #104PB

So this is my Rookie Card Tier. All Rookie cards have some sort of numbering scheme attached to them today. But when they get down to 500 or less that is when they really start to become hard to find. And any set that has them at a number like 25 is probably a parallel set, more than likely. So drop me a line if you get a chance and let me know what you think about this list. Thanks for visiting.

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