What are the Best Football Cards to Buy?

Best cards to collect of top current and former football players.

There’s no shortage of football cards to buy with all the products under the Panini umbrella. If you’re new to collecting, start by picking out a few popular players. Rookie cards are some of the best football cards to buy because they retain value over time. Continue reading to learn more about collecting and investing in the best football cards, click here to skip to the players worth collecting.

There are football boxes and sets for every budget.

What is the Best Football Card Brand?

Panini has been dominating the football trading card market thanks to an exclusive license they signed with the NFLPA in 2016, so many of football’s current stars have a large variety of rookie cards in Panini products. Being licensed by both the league and player’s association allows Panini to use actual NFL logos on their cards, making Panini the best football card brand to buy.

That exclusive license was terminated in favor of Fanatics in 2023, however, putting Panini’s stronghold on the football market in jeopardy. While it’s unclear when we’ll see Fanatics products hit the shelves, Panini is moving forward with their 2023 sets. Between these and unlicensed brands like Leaf, collectors looking to buy football cards still have plenty of options.

Which Panini Sets Offer the Best Value?

Over the past decade, Panini has flooded the sports card market with a variety of products for collectors to choose from. Each has a unique design, but a few brands have emerged as clear favorites. Panini Prizm, Select, and Mosaic are popular options for both investors and collectors. Investors prefer the hobby boxes that guarantee some sort of hit, while collectors love the more affordable retail options.

If you’re an investor looking for the best football cards to buy that can provide a good return on investment, the hobby versions of Prizm, Select, and Mosaic are popular options. The chromium Donruss Optic and Contenders Optic are also great places to start. The high-end sets like Flawless, National Treasures, and Immaculate Collection are also popular with investors.

If you’re a collector looking to open packs and find cool cards, the retail versions of Prizm, Select, and Mosaic as well and the paper Donruss and Contenders products offer affordable options from popular sets.

With more than 20 different brands available, there’s no right or wrong answer – it all comes down to personal preference. Low numbered parallels and autographs are the cards to chase because the lower the print run is, the higher the value.

Besides Panini, there are always the vintage brands that were popular before the NFLPA signed Panini to an exclusive deal. Topps was always a big hit, but we can’t forget about SkyBox, Upper Deck, and Score – all of which were popular back in the day. If you like college football, consider the Bowman U products.

Investing in Sealed Boxes vs. Singles

If you’re hoping to collect specific players, buying singles is a more economical route than buying wax and hoping to pull that specific card. Sealed boxes offer an investment in the overall rookie class, while singles provide a narrower investment into that player.

Buying and holding sealed football card boxes generally offers a higher return on investment than opening the packs and re-selling the cards. People will often pay a premium for sealed football cards boxes because there’s a chance they could hit a big card. Once opened, the cards inside usually have less value on their own than the sealed box itself.

Best Football Cards to Buy: Boxes & Packs

Have you figured out what brand you’re interested in? The next step is to figure out what year you want to collect. 2022 and 2023 sets are going to be the most accessible, but there are a lot of worthy options if you’re looking to go back a few years or even a few decades

If you’re looking for the best football cards to buy that will retain its value over time, consider one of the following:

  • 1957 Topps
  • 1965 Topps
  • 1984 Topps
  • 1989 Score
  • 2000 Bowman Chrome
  • 2017 Panini Donruss Optic
  • 2020 Panini Prizm
  • 2021 Panini Prizm
  • 2023 Panini Prizm

It’s difficult to find sealed boxes for some of the more iconic sets, especially if you don’t want to break the bank. For these, you’ll have more luck buying singles of top rookies. That’s Johnny Unitas in 1957 Topps and Joe Namath in 1965 Topps. The top two rookies from the 1984 Topps set are Dan Marino and John Elway, while Barry Sanders and Troy Aikman headline 1989 Score. Tom Brady is who all collectors are looking for in 2000 Bowman Chrome.

It ultimately boils down to what generation of players you’re interested in and what rookie cards you want to chase. Do your research and look at the checklists before you buy to find the set with all the players, rookies, or autographs you’re interested in.

Best Football Cards to Buy: Current and Former NFL Players

If you’re looking for the best football cards to buy of current stars, you’ll want to narrow your options down to specific players. For investment purposes, there’s only a few rookies per class that are worth investing in.

Here are some of the most valuable current players to collect:

  • Quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Stroud, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson
  • Receivers: Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, A.J. Brown
  • Running Backs: Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Bijan Robinson, Saquon Barkley

Here are some of the most valuable former players to collect:

  • Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas
  • Receivers: Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Frank Gifford, Larry Fitzgerald, Don Hutson, Steve Largent
  • Running Backs: Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Jim Thorpe, Emmitt Smith, Gale Sayers, Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders

If you’re going after value, rookie cards and autographed cards are the real money-makers. Target the modern players that are putting together Hall of Fame careers. If you’re interested in former players, target those who had historic careers.

What Are the Most Valuable Football Cards?

Sometimes the best football cards to buy are the ones that are the most valuable – though you’ll need to have quite the budget to afford them. Those with the budget will add some legendary cards to their collection and have an opportunity to watch the value increase over time – profit, profit, profit!

To date, here are the five highest-selling football cards of all time:

  • Patrick Mahomes 2017 Panini National Treasures Platinum ($4.3 million)
  • Tom Brady 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket #144 ($3.1 million)
  • Tom Brady 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Ticket ($2.25 million)
  • 1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown ($358,500)
  • 1935 National Chicle #34 Bronko Nagurski ($350,000)

The record for the highest price ever paid for a single football card was broken in July 2021 when a collector purchased the Patrick Mahomes 2017 Panini National Treasures Platinum for a whopping $4.3 million – perhaps the best football card in the world. Good luck getting your hands on that one!

What Are the Best Football Cards to Buy?

Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, trying to find the best football cards to buy can be a chore – there are so many options, but only so much time and money. The best way to do it is to figure out what you want to collect (brand, box, pack, player) and then determine what your budget allows for.

With that said, the football trading card market is about to experience its biggest change in over 7 years when Fanatics is officially handed its exclusive license. How that affects the trading card market is yet to be seen, but it’s a shakeup none of us expected for another three years – yet here we are!

Don’t worry – you can stay up to date with all the newest releases by checking out our online store today.