The 2021 NFL season is upon us and for the second consecutive year rookie quarterbacks are primed to set off fireworks around the league. The 2020 campaign brought us Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert. Burrow, the No. 1 overall NFL Draft selection in 2020, Tagovailoa (fifth overall) and Herbert (sixth overall) all held starting positions at one point last year and each showed flashes of greatness. Burrow threw for 2,688 yards in 10 games before a knee injury ended his season prematurely. The Dolphins were 6-3 under Tagovailoa, who threw for 1,814 yards and 11 touchdowns. Herbert set numerous NFL rookie records prior to earning the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award with the Chargers.
Heading into 2021 there is a new and larger group of rookie quarterbacks to be excited about in the NFL. In fact, the top three selections of the ’21 NFL Draft were used on QBs. Highly acclaimed Trevor Lawrence of Clemson was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first overall pick. He was followed by Zach Wilson (#2 pick/ BYU/New York Jets) and Trey Lance (#3 pick/North Dakota State/San Francisco 49ers). A bit further down the line, the Chicago Bears took Justin Fields out of Ohio State with the 11th overall pick, and the New England Patriots nabbed Mac Jones of Alabama at #15. These picks are guaranteed to draw a ton of commentary from the NFL pundits and fan the flames of collectors hoping to score big with the new crop of football rookie cards.
The most anticipated of the group is Lawrence, a Tennessee native who was a five-star prospect and considered one of the best high school recruits of all time. As a freshman he led Clemson to an undefeated season and a 44-16 victory over Alabama in the National Championship Game. He wrapped up his college career two years later with a 34-2 overall record, 10,098 passing yards, 90 passing touchdowns and a slew of postseason awards. Topps was the first card company to participate in the Trevor Lawrence frenzy early and collaborated with the Lawrence family to produce the 2021 Topps X Trevor Lawrence set. This unique offering is a 50-card set recognizing the young QB and featuring old Topps designs, artwork produced by the Lawrence family, a full parallel run and hard-signed cards. As Panini holds exclusive trading card licenses with both the NFL and NCAA, the set does not include any official team or league licensing. The set was sold over a 48-hour window exclusively via the Topps website.
While Topps got the jump on 2021 football cards with Lawrence, Panini will be coming in hard and strong with numerous sets across multiple brands to be released over the course of the season. The company released several draft-based issues and entry level products prior to the regular season opening: Chronicles Draft Picks, Contenders Draft Picks, Prizm Draft Picks, Luminance, Prestige, Score and others. The majority of these issues feature all five QBs in their base sets as well as a variety of inserts and parallels. As the season progresses we will be treated to hobby gold standards such as Flawless, Immaculate, Impeccable, Prizm, National Treasures and others. The creative staff at Panini will undoubtedly appease us with the insert favorites the hobby has come to appreciate over the years in addition to throwing in some surprises.
The question now becomes which player will have the best rookie season and play the most significant role in the hobby this year? As the first overall pick, with a heap of college accolades and complimented by his flowing golden locks, Lawrence appears to be the front-runner. However, while Lawrence, Wilson and Jones will likely be immediate starters for their teams, the Jaguars and Jets must both overcome the challenge of having new head coaches and rookie signal-callers. While Mac Jones was evidently considered by these NFL teams to be the least desirable of the five rookies, he will be under the guidance of six-time Super Bowl champion head coach, Bill Belichick. That kind of stability and leadership could work heavily in Jones’ favor.
However it all shakes out, there is sure to be excitement in the NFL and football card hobby in 2021!