Enough with all the offense. The modern day NFL is a quarterback dominated league, and we’d like to take a few minutes to reflect upon a simpler time, when 3 yards and a cloud of dust…well, was actually an executed strategy. In that vain, we take a look back at the Top 10 defensive player rookie cards of all-time, allowing a few players from the modern era to peek in that were deemed worthy. Click the player links to see what’s available for sale on line.
10. 1982 Topps Ronnie Lott
Just barely edging out Deion Sanders for a spot on the list, Lott was an all-pro at both corner and safety, and considered by many as the most fundamentally sound and arguably best all-around defensive backfield player in history. It doesn’t hurt that he led the defense on those great 49er teams. Lott’s 1982 Topps RC can be found at a reasonable value, with PSA 9’s trading in the $50 range. A PSA Gem Mint 10’s sold for $1,325 in 2008.
9. 1970 Topps Alan Page
Arguably the best defensive tackle of all-time, Page is one of only 2 defensive players ever to be named MVP in the NFL (1971). While guiding the Purple People Eaters defense for Minnesota, simultaneously Page attended the University of Minnesota Law School, and also served as National Football League Players Association player representative, at times during his career. Following retirement, Page would pursue a legal career, and is now the Honorable Alan C. Page, as associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, an office he assumed in 1993. On opposite sides of the world now, Page shares the ’70 Topps RC mantle with OJ Simpson. A PSA Gem Mint 10 Page sold for $930 in 2012, and PSA 9’s go in the $100 territory.
8. 1963 Topps Bob Lilly
The ’63 Topps set contains a trio of hall of fame rookies from the defensive side of the ball. One of which, Bob Lilly, was known for his 4-point stance while leading the Dallas Cowboys vaunted Doomsday defense from the defensive tackle position. Investing in Lilly’s RC can turn out to be quite lucrative, as you can find ungraded versions between $40-$100 and if you end up with a high graded return, you can land between $800-$1,000.
7. 1963 Topps Ray Nitschke
Originally taken in the 1958 draft (the year before Vince Lombardi became head coach), Nitschke didn’t become a full-time starter at middle linebacker until 1962. He would anchor the Green Bay Packers defense that won five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls in the 1960s. In cardboard, any Packer from this era is going to be popular and a PSA 9 Nitschke proves so, selling for as much as $3,476 in 2010 and $3,111 in 2012. Another sold in 2012 for $2,247 exhibiting that the right buyer is needed in the vintage world.
6. 1963 Topps Deacon Jones
Joining Ray and Bob in the 1963 Topps set, is Dave. Jones that is, better known as Deacon. One of the leaders of the Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome, Jones was known for his pass rushing maneuver of literally slapping an offensive lineman to dispose of him. Although illegal today, many argue that Jones dominate the career sack totals if it those numbers had been recorded when he played. Jones doesn’t have the added bonus of playing for great Packer teams like Nitschke, so he gets the slight edge for personal performance on this list. A PSA Mint 9 Jones sold for $2,247 in 2009, and $2,869 in 2010. A PSA NM-MT+ 8.5 sold for $381 in 2011, so value can be found even in higher grades.
5. 1957 Topps Dick Lane
Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane burst onto the scene in his rookie year of 1952 when he set an NFL single season record for interceptions with 14, which still stands today (he did so in a 12-game season). He would move on to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954 and the Detroit Lions in 1960, compiling 68 interceptions during his hall of fame career. While he is overshadowed in the ’57 set by (as usual) offensive stars Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Raymond Berry, his card is much more rare to find in top condition. While all the others have at least a few PSA MINT 9’s floating around, Lane doesn’t have any registered on the PSA population report, with a PSA NM-MT + 8.5 selling for $3,600 in 2008 (only 2 exist). PSA 7’s can be found below the $100 mark, and are more common.
4. 1984 Topps USFL Reggie White
Following 2 years in the USFL with the Memphis Showboats, White was selected in the 1st round of the 1985 NFL Supplemental Draft and would go on to have one of the greatest careers of any defensive player in the history of the NFL with the Eagles, Packers and Panthers. His 198.5 sacks are good for 2nd all-time, to go with 13 pro bowls and 2 defensive player of the year awards. Stuck in the ’86 Topps set for his NFL RC, his 1984 Topps USFL RC trades in the $100-$200 range at a PSA 9 and tends to be more popular inside the industry.
3. 1982 Topps Lawrence Taylor
The only other player to ever be named MVP on the defensive side of the ball besides Page…LT. Lawrence Taylor was an absolute menace on the field, and terrorized quarterbacks while racking up 3 defensive player of the year awards and 2 super bowl titles. Taylor was single-handedly responsible for offensive scheme changes all across the league, as opposing teams searched for ways to contain him. His ’82 Topps RC can be targeted in the $50 range for a PSA 9, and a PSA 10 sold for $610 in 2012.
2. 1971 Topps Joe Greene
Many would argue that LT was a better player, but “Mean Joe” Greene gets the nod in the nickname department and doubled up Taylor in Super Bowl titles, with 4. Greene took home 2 NFL defensive player of the year awards as the leader of the Steel Curtain defense for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 70’s, and also gets the edge because of his appearances in Coca-Cola commercials! A PSA Gem Mint 10 Greene ’71 Topps rookie sold for $5,500 in 2008, and even PSA 8’s can be found trading in the $250-$350 realm, definitely a strong investment.
1. 1966 Philadelphia Dick Butkus
Fear. It is possibly the greatest asset a defensive player can have on his side, and it’s an element that each of the guys on this list used to intimidate opponents. Butkus may have been the most feared of all, and it helps lands him at the top of this list. In addition, his ’66 Philadelphia RC is one of the more expensive football cards available, with a special mention to Bronko Nagurski’s ’35 National Chickle RC who was known for his prowess on both sides of the ball. A Butkus PSA 6 or 7 can be found in the neighborhood of $200-$400, an 8 will run about $800-1,000 and on the rare occasion when you can find them, a mint PSA 9 will push well into the thousands. Centering is often an issue with this card.
Offensive players will always get more attention amongst collectors, but the top 10 defensive rookie cards of all-time is quite impressive, and any one of these cards can be a stellar investment if chosen wisely.