As the most recent complete decade, the 2000s could still hold a few hidden gems for the NFL. However, most of the top players have already established themselves with the masses and in the hobby. The following guide takes a look at the top football rookie cards released during the 2000s.
Similar to the 1990s with Peyton Manning, one player could easily occupy all the spots. Tom Brady rookie card values are already high and could even go higher. But to keep things more on an even level, only one rookie card per player was included.
The ranking is largely based on value, but overall significance was also taken into account. The list only covers official rookie cards from 2000 to 2009. Think we missed someone? Let us know in the comments.
View a full rookie card checklist for each player below by following the link within the player's name.
Top Football Rookie Cards of the 2000s
Click on the listings or images to shop for cards on eBay.
A popular workhorse back for the San Diego Chargers, LaDainian Tomlinson is the only player on the list who has already retired from the league. Among running backs in the 2000s, few could match what Tomlinson did on the field. He caught 100 passes in 2003, scored 31 total touchdowns in 2006 and led the league in rushing in 2006 and 2007. A lock for the Hall of Fame once he is eligible in 2017, that is the last likely opportunity for LT's cards to see a value bump.
For most collectors, there is only one LaDainian Tomlinson rookie card to note - 2001 Contenders. A bright design and a foil sticker autograph give the card a bold look, but a rookie teammate on the list has a very similar card as well.
While Marshawn Lynch started his career with the Buffalo Bills, "Beast Mode" fully emerged with the Seattle Seahawks. Five straight seasons of 1,200+ rushing yards and 11+ touchdowns has put Lynch among the top running backs in the league and helped make Seattle an elite team. It took some time for collectors to come around, but Marshawn Lynch can see his stock rise even higher if the Seahawks continue their Super Bowl trips.
The first of several Exquisite Collection rookie cards from 2007, it is clear why this was the preferred option for collectors while Upper Deck still had an NFL license. The National Treasures rookie card is not far off from the top for Marshawn Lynch or any of the other 2007 players.
While consistency is certainly not his strength, it is hard to argue with Eli Manning's two Super Bowl MVPs. The much-maligned younger brother of Peyton Manning will never escape the shadow of his family name but he can silence the critics with one more title run.
An on-card signature and small patch make the 2004 SP Authentic Eli Manning rookie card a top choice. Ultimate Collection and Contenders also present appealing options.
Like Manning, Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl wins after starting his NFL career in 2004. His overall interest is helped by a recent increase in production and the collecting power of Steelers Nation.
Also similar to Eli Manning, the best Ben Roethlisberger rookie cards come courtesy of SP Authentic, Ultimate Collection and Contenders. SP Authentic prevails thanks to the on-card signature and patch.
Off-field troubles have weakened the collecting value of Adrian Peterson, but if he can get back on the field and play like he has previously, much of the interest will return. Although he has played his entire career with the Minnesota Vikings, many expect him to make a fresh start with a new team.
A large patch and quality design puts the 2007 Exquisite Collection rookie for Adrian Peterson in an elite class. The gold parallel, numbered to 25, is shown below.
While injuries are always a concern for Calvin Johnson, he still manages to produce every year, even when he is not 100% healthy. "Megatron" remains one of the most dynamic players in the league, but as he reaches his thirties, he will need to help the Detroit Lions win some playoff games to make the jump to the next level.
Calvin Johnson is the final top rookie from the 2007 class and his best rookie sticks with the rest, making 2007 Exquisite Collection one of the most loaded products in modern football.
Another wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald came into the NFL with a lot of hype and he has not disappointed. Despite the inconsistency at quarterback, Larry Fitzgerald has been one of the few constants in the NFL over the last decade. As his abilities and production begin to drop, it is unlikely that Fitzgerald has any real boost in interest unless he joins a Super Bowl-calibur team or returns to his former greatness.
Although their are several choices for the top Larry Fitzgerald rookie card, hobby-favorite Contenders takes the crown based on a very low announced print run. Contenders and short prints go hand-in-hand, but with just 50 reported copies, nothing else on the list comes close to matching the print run of this rare Fitzgerald rookie card.
Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks dominate the hobby in general, so it should be no surprise that they top the list of the top rookie cards in the 2000s. First up is Drew Brees. After a good career in San Diego was derailed by injury, Brees was sent packing. He was reborn in New Orleans, leading the Saints to their first Super Bowl win and setting a ton of NFL records along the way. Rumors have begun to grow that his time in New Orleans is coming to a close, but Brees has already put his name on the short list for Canton.
Although Drew Brees has seven signed rookie cards, and most are more limited than his Contenders card, it remains the preferred choice for collectors. The announced print run of 500 keeps the supply decent and the prices have climbed over the years.
Just now in his early-30s, Aaron Rodgers has the most opportunity for growth in the collecting world. The Super Bowl XLV MVP and two-time league MVP will look to add more to his list of accomplishments and considering the longer careers of modern QBs, he should have ample chances to do so.
One of the few instances where an Exquisite Collection rookie card does not look so great, collectors don't care when it comes to Aaron Rodgers. The awkward layout and trapped autograph is not enough to diminish interest for this valuable rookie card. Ungraded copies hover close to the $1,000 mark.
Even without the most recent title, Tom Brady would be the clear number one on the list. Closing in on 40, Brady's four Super Bowl titles and three Super Bowl MVP Awards put him in very rare company. And as long as he keeps playing, the Patriots will have a chance to add another Lombardi Trophy to the case.
Despite the fact that several rookie cards for Tom Brady regularly sell near the four-figure range, there is really no debate about which is the top overall rookie card of the 2000s. Contenders has considerable brand power with football collectors, as evidenced by the other cards on the list, and sits at the top as the unquestioned favorite among collectors. While the print run was never revealed, the on-card signature and legacy of Tom Brady ensures this will be a modern hobby icon for many years to come.