Defense may win championships but it does not always get its proper due from the collecting world. However, a new group of elite athletes on the defensive side of the ball, with personalities to match, are starting to change things in the hobby. J.J. Watt is one of the these new superstars and the interest in his cards is really beginning to pick up steam.
After a strong college career at the University of Wisconsin, J.J. Watt was the 11th overall pick by the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft. Watt put forth a good rookie season but saw a breakout year in 2012 with 20.5 sacks. He matched that sack total in 2014, becoming the first NFL player to ever total 20+ sacks in multiple seasons. Not just limited to the defensive line, Watt saw additional playing time as a red zone tight end in 2014, hauling in three touchdown passes. The heavy favorite for 2014 Defensive Player of the Year, J.J. Watt was also named the 2014 Pro Bowl Defensive MVP.
By now, collectors are quite familiar with the dynamic DE for the Texans and J.J. Watt rookie cards are starting to climb. With 24 official rookie card options to chase in 2011 products, including nine autographed cards, there is no shortage of choices. Pre-rookie and college-themed cards add to that total and make for a good mix across all budgets. The guide below looks at ten of the best overall cards from J.J. Watt's rookie season. Although many are official J.J. Watt rookie cards, several other releases from his rookie year are also included.
Top 10 J.J. Watt Rookie-Year Cards
2011 Topps Chrome kicks things off with a simple J.J. Watt rookie card. The popular card includes an image of Watt from the 2011 NFL Combine. Although the base version can usually be obtained for just a few dollars, the many Refractor parallels command strong interest.
Gold Standard is now a household name for many football and basketball collectors, but it was still in the early stages when the NFL debut came in 2011. Although J.J. Watt was not included in the autographed rookie relic portion of the checklist, collectors can still find his base rookie in the set. The low print run and premium design make it one of the top unsigned rookie cards for J.J. Watt. There is also a signed version of the card that is numbered to 499.
One of several early pre-rookie autographs for J.J. Watt, Leaf Metal Draft is arguably the most popular with an on-card signature and chromium design. The base version is not numbered, but there are several tiers of Prismatic parallels that are numbered to 50 or less.
Plates and Patches may no longer be in the rotation for Panini, but this rookie card for J.J. Watt remains relevant thanks to the autograph and limited print run. The Silver foil parallel (#/55) is shown below.
One of the most plentiful autographed rookie cards for J.J. Watt is available in 2011 Panini Playbook. The dual images of Watt makes for an appealing card and several parallels bring that total closer to 400.
2011 Prime Signatures presents one of the more simple rookie designs with an airbrushed background that makes the sole image of J.J. Watt the main focus of the card. The added autograph pushes interest higher, as does the limited print run.
Although the base version of the card is more in line with the Topps Chrome rookie card for J.J. Watt, the signed parallel has proven to be one of his top cards. The print run of 1,550 puts it among the most common autographs for Watt, but the card is notable because it is one of his only on-card autographs from 2011 NFL products.
Long a rookie collecting staple, 2011 Contenders features a sticker autograph like most of the other signed cards on the list, but the brand power pushes it near the top. The unnumbered rookie card for J.J. Watt was not part of the short print list released by Panini, so the exact run is unknown.
Although a sticker autograph on a high-end release is not the preferred option, the reputation of National Treasures along with a limited print run make this the most popular J.J. Watt rookie card. The Gold parallel, numbered to 49, is shown below.
While the lack of NFL licensing is normally enough to keep Exquisite from the top spot, several things make this 2011 J.J. Watt card the clear favorite even if you are not a fan of the Badgers. Limited to just 70 copies, it is one of the rarest cards for Watt. Also, the on-card signature, which is less common among Watt's 2011 cards, is written in gold ink. Lastly, Exquisite Collection is a collecting mainstay, and the premium look and overall popularity help the NCAA card claim the number one position.