No decade for collecting saw the transformation that happened in the 1990s. Huge production numbers and plain designs gave way to new technologies, limited print runs and signed cards. Like most decades, rookie cards are the headline attraction among 1990s football cards, and the top 15 can be seen below.
To keep this from becoming the "Top Peyton Manning Rookie Cards of the 1990s," only one rookie card per player is included. Also, only the base rookies are featured, so that means no parallels. In order to keep things on a relatively even level, the actual rank is based on the value for BGS and PSA 9 versions of the rookie cards from the decade. Obviously, this is the reason for several of the unexpected cards on the list and also means that many of the low grade and ungraded copies can be found for much less.
The players and sets noted below are linked to detailed profiles on the site, when available.
Top 15 Most Valuable Football Rookie Cards of the 1990s
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While tight ends rarely get hobby love, things have slowly changed in the last decade and Tony Gonzalez is a big reason for that. A lock for the Hall of Fame once he is eligible, the sure-handed TE went to 14 Pro Bowls and holds most of the career tight end records. His top rookie is found in 1997 SP Authentic and is the first of several rookie cards from the foil-centric brand.
Primarily remembered as a member of the Green Bay Packers, Brett Favre was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time league MVP, and the winner of Super Bowl XXXI. While the ending to his career was not ideal, Favre remains a collecting favorite. The 1991 Stadium Club "Brett Farve" error card is the top rookie option for the famed quarterback and also one of the most popular rookie cards of the 1990s. The Super Bowl parallel of his rookie card is the place to look for much higher values.
Passionate and dominant, Ray Lewis spent his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, earning 13 trips to the Pro Bowl and two AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards along with two Super Bowl titles. His most valuable rookie card is found in 1996 Bowman's Best. While the base card values are strong, the Ray Lewis Atomic Refractor parallel can push over $1,000.
One of the all-time greats in NFL history, Emmitt Smith is popular enough to make an over-produced Score factory set card into a valuable collectible. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection was the 1990 Rookie of the Year and won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys during his Hall of Fame career. Like the Brett Favre rookie card, the 1990 Score Supplemental Emmitt Smith rookie card is on a different collecting level than many of the cards on this list.
Edgerrin James was a good, if not great, running back in the NFL. He was the 1999 Rookie of the Year, went to four Pro Bowls and ended his career as the 11th-leading rusher of all-time. However, he does not jump out as a likely top rookie card from the 1990s. Helped by the relative rarity for the time, the 1999 SP Authentic Edgerrin James rookie card is numbered to 1,999 and part of the Future Watch subset.
Offensive line is where the game is largely won and lost, but for collectors it remains little more than a novelty. Jonathan Ogden is one of the exceptions thanks to his Hall of Fame career and the strong fan support for the Baltimore Ravens. Ogden was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and spent his whole NFL career with the Ravens. Part of the Premier Prospects subset in 1996 SP, the value for Jonathan Ogden's foil rookie is helped by the sensitive nature of the set. A Gem Mint PSA 10 sold for $1,425 in January of 2015.
A huge part of the New York Giants defensive line for the better part of two decades, Michael Strahan made seven Pro Bowl visits during his Hall of Fame career. He also was the 2001 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year and helped the Giants win Super Bowl XLII. The top rookie card for Michael Strahan is found in 1993 Fleer Ultra. Despite being one of the more unattractive cards on the list, the card maintains strong values.
Another name that might seem a little surprising to collectors, Jason Taylor enjoyed a strong NFL career with several teams and finished with six Pro Bowl selections and the 2006 AP NFL Defensive Player of the year Award. One of only three total rookie card options, Jason Taylor's 1997 SP Authentic rookie is part of the debut set for the brand and helped by the condition issues of the all-foil release .
One of the few players on the list who is still active, Charles Woodson has remained productive despite nearing 40. The eight-time Pro Bowl defensive back split his career between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders and was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1998. His top rookie is found in 1998 SP Authentic, which is one of the most valuable products of the 1990s. While the base version is limited to 2,000 copies, there is also a Die-Cut parallel, numbered to 500.
A fan favorite in Dallas and regarded as one of the best offensive lineman in NFL history, Larry Allen went to 11 Pro Bowls and won Super Bowl XX with the Cowboys. Larry Allen only has three rookie cards, but his 1994 Playoff card is the clear favorite. Tough to find in high grade, a Gem Mint PSA 10 sold for $808 in January of 2015.
"The Bus" made a Hall of Fame career by running hard for the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers. When it was all said and done, Jerome Bettis had earned six Pro Bowl nods and won a Super Bowl title with the Steelers. His top rookie in 1993 SP is another example of how foil sets can make it tough to find Mint copies.
His story alone makes him notable to the masses, but Kurt Warner also happened to be a very good quarterback as well. Considered by many to be the greatest undrafted NFL player of all-time, Kurt Warner had notable stints in St. Louis and Arizona and totaled four Pro Bowls and one title. The Super Bowl Bowl XXXIV MVP has several rookie cards, but one sits well ahead of the rest. The 1999 Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket for Kurt Warner is signed on-card and has a reported print run of 1,825 copies.
Walter Jones may not have the same mainstream recognition as many of the names near the top of the list, but his play and cardboard value earns him a top spot. Jones spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Seattle Seahawks and earned nine Pro Bowl visits. His 1997 SP Authentic rookie is very tough to find in high grade and a PSA 10 version sold for $1,500 in February of 2015.
One of the top receivers of all-time for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hines Ward's value and interest is helped by the team's devoted fan base. Ward was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and the Super Bowl XL MVP. His rookie in 1998 Playoff Contenders is the first of three top options from the valuable product. The limited run of 500 copies further enhances the card's value.
Considered by many to be one of the best all-time among NFL receivers, Randy Moss was so naturally talented that it sometimes diminished his accomplishments. The seven-time Pro Bowl player set several receiving records and had most of his success with the Minnesota Vikings and New England Patriots. His most valuable rookie card is also found in 1998 Playoff Contenders and has a reported print run of 300.
And then there is Peyton Manning. The only player other than Charles Woodson who is still playing, Manning is a 14-time Pro Bowl selection and the Super Bowl XLI MVP. If the list was not limited to one card per player, Manning would easily occupy all 15 spots. His rookie card values dwarf all other players from the 1990s and make him the undisputed king of 1990s NFL rookie cards. Among Peyton Manning cards, the 1998 Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket Autograph is also king. A BGS 9 version with a 10 grade for the autograph sold for $11,655.09 in January of 2015.