The best NFL QBs tend to have a number of commonalities. Most have won everything multiple times over, and they’re all seen as the most important player for their respective teams. They all have cannons for arms, while the greatest signal callers have the ability to turn the tide of a game.
Personal preference does play a part, but everyone has a pretty good idea about who is the number one overall. The GOAT argument can be saved for another day. For now, we’ve put together a report with five of the best NFL QB rookie cards of all time, with lots of info about how and why each one has managed to make it onto the list.
The Best 5 NFL QB Rookie Cards of All-Time
You’ll see a number of familiar faces below, while there are three separate eras to look out for. We’ve factored in everything from pricing to their Super Bowl records when deciding on the best QB RCs of all-time.
We’ll begin with the undisputed GOAT, and one of the best QB rookie cards that money can buy.
1. 2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic RC #/1,250 #118 (buy on eBay)
A six-time Super Bowl winner who is still an active roster member, Tom Brady is a New England Patriots legend who has made 14 Pro Bowl appearances over the years. After 19 seasons with the Patriots, he moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020.
He has pretty much assured his GOAT status, from engineering the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history despite a 25-point hole to win the Patriots’ fifth NFL championship, to being the highest career passer in league history. Some people may hate him, but he has legions of fans and a reputation as one of the clutch kings.
Don’t let the lack of an autograph put you off! Brady’s 2000 SP Authentic is seen as the best RC option for many collectors, with a crisp image of the player preparing to make a throw. A print run of 1,250 doesn’t seem particularly low, but there are so many collectors that want to buy a copy that it can be extremely difficult to find in good condition. Then there are the edges. You’ll quickly find that there’s nowhere to hide, as they show any and all damage instantly.
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The serial number is located on the border on the right-hand side. PSA 10 versions are where the real money is, being few and far between. The ones that do exist are normally hidden away with complete sets that are never likely to be up for sale, making it exceptionally difficult to find in the wild.
2. Peyton Manning 1998 Playoff Contenders Football Rookie Ticket Autograph #87 (buy on eBay)
Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl as part of two separate teams, helping both the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos to glory in a storied 18-year career. Manning holds a ridiculous number of individual records and fought Tom Brady during a 15-year rivalry that helped both players to reach new levels in terms of performance, stats, and popularity. He might have retired in 2016, but he’s still a major name in the game, and the current record holder for a number of NFL stats, including the most seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards, while he’s the only QB with seven straight seasons of 12+ wins as a starter.
His Playoff Contenders Rookie Ticket is by far the definitive Manning RC. Firstly, there are only 200 copies overall, which makes it an exceedingly rare card. It has a premium design, with a blue, grey and white background, and a large image of the player ready to make a throw. There’s also a massive name tag found along the side of the card, just in case you didn’t know who it was!
But what makes it the ultimate Peyton Manning card overall? The answer is, it’s the only signed Manning rookie, with a large, luxurious on-card auto found in blue ink at the bottom. The ink actually meshes well with the rest of the card, fitting in with the overall design.
Parallel Red and Gold inserts were also produced, although neither card has been signed by the legendary QB. The Gold card is numbered to just 25, so it still commands a strong price despite the lack of an auto. (You’ll be able to tell the difference by looking at the color of the name tag and the Rookie Ticket logo, which will be either Red or Gold.)
3. 2017 Patrick Mahomes Panini Prizm RC #269 (buy on eBay)
Patrick Mahomes has quickly grown to prominence since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. The NFL MVP just a year later, during the 2019–20 playoffs, Mahomes led the Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV, which was their first appearance in over 50 years. The youngest player to make the list by a significant margin, it’s clear that his RC options are worth keeping an eye on.
Mahomes’ 2017 Panini Prizm RC is the most recent release to make the list, but it’s a worthy addition despite his relative infancy. The action shot shows the player primed to make a pass, with a typical edged Prizm border which makes it easy to identify immediately. The chrome finish varies depending on the version you’re looking at. As a 2017 release, it’s no surprise to see a range of interesting parallels which are also serial numbered. Many are exceptionally rare, with a Red Power BGS 9.5 with a unique checkerboard background design recently drawing a lot of attention at auction when it was sold by PWCC.
It lacks the prestige of earlier options, but it’s significantly cheaper compared to both of the cards we’ve mentioned above. It’s also a great investment piece as he’s arguably the best QB in the NFL today, with his career ahead of him and could POSSIBLY someday pass the legendary Brady SP Authentic RC.
Parallels: Prizm, Blue, Disco, Green, Pink, Red, Red/White/Blue, Orange (/275), Light Blue (/199), Blue Wave (/149), Green Scope (/99), Purple Crystals (/75), Red Power (/49), Camo (/25), White Sparkle (/20), Gold /(10), Bronze Stars (/6), Gold Vinyl (/5), Black Finite (1/1)
4. 1981 Joe Montana Topps Football Rookie RC #216 (buy on eBay)
Joe Montana has a CV that holds up with the best ever, and he’s undoubtedly the greatest QB of his era at the very least. Comparisons to Brady have lessened after the latter’s five and sixth Super Bowl successes, but it’s worth noting that Montana is undefeated in Super Bowls, with an impressive record of 4-0. He’s also thrown 11 touchdowns and has zero interceptions. Beat that, Brady!
The only vintage card to make the list, don’t be surprised to see Montana’s 1981 Topps among any serious collectors haul. Surprisingly, it’s not especially scarce at high grades despite being almost 40 years old, although it is the key card from the set, so it was looked after properly by many enthusiasts at the time. At first glance, it doesn’t look that special, but it’s the only recognized rookie card for the quarterback legend, which is always going to make it one of the more popular options at auction.
Related: Top-Rated John Elway Rookie Cards
A simple card that is a clear throwback to the era, it shows an image of Montana ready to launch a football over his right shoulder. There’s a white border, with a green line that makes up the Topps logo and the team name.
The set does suffer from centering issues, as well as print defects which can lead to additional problems when it’s graded. As such, high PSA grades of Montana’s 1981 Topps will sell for a decent chunk of change, and 10’s are in the five-figure range. You’ll still be able to grab a decent copy (PSA 7) for roughly 100 bucks.
5. 2001 Drew Brees Bowman Chrome RC #/1,999 #144 (buy on eBay)
Drew Brees is underrated compared to many of the others on this list, despite breaking a number of Manning’s records and surpassing Brady in many statistical areas as a QB. For example, he has the most passes in NFL history, has thrown for the most yards, has a higher passer rating than Brady, and the best completion percentage of all-time. Brees also led the Saints to their first-ever Super Bowl in Super Bowl XLIV, picking up the win as well as an MVP award.
With a print run of roughly 2,000, his base 2001 Bowman Chrome is far from the scarcest, but there are X-Fractor versions that aren’t numbered, as well as Gold Refractor (/99) versions to look out for. Best of all, there’s also an autographed parallel that is valued highly by collectors. It has an action shot of Brees in motion, with black edging that doesn’t tend to flake or chip easily. Instead, it’s better to look out for issues relating to centering or the surface.
Despite being relatively easy to maintain for a chrome card, high PSA grade of the base version will easily sell for four figures, while signed versions are even more popular. At 41, Brees may not have long left despite signing a recent two-year extension, and this could be the last chance to buy before he retires.
The Best 5 NFL QB Rookie Cards of All-Time: Summary
For gem mint copies you’re looking at one of the most expensive collections in the hobby if you want all five of the best QB rookie cards of all-time. It’s unsurprising considering the likes of Manning and Brady make the list, but there are interesting options that will suit almost every budget, especially if you’re looking at lower grades.
The attention is partly due to the position itself, and the amount of responsibility placed on the leader of the offensive team. They also tend to be durable, with a couple of players on the list that are still going strong despite being 42 (Brady) and 41 (Brees) respectively. They’ve amassed so many admirers over the years, and prices are likely to continue to rise in the coming years.
Despite the larger print runs compared to modern sets, the truth is that supply is never going to meet demand, especially when you’re looking at versions that have managed to earn a high grade. There just aren’t enough SP Authentic Brady cards out there, while Brees’ Bowman Chrome RC is also limited to under 2000 owners. There are fewer than 10 PSA 10 graded versions of the latter, so the very best are hyper-rare.
They’re always going to be seen as some of the crown jewels of the card collecting hobby, which leads to increased interest when they sell for vast amounts at auction. The collection is also seen as some of the safest investment pieces that money can buy if you can afford the high price of entry.
Investment Rating: Strongest Buy Possible
Best Rookie Card out of the 5: 2000 Tom Brady SP Authentic
Ownership Disclosure: 2017 Patrick Mahomes Prizm RC x2 PSA 10