Despite their obvious importance, it’s fair to say that most defensive players are second-class citizens compared to their attacking counterparts. It’s no coincidence that the best contracts are often handed to star forwards, while the same is true when you look at the average value of their collectible cards.
However, some defensive football players still have options that will sell for large amounts at auction. With that in mind, here’s a rundown with five defensive football players that are worth big money in 2020, with lots of info about how they made the list, as well as what’s so special about the card itself.
Five Defensive Football Players Worth Big Money
As you might have guessed, this list of five defensive players worth big money contains a selection of absolute units. Some of the biggest and baddest ever to play football make it onto the list, and they’d likely break more than a few bones if they ever managed to line up together.
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A strong defense is a basis for most great teams, although it’s fair to say that the players are often disregarded in favor of forwards at the other end. Regardless, the very best defensive stars are able to break through the glass ceiling, whether it be personality, skill, or a combination of the two is the cause.
The cards we’ve selected originate from a number of different decades, encompassing a number of eras in the sport. From the ‘50s to the turn of the century, football has undoubtedly changed over the years, along with what’s actually acceptable in terms of tackling.
There’s a load of rookie cards that make the list, proving that sometimes you can’t go wrong with the originals. We’ll also make a note if there are any rare parallels or SPs to keep an eye out for.
As we’re listing expensive cards, we’ll be looking at copies that have managed to achieve high grades from the likes of Beckett and PSA. As some are vintage, the condition is central to the value for many of them.
We’ll begin with one of the best known defensive players from the modern era.
1986 Reggie White Topps RC #275 (buy eBay)
In terms of credentials, Reggie White was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, made 13-time Pro Bowl appearances, and was selected as a 13-time All-Pro. He holds second place all-time among career sack leaders (198), while as an ordained Evangelical pastor, he was known as “the Minister of Defense”. White sadly passed away at the age of 43 due to a sleeping disorder.
White’s RC is the one to make the list, released back in 1986. It has a green background with white stripes, and it’s meant to resemble a football field. It does the job, and it actually matches well with the green decals found on his Eagles kit. (He joined the NFL following the collapse of the USFL in 1985, but managed to play for both leagues that season.)
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The shot sees White staring into the distance, with a serious expression on his face. Condition-wise, the green edges will show any dings, so PSA 10 grades will always do well at auction.
1957 Dick “Night Train” Lane Topps Football RC #85 (buy on eBay)
If you’re in the mood for a vintage release, let’s take it back to 1957. Dick Lane recorded 68 interceptions, 1,207 interception return yards, and five touchdowns on an interception during his NFL career. He also caused a rule change, as he was fond of ripping opponents down via the head and neck, which was then a legal technique. His version was basically a clothesline or the “Night Train Necktie”. It was a different time, but there’s no denying how hard Lane hit the opposition at every opportunity.
His 1957 Topps is a beautiful landscape card, showing two illustrations of the player side by side. The first is a profile shot with a name at the bottom (Richard Lane), along with a bright yellow background. The second is an action shot, showing Lane stretching for a football with one foot off the ground. It has a light blue background, while the card has a thin white border.
Given the age and the bright colors, PSA 8s will retail for a significant amount, while you’ll struggle to find anything better than a 9 grade.
2011 J.J. Watt Topps Chrome RC #331 (buy on eBay)
J.J. Watt is the most recent player to make the list. Drafted as a first-round pick (11th overall) for the Houston Texans in 2011, he went on to establish himself as a prime defensive force over the next decade. As well as five Pro Bowl appearances, he’s a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time sack leader. It’s easy to see why his RC cards are worth big money when they’re made available at auction.
This landscape card features an image of Watt from the 2011 NFL Combine, laid out on his knees with his guns on show. The photo illustrates that he’s an absolute beast, while there’s an RC logo in the top corner, and a blue bar along the bottom to fit the player name.
Of the many parallels you’ll find, Red, Gold, and Sepia are typically the most popular at auction. They’ll be identifiable by checking out the border color, which corresponds to the color of the Refractor.
Parallels: Refractor, X-Fractor, Orange Refractor, Purple, (/499) Black (/299), Blue (/199), Crystal Atomic, Sepia, Gold (/50), Red (/25), Superfractor (1/1), Printing Plates (4 Colors 1/1)
1982 Lawrence Taylor Topps All-Pro RC #434 (buy on eBay)
The next player on the list is Lawrence Taylor. He was a linebacker who spent his entire 17-year career with the New York Giants. He repaid the team with a couple of Super Bowl rings (XXXV, XLVII), and was part of their miserly defense that was nicknamed “The Big Blue Wrecking Crew”. Taylor was the star of the show, and also led the team to three NFC East Titles. They’re seen as one of the best defensively dominant teams of all-time. He also won both the Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in his rookie season, further enhancing the value of his RC.
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As the only recognized rookie card of one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, the 1982 Topps is one of the better options you’ll find. It features a seated Taylor in his uniform, with a hand placed on his chin as he watches the action unfold. The card also has a great vintage border design, with a red line, and indents for the player name, Giants logo, and a note that he was an NFC All-Pro.
Given the age, gem mint copies should be on the agenda, as they easily sell for four-figure fees when they’re made available.
1996 Ray Lewis Bowman’s Best Refractor RC #164 (buy on eBay)
Ray Lewis is another former linebacker who spent his entire 17-year career with the Baltimore Ravens. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro, and featured in a Pro Bowl during three different decades (the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s). A duo of NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards should give some indication of his skill, while he led the 2000 Ravens defense that is widely seen as the greatest in NFL history for a single season.
Of the many Ray Lewis rookie cards, most are unimpressive, and few are especially valuable. However, that all changes if you look at Refractor and Atomic Refractor editions from the 96-97 Bowman’s Best set. (PSA 10 copies of the base card are reasonably expensive, although the parallels are worth many times more.)
The card features an image of Lewis in all of his glory, staring down at the camera in full kit. There’s a Bowman’s Best logo in the top right corner, while there are a team name and player logo located at the bottom. The Refractor version is just as shiny as you’d expect, and it’s the pick of Lewis’ rookie options overall.
Defensive Football Players Worth Big Money: Summary
As you can see, it’s pretty much a who’s who in terms of the best defensive football players that the world has ever seen. True defensive icons are few and far between, and their best cards do hold value well, even when compared to those who play further up the field.
Many have faced controversies over the years, as it seems to take a certain type of personality to be able to put yourself in danger so willingly. Even so, that’s helped to make some of the players infamous, while it’s always easier to let nostalgia reign after they retire.
We’ve already discussed the importance of high grades when looking at the most valuable cards, and that the best versions are worth multiple times the amount of lower graded versions. Take Dick Lane’s 1957 card. An 8.5 grade is worth roughly $2,500, while a 9 will sell at auction for over $11,000. Condition is clearly king.