Sets Revisited: Analyzing the 2012 Panini Contenders Football Rookie Autograph Checklist

One set that remains near and dear to my heart is the 2012 Panini Contenders Football set. Just a couple months before the set came out, I joined the COMC Team. This particular set has the distinct honor of being one of the first sets that I ripped with my fellow wax busting co-workers.

I’m not a big fan of a large autograph checklist, and the mammoth 145-card base and short print autograph checklist (not including insert autos) for this set was simply unbearable. Even though autographs drop at five per box for Contenders, more often than not your hits would wind up being 4 players who’s names you needed to google and one more desirable auto. We may never know the true print runs of base autos for sets like Panini Contenders, Topps Chrome, etc, but it’s realistic to believe that one would have open four or five cases (12 boxes per case x 5 autos per box = 60 autos per case), to acquire a complete set from a 145-card autograph checklist from this set.

Let’s look at who these 145 names were that made up this enormous set list from 2012 before we deep dive into what cards are worth actually investing in from the 2012 Panini Contenders set. For those who are playing along at home, be sure to tally the number of times you ask yourself, “Who?”:

101. Alfred Morris SP
102. Adrien Robinson
103. Andre Branch SP
104. B.J. Coleman SP
105. B.J. Cunningham
106. Bobby Rainey
107. Bobby Wagner SP
108. Brandon Hardin
109. Brandon Taylor
110. Bruce Irvin
111. Bryce Brown SP
112. Case Keenum
113. Casey Hayward
114. Chandler Harnish
115. Chandler Jones
116. Chris Polk
117. Chris Rainey SP
118. Josh Gordon SP
119. Coty Sensabaugh
120. Courtney Upshaw SP
121. Cyrus Gray
122. Dan Herron
123. Danny Coale
124. David DeCastro SP
125. Nigel Bradham
126. Deangelo Peterson SP
127. Demario Davis
128. Derek Wolfe SP
129. Devon Still SP
130. Devon Wylie
131. Dont’a Hightower SP
132. Dontari Poe SP
133. Dre Kirkpatrick SP
134. Bill Bentley
135. Jeff Demps SP
136. Josh Cooper
137. Fletcher Cox SP
138. George Iloka SP
139. Gerell Robinson
140. Rod Streater
141. Harrison Smith SP
142. Jamell Fleming
143. James Hanna SP
144. Janoris Jenkins SP
145. Jared Crick
146. Jeff Fuller
147. Jerel Worthy SP
148. Jonathan Martin
149. Josh Robinson
150. Juron Criner SP
151. Kellen Moore SP
152. Kendall Reyes
153. Keshawn Martin
154. Kevin Zeitler
155. Kirk Cousins
156. Ladarius Green SP
157. LaVon Brazill SP
158. Lavonte David
159. Luke Kuechly SP
160. Marc Tyler
161. Mark Barron SP
162. Jorvorskie Lane SP
163. Marvin Jones SP
164. Marvin McNutt
165. Matt Kalil
166. Melvin Ingram
167. Michael Brockers SP
168. Michael Smith SP
169. Mike Martin
170. Morris Claiborne SP
171. Mychal Kendricks SP
172. Najee Goode
173. Nick Perry
174. Olivier Vernon
175. Omar Bolden
176. Orson Charles
177. Quinton Coples SP
178. Rhett Ellison
179. Riley Reiff SP
180. Rishard Matthews
181. Ronnell Lewis SP
182. Ryan Lindley
183. Sean Spence
184. Shea McClellin
185. Stephon Gilmore
186. T.Y. Hilton SP
187. Greg Zuerlein SP
188. Tavon Wilson
189. Terrance Ganaway
190. Tim Benford
191. Tommy Streeter SP
192. Travis Benjamin
193. Trumaine Johnson
194. Tyrone Crawford
195. Vontaze Burfict
196. Whitney Mercilus SP
197. Vick Ballard
198. Vinny Curry
199. Zach Brown
200. Brandon Bolden SP
201. Andrew Luck SP
202. Robert Griffin III SP
203. Trent Richardson SP
204. Ryan Tannehill SP
205. Justin Blackmon SP
206. Brandon Weeden SP
207. Brock Osweiler
208. Michael Floyd
209. Kendall Wright
210. A.J. Jenkins
211. Doug Martin SP
212. Lamar Miller
213. Isaiah Pead SP
214. David Wilson
215. Stephen Hill
216. Mohamed Sanu SP
217. Bernard Pierce
218. Nick Foles SP
219. LaMichael James
220. Rueben Randle
221. Coby Fleener
222. Ryan Broyles
223. Dwayne Allen
224. Ronnie Hillman
225. Russell Wilson SP
226. Michael Egnew
227. Chris Givens
228. Joe Adams
229. Robert Turbin
230. Nick Toon
231. T.J. Graham
232. Brian Quick
233. DeVier Posey
234. Jarius Wright
235. Alshon Jeffery
236. Deonte Thompson SP
237. Justin Tucker SP
238. Damaris Johnson
239. Evan Rodriguez SP
240. Kris Adams SP
241. Daryl Richardson SP
242. Lance Dunbar SP
243. Blair Walsh SP
244. Miles Burris
245. Josh Norman SP

 

The Investment Group:

These four superstar quarterbacks need no introductions, as most should be household names at this juncture of their careers. Out of the gate, Andrew Luck was THE rookie autograph in the set that collectors were chasing, with Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III (more on him later) rounding out the big three autographs to chase from 2012 Panini Contenders.

Injuries in 2015 and 2017 have sidelined Luck’s stellar-up-to-this-point career. That hasn’t deterred his Contenders RC auto from fetching a premium however, as recent completed sales of Luck’s rookie ticket autograph have placed its value in the $550-$625 range.

A Seahawks Super Bowl victory in 2014 and a near repeat in 2015 propelled Russell Wilson to head of the 2012 Panini Contenders class before the ‘Hawks fell back down to earth in recent seasons. Raw copies of his base auto have settled around $225-250 for now, but PSA 10 copies of his white jersey variation autograph have seen sales of more than $600.00

The Kirk Cousins hype train is in full effect as he takes the reigns of the Minnesota Vikings in the upcoming season. RG3 was the Redskins QB to pull when 2012 Contenders was released, but now it’s Cousins that sits firmly as the third best QB in the set. Raw copies of his auto have sat in the $150-175 price range in recent weeks, with a Gem Mint BGS 9.5 hitting an all-time COMC high of $261.99 back in March. These prices should continue to rise, especially if he is able to achieve the same level of success that Case Keenum saw wearing a purple jersey in 2017, but more on him later.

It blows my mind how little love Nick Foles gets in the hobby. To steal a line from a certain NFL commentator, “Now here’s a guy…” who has a career completion percentage of 60.1%, has 61 career touchdowns to 29 interceptions, and oh yeah, a Super Bowl MVP to his name. All of this, and yet his 2012 Contenders auto is hovering at around the $50 range, a far cry from the all-time COMC high of $177.48 that it achieved in June of 2014. At just 29 years old, Foles has a proven track record and this card should be a strong long-term hold.

 The Up in the Air Crowd:

I’ve dubbed these four players the ‘Up in the Air’ crowd because even after nearly six years since product release, the jury is still out on their careers. These are players whose Contenders Rookie Ticket autos still have room to grow, but they will have to ascend upwards as they hit the prime of their careers.

Ryan Tannehill was sidelined by injury last season after leading the Dolphins to a 37-40 career record over his first five seasons. Case Keenum will be under center for the Denver Broncos, reunited with familiar coaches Vance Joseph and Gary Kubiak whom he spent time with in the Houston Texans organization. He led the Minnesota Vikings on a deep playoff run last season.

Alshon Jeffery has always had the talent to be a top-level receiver, but didn’t quite have the production output that the Eagles were looking for in his first year away from the Chicago Bears. With no shortage of talent in Philadelphia, a breakout season from Jeffery could add just another weapon to the team that will already give opposing defenses nightmares. T.Y. Hilton had his best pro season in 2016, but his production was limited in 2017 due to Andrew Luck’s injury. He’ll look to establish himself as a top receiver in the league – and should get plenty of targets to do so.

 The Value Menu:

These next three players have flown under the radar in terms of value in the 2012 Panini Contenders product, but that could all start to change in the upcoming season. Perhaps I’m a little bit partial here, but getting to watch Bobby Wagner play each week here in Seattle has led me to believe he is of the best linebackers in the league. He racked up nearly 100 tackles last season and continues to improve on a yearly basis.

No one has ever questioned Josh Gordon’s on-field abilities, but his actions off the field have led to limited action that saw him missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons completely. With renewed passion, and a seemingly new direction, if he can best his 87 reception, 1647 yard, 9 Touchdown performance in 2013, the Cleveland Browns will certainly be headed in the right direction as well.

Mohamed Sanu has always served his entire career as a very solid wide receiver who has lined up opposite of a superstar. On the Cincinnati Bengals he was overshadowed by A.J. Green, and now for the Atlanta Falcons he lines up opposite of Julio Jones.  He is one breakout season away from establishing himself as a go-to receiver. His Contenders auto can be had for less than $10 at time of writing. Taking a chance on this card could be a high-risk, high-reward venture. 

The Falls from Grace

When this product was released, these two autos were two of the top tier names on the checklist. The hype surrounding their rookie seasons was unreal. Unfortunately, no matter how bullet proof a player might look on draft day, dynamics can change in the blink of an eye.

On the field, Robert Griffin III was electric. By all accounts, his first two seasons showcased that he had all the potential to live up to the hype. However, injuries and concussions have derailed his career to date, and his 2012 Contenders auto has not come close to touching the $350 high watermark sale that it saw back in February of 2014.

Trent Richardson was taken 3rd overall in the 2012 draft by the Cleveland Browns, behind Luck and Griffin III.  A three-year college standout, his first season in Cleveland was not a total bust – as he averaged 3.6 yards per carry over 15 games while tying Jim Brown’s record of 9 rushing TD’s by a rookie running back. He was traded to the Colts the following season and averaged just over three yards a carry splitting time before being waved in early 2015.

 Those Coy Colts:

Thanks for the memories, Chandler Harnish and Coby Fleener! By memories, I’m referring to the number of times that my heart raced every time that I saw a Colts logo on one of autographed cards, only to realize that it was not the much-coveted Andrew Luck short print auto.  Harnish and Fleener were particularly painful to hit because Harnish had a similar pose as Luck, while Fleener’s photo was the same focal length as Luck. Both players were depicted in white jerseys as well. Dwayne Allen and Vick Ballard get a pass here for being depicted in their blue jerseys. 

Most in Stock:

If you read my last installment of Sets Revisited, you’ll know that I don’t like to say anything bad about the ‘hits’ in the product that just didn’t pan out at the professional level. At the time of writing, there were over 20 copies available of the players named above all in the $1 range. Let’s take a look at what these five accomplished in their NFL careers:

Devon Wylie (WR): Devon played six games for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 and two for the Tennessee Titans in 2013. Playing in six games in 2012, he caught six passes for 53 yards while primarily serving on kick and punt return special teams.

Bobby Rainey (RB):  Currently a free agent, Rainey suited up for nearly every game from 2013-2016 for three different teams. He’s averaged 4.0 yards per carry over 267 rushes as a commendable back up. Despite only playing 4 games in 2017, he did manage a 96-yard kickoff return for the Baltimore Ravens.

Brandon Hardin (Safety): We may never know what Brandon Hardin could have been in the NFL, as his career was derailed by injuries. In a preseason game in 2012, he was carted off the field with a neck injury and shortly after placed on injured reserve. In the final preseason game of 2013, he broke his scapula, further delaying his first appearance in the regular season. He has yet to make an appearance in a regular season game, but at 28 years old, is still considered as a free agent.

Josh Cooper (WR) – Undrafted out of Oklahoma St, Cooper played in 11 games over 2012 and 2013 for the Cleveland Browns. He caught 17 passes for 166 yards. He had a short stint with the Vikings in 2014 before being released.

Gerell Robinson (TE / WR) – Another undrafted player, Robinson played three games for the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns in 2014, but failed to register a reception.

Retrospective

Contenders has established itself as the home of the true rookie auto, and rightfully so. This flagship product is not without it’s flaws, however, as I will continue to fight tooth and nail that enormous autograph checklists are as much a pain to collectors as they are to card manufacturers in acquiring those autographs. 2012 was a particularly memorable Contenders product for myself and a lot of my fellow coworkers at COMC, as Russell Wilson had already taken over the QB job for a Seahawks team desperately in need of a direction. The chase for Andrew Luck rookie autos will remain a memorable history point in my time at COMC. I had much better results busting 2012 Panini Contenders than I did on 2012 Topps Supreme, but that’s a story for a different day.

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