By Dennis Tuttle
How in the name of Vince Young and Reggie Bush can the NFL possibly improve on the Class of 2006, which had about two dozen impact rookies, both on the field and within the hobby?
Maybe not all of them were Young, the dynamic Tennessee Titans quarterback, or Bush, the yeoman running back of the News Orleans Saints. But as their sophomore seasons unfold, there’s actually room for growth among the 2006 elite.
One reason is the exceptional depth and talent of the ’06 freshmen. Another is what some rating services call a lackluster ’07 draft. Quick: Who was the No. 1 overall pick? If you said Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, you get a whomp on the noggin’.
Naturally we have a long way to go before we know if the ’06 draftees stack up with 1983, 1989, 1974, 1967 or 2001. But that’s okay. There’s so much depth that the Vikings’ projected starting QB, Tarvaris Jackson, was picked in the third round, causing some teams to pound their desks in dismay at missing him.
Even so, last year’s standouts made the hobby stand up, causing me to ponder the big question: Can these guys actually set the football market on fire for a second straight year? You betcha.
VINCE YOUNG, QB, TITANS
Was named NFL Rookie of the Year after landing the starting position in Week 4 and guiding Titans to an 8-5 record. His running and passing brought them back from 2-7 start to almost snagging a playoff berth. With a full year at the helm, will he become the league’s next Michael Vick among collectors? Count on it.
Card to Collect: 2006 Donruss Threads #255, $500
REGGIE BUSH, RB, SAINTS
Accumulated 1,523 total yards in a Marshall Faulk-type role a lot of people didn’t expect. Thanks to his USC pedigree, which hobbyists love, and the fact he was part of the Saints’ revival following Hurricane Katrina, he lit up the hobby with his autographed rookie cards routinely selling between $500-$800. Yes, his values can go higher.
Card to Collect: 2006 SPx #187, $800
MATT LEINART, QB, CARDINALS
Former Heisman Trophy winner, national champ at USC, picture-perfect looks and a steady, reliable arm, Leinart has it all. He made 11 starts despite a lengthy contract negotiation and a shoulder injury that sidelined him for several weeks. With a new offensive-minded coaching staff in Arizona and a full year of preparation, all Leinart has to do is say “boo!” and his collectibility skyrockets.
Card to Collect: 2006 Topps Finest #152, $250
JOSEPH ADDAI, RB, COLTS
Rushed for 1,081 yards and made the loss of Edgerrin James to free agency much easier. Collectors caught onto him as the Colts were moving toward the Super Bowl title, so expect him to be one of the hottest among the super sophomores.
Card to Collect: 2006 Finest #160 Auto, #80
MARQUES COLSTON, WR, SAINTS
Came out of nowhere (Hofstra) as a seventh-round pick to become a starter from Week 1 and actually played a more vital role than Bush in the Saints’ early season surge. Was well on his way to rookie of the year before an ankle injury in Week 11 sidelined him for three weeks. If he stays healthy this year, and the Saints keep winning, he’ll be among the small handful of most collected NFL players.
Card to Collect: 2006 Donruss Classics #220, $50
DEVIN HESTER, DB/KR/PR, BEARS
Set an NFL record with six returns for touchdowns and played a major role on special teams, where his play accounted almost directly to three Bears’ victories. Hester was a major reason Chicago reached the Super Bowl for the first time in 20 years. But oddly, the hobby didn’t react until late in the season. He’ll be on the radar straight out of the ’07 gate.
Card to Collect: 2006 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph #252, $40
A.J. HAWK, LB, PACKERS
As the No. 5 pick out of Ohio State, Hawk was the early season hobby favorite among this class but had a sluggish start until getting on track late in October. By then, collectors were eying Colston, Bush and Addai. But by the end of the season, Hawk was playing up to expectations and if the Packers had reached the playoffs he would have drawn even more hobby momentum. Still, we haven’t come close to seeing his collectibility potential.
Card to Collect: 2006 Donruss Threads #243, $200.
LAURENCE MARONEY, RB, PATRIOTS
Next in the great line of system RBs for coach Bill Belichick, Maroney fit in perfectly as a complement to Corey Dillon. Now, with Dillon gone, Maroney becomes the featured back, doing everything from rushing, receiving and returning. He should also benefit from the Patriots new-look passing game which now features deep threat Randy Moss to help open up the running game even more. He’s another player about to light up the football hobby.
Card to Collect: 2006 UD Rookie Debut #236, $275
DeANGELO WILLIAMS, RB, PANTHERS
His small stature dropped his draft stock, then missing three weeks with an ankle injury when it appeared he was gaining some collectibility flushed him for the season. But most scouts agree he’s a nice complement to DeShaun Foster and a late-season 114-yard game pushed him back in the hobby spotlight. He’s someone a lot of collectors will be watching the first month of the season, as he battles Foster for carries and playing time.
Card to Collect: 2006 UD Rookie Debut #218, $250
DeMECO RYANS, LB, TEXANS
Had a huge impact for Houston after taking over the middle linebacker spot, Ryans was the defensive rookie of the year with 155 tackles, easily bettering the totals of runner-up, Ernie Sims from Detroit. The problem is, the Texans are terrible, they rarely get on national TV and collectors made Ryans little above a common rookie issue. Value with room to grow.
Card to Collect: 2006 SP Authentic #99, $30
SINORICE MOSS, WR-KR, GIANTS
Santana Moss’ kid brother came out of Miami with a lot speed and expectations, but an ongoing quad injury kept him hobbled most of the season. The high-profile Giants are counting on him to be the No. 3 receiver this year but most observers believe if he’s healthy Moss leaps to No. 2 behind Amani Toomer. Electric receivers in New York get plenty of hobby attention. Another player with collector eyes upon him early this season.
Card to Collect: 2006 Donruss Threads #237, $100.
MARIO WILLIAMS, DE, TEXANS
How does a No. 1 overall pick fall so far behind the rest of his class in such a short time? No one is saying Williams will be a bad player, but when the Texans passed on Reggie Bush and Vince Young under the pretense of improving a porous defense, ESPN.com writer Bill Simmons summed it up for fans and collectors when he said all teams need to hire a “Vice President of Common Sense.” Strong, powerful and mobile, Williams had just 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks. The hobby never gave him a curious eye. Will that change if he becomes the next Bruce Smith?
Card to Collect: 2006 SPx #213Auto/Jersey, $40. u
Don’t agree with our picks? Give us your your choices by making a post at www.tuffstuff.com under the “Sports Talk” Forum.
Regular contributor Dennis Tuttle has been slugging out stories for Tuff Stuff since 1993.