Five NFL draft busts at QB — and their cards that sold for nearly $500,000

Imagine spending $175k on a Mac Jones card that is now worth less than $6k; buyers must beware with NFL prospecting

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Cards from 2021 NFL Draft picks Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and Trey Lance have plummeted from early highs.

The first round of the 2024 NFL Draft was dominated by quarterbacks.

Six QBs were chosen in the first 12 picks, led by USC's Caleb Williams going No. 1 to the Chicago Bears.

Investing heavily in a QB can have a major impact on a franchise, either propelling it into contender status or setting it back for a decade.

But NFL teams aren't the only ones who must invest wisely when it comes to rookie passers. Collectors also should be prudent when deciding which QBs are worth major dollars.

Here are five cautionary tales of recent first-round QBs that still haunt the collectors who spent big.

We tracked five eye-popping sales of cards for rookie QBs ... and then asked Chris Hoj, co-founder of Card Ladder, to estimate what those cards might be worth today after those young passers had ... uh, less than stellar early on-field results.

"This value is derived by taking the most recent sale price and multiplying it by the rate of change (positive or negative) in the player’s index on Card Ladder since that sale," Hoj said in explaining his methodology. "If the player doesn’t yet have an index (such as Bryce Young), we substitute a general index based on the card’s value."

1. Mac Jones, picked No. 15 overall by Patriots in 2021

Card: 2021 Panini Black Finite Prizm 1/1

Sold for: $175,000 in June 2022

Card Ladder's estimated worth today: $5,876.14

It’s tough to argue any QB had a worse fall from grace in the last five years than Jones. Despite reports linking him to the No. 3 overall pick (49ers) in 2021, Jones wound up going 15th overall to New England.

His first year was an immediate success. Jones led New England to a 10-7 record and a playoff appearance, while earning his first — and only — Pro Bowl selection. Jones even finished runner-up in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting to Bengals superstar receiver Ja’Marr Chase.

Since then, the Alabama product's career has been filled with turmoil. After a rocky second season in New England, Jones reportedly went to people outside the Patriots organization for help. The supposed distrust between Jones and the New England coaching staff never went away. Reports surfaced all through last season that Jones was unhappy with the coaching staff, and the staff certainly wasn’t pleased with Jones. Some reports indicated Jones had lost the locker room as well.

The Patriots traded Jones to the Jaguars last month — Jones is from Jacksonville — for a 2024 sixth-round pick. After year one, Jones was seen as the obvious successor to Tom Brady in New England. After year three, he finds himself in much nicer weather to enjoy watching football from the sideline as he backs up Trevor Lawrence.

2. Zach Wilson, picked No. 2 overall by Jets in 2021

Card: 2021 Panini National Treasures Rookie Patch Autograph, Stars & Stripes NFL Shield Platinum #157 (1/1)

Sold for: $66,000 in August 2022

Card Ladder's estimated worth today: $8,702.50

The New York Post headline read “Zachpot! Jets land 21-year-old phenom as new QB” on April 30, 2021.

“Zachpot!” turned into a 12-21 record as a starting QB with 23 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions. The Wilson era in New York can only be described as a colossal failure — and a failure in which he failed to take ownership for the better part of two seasons.

As recently as November 2022, Jets players were publicly campaigning for backup Mike White to start over Wilson, after the latter publicly scoffed at being responsible for the team's offensive struggles.

It appeared Wilson was back in the good graces of the team in 2023, as he accepted his role of backing up Aaron Rodgers, and learning how to play QB in the NFL. Unfortunately for Wilson, Rodgers tore his Achilles in the first game of the season, and Wilson was thrust in as the starter for 11 of the remaining 16 games.

Wilson’s tenure with Gang Green came to an end last week, as the Jets shipped him off to Denver in exchange for a 2024 late-round pick swap. Hopefully, he doesn’t begin his career in Mile High by saying, “Broncos country, let’s ride.”

Justin Fields' 2021 Panini Prizm Black Finite card has lost more than half of its value since November 2022.
Justin Fields' 2021 Panini Prizm Black Finite card has lost more than half of its value since November 2022.

3. Justin Fields, picked No. 11 overall by Bears in 2021

Card: 2021 Panini Prizm Black Finite Prizms rookie card (1/1)

Sold for: $90,000 in November 2022

Card Ladder's estimated worth today: $41,193.89

Of the 2021 first-round QBs, Fields certainly has had the most confusing start to his NFL career. The former Ohio State QB has shown flashes of brilliance, but has been plagued by inconsistency, quite like the organization that drafted him.

Chicago recently named its 13th different offensive coordinator since 2000. The franchise is known as a laughingstock around historic QB stats. The Bears are the only team in league history to never produce a 4,000-yard season or a 30-touchdown season from its signal-caller.

And while Fields has his fair share of blame for Chicago’s 10-28 record with him as a starter since 2021, the organization did little to help him succeed. This seemed to be recognized in 2022, when Fields finished ninth in MVP voting, despite Chicago finishing the season 3-14.

Despite his inconsistency, Fields is arguably the most dynamic QB Chicago has ever had. Now, that might change Thursday night when the Bears are expected to take Williams with the first pick. But regardless of who they take, Fields won’t be there for any part of it, as Chicago traded him to the Steelers this offseason, where he is slated to back up Russell Wilson.

4. Trey Lance, picked No. 3 overall by 49ers in 2021

Card: Trey Lance 2021 Panini Flawless Platinum NFL Shield Patch Rookie Autograph

Sold for: $132,000 in August 2021

Card Ladder's estimated worth today: $9,731.70

There’s an old adage: Fortune favors the bold ... but it also favors the lucky. And that’s what the 49ers were when Brock Purdy turned into a star, despite being the last overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. And the Niners were especially lucky with that pick, because in the same draft, San Francisco traded up to the No. 3 overall pick to take Lance as its future franchise QB.

Lance played in just eight career games for San Francisco, only starting four of them. His tenure was marred by injury — a finger injury in 2021, a fractured ankle in 2022 — but also by poor play when he had the chance. Coming into 2023, Lance was third on the depth chart, behind Purdy but also Sam Darnold, who has had his own bust story.

San Francisco traded Lance to Dallas during the season, where he now backs up Dak Prescott. Experts once claimed Lance could have the highest ceiling of anyone in the 2021 draft, but he could also have the lowest floor. So far, it has been the floor.

5. Bryce Young, picked No. 1 overall by Panthers in 2023

Card: 2023 Panini Prizm Variation Black Finite Bryce Young ROOKIE 1/1

Sold for: $35,700 in March 2024

Card Ladder's estimated worth today: $35,467.15 (Note: Previous sale was just last month)

We aren’t calling Young a bust yet. If there’s any team that totally failed its quarterback in 2023, it was Carolina. Young had little talent among skill-position players, a turnstile for an offensive line, a coach fired midway through the season and an overbearing micro-manager for an owner. His environment could not have been worse.

That said, it was a bad season for the former Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama. And that certainly didn’t help his memorabilia market.

Young finished the season with 11 TDs and 10 INTs, while winning just two games. Meanwhile, C.J. Stroud, who went number two overall, led Houston the playoffs en route to winning Offensive Rookie of the Year and finishing eighth in the MVP race.

Things can only go up from here for Young.

Did you make a collectible investment that backfired? We'd love to hear about your investments -- both good and bad.

Matt Liberman is a reporter and video producer for cllct.