fantasy-footballThat’s right. It’s football season, and nowadays football season tends to go hand in hand with fantasy football. Countless computer screens and smart phones will be filled with screenshots of rosters that will never see the light of day, but would be so dominant if they were to. So we asked ourselves a question: What if you could compile a fantasy team of all-time football greats from a time before fantasy football was even a thing? What if their football cards could be fantasy placeholders?

Well, here it is, the all-time fantasy football roster with respect to the player, their mark on the sport and popularity of their football cards.

To keep things simple, we omitted the kicker and defense slots on the roster, opting instead for this roster: quarterback (QB), running back (RB1), running back (RB2), wide receiver (WR1), wide receiver (WR2), tight end (TE) and flex (running back or wide receiver).

Keep in mind there are so many greats to choose from, so this list could take on an infinite number of legendary combinations.

1957 Topps #138 John Unitas, image via PSA
1957 Topps #138 John Unitas, image via PSA

Quarterback: Johnny Unitas

With his trademark flat-top, Johnny U took football by storm. But first he had to be given the chance to play, which was much easier said than done. After being drafted in the 9th round, Unitas earned a bench role for the Colts and finally got to play when his starter, George Shaw, broke his leg. From then on, it was Unitas’ position to lose, and he put up legendary numbers in the process. And you thought Brady had an uphill battle. Unitas would deliver touchdowns in droves for any fantasy football team.

The only recognized rookie card of Unitas, examples of his 1957 Topps card in PSA 8 are valued in the $20,000 range.

1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown, image via PSA
1958 Topps #62 Jim Brown, image via PSA

Running Back No. 1: Jim Brown

When talking about the greatest running back of all-time, it’s hard not to name Jim Brown, a rare combination of size, speed, power and vision. Accolades like nine Pro Bowl selections and the all-time leader of yards per carry — 5.2, a mark no one has come close to touching — will earn you that sort of respect. Brown routinely cut up the field, leaving a wake of destruction and downed defenders wherever he went. Brown would likely be the first off the board across fantasy football drafts, a la Adrian Peterson of the modern fantasy football era.

Though the card is marred by various print defects and poor centering, PSA Mint 9 examples of this official rookie card of Brown have sold for as much as $95,000. But if you don’t have that kind of money, mid grades can be found in the $5,000 range.

1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton, image via PSA
1976 Topps #148 Walter Payton, image via PSA

Running Back No. 2: Walter Payton

Though he doesn’t have the prestige of his counterpart Brown, Walter Payton had the entire set of skills and is typically mentioned in “all-time best” conversations. Much like Brown, Payton ran with a combination of power and speed, which made his highlight reel appear almost fluid and effortless. Payton could also catch passes out of the backfield, making him a truly difficult weapon for defenses to counter. With Brown and Payton running through the trenches of a fantasy football team, it would be unstoppable.

This card of “Sweetness” is relatively easy to find in high-grade, but a PSA 10 is very elusive, due to the scarcity of perfectly centered examples of this card. A Gem Mint 10 example of the only recognized Payton rookie card recently sold for $14,524. Lower grades are available in the $3,000 range, however.

1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice, image via PSA
1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice, image via PSA

Wide Receiver No. 1: Jerry Rice

Records. That’s the word that comes to mind with Jerry Rice. The man could simply catch everything thrown his way, and because of this, he set multiple records during his tenure in the NFL, many of which will never be touched — including most 1,000 yard seasons by a receiver (14) and most career receiving yards (22,895). Though Rice is the most current player on the roster, retiring in 2004, his greatness cannot be denied, nor can his starting position in this epic fantasy football team.

Chipping along the side of this card typically hurts its overall value, but Gem Mint examples can command value in the thousands, starting around the $10,000 mark.

1955 Topps #97 Don Hutson, image via PSA
1955 Topps #97 Don Hutson, image via PSA

Wide Receiver No. 2: Don Hutson

Rice may have the stat sheets covered, but if we’re considering pure dominance over his peers during his playing days, Don Hutson may take the edge. A pioneer of the sport, Hutson was the first true wide receiver and provided vertical pass opportunities to quarterbacks, akin to our modern definition of the position. He could stretch the field, catch anything thrown his way and outrun the opposition. The best statistical wide receiver is backed up by arguably the most dominant wide receiver by era in Hutson. No passes are getting dropped on this fantasy team; no points will be left off the board.

This card, which is difficult to find well-centered, can be yours from anywhere between $300-$1,000.

1962 Topps #17 Mike Ditka, image via PSA
1962 Topps #17 Mike Ditka, image via PSA

Tight End: Mike Ditka

Speaking of revolutionizing a position, that’s exactly what Mike Ditka did; he revolutionized the tight end position and paved the way for the pass-catching, run-blocking, defense-splitting wildcards— a la Tony Gonzalez or Rob Gronkoski — that grace the field today. Before Ditka, tight end was predominantly a blocking position. It’s difficult to find offensive production in fantasy football at the tight end position, but Ditka, the first of the position to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the original offensive tight end, will get the job done.

High grades of Ditka’s official rookie card can fetch a premium at auction. Examples in PSA Mint 9 have sold for over $15,000, and one PSA Mint 9 example sold for $17,987 in 2014. Mid grade values vary between $500-$1,000.

1988 Score #257 Barry Sanders, image via PSA
1988 Score #257 Barry Sanders, image via PSA

Flex (Running Back or Wide Receiver): Barry Sanders

The greatest running back of the 90s, and certainly in the conversation when it comes to “all-time” discussions, Barry Sanders moved around defenders in fluid, video game-like strides, spinning, cutting and juking at a moment’s notice. No, his cards don’t command quite the value of his colleagues’ on this roster, but his skills and career numbers speak volumes. Sanders is the third of seven players to join the 2,000 yard rushing club, the first to rush for 10 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons and a 10-time Pro Bowl member. Sanders is the perfect cherry on top of this fantasy football juggernaut, running circles around the opposition and complementing his legendary cohorts.

Much like the Rice rookie card, Sanders’ rookie card is susceptible to chipping along the green borders, which hurts its overall value. Prime examples of this card have sold for just around $1,000. In 2014, a BGS (Beckett Grading Services) 10 example sold for $1,275. But most examples can be yours for a few hundred dollars.

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