Cleat Geeks

Top Performers of Senior Bowl Day 1

The first day of practices of the 2018 Senior Bowl took place on Tuesday with multiple colligate seniors looking to showcase their talent in front of NFL scouts and coaches. There were many players that performed well in drills and scrimmages throughout the day. There were the typical big-name players such as Heisman Trophy-winning Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and Wyoming QB Josh Allen that performed up to the hype. These eight players not only performed well throughout the first day of practice but also possibly boosted their NFL Draft.


South Squad

Georgia Bulldogs G Isaiah Wynn

The Offensive Line unit is the heavyweight of the South Squad in this year’s Senior Bowl. The O-Line isn’t particularly led by a player, but it primarily concentrated around the Alabama Crimson Tide Center in Bradley Bozeman. From the beginning of practice, Isaiah Wynn displayed a combination of aggressive and quick burst in his run blocks. In the pass protections, Wynn did not give up much ground against the opposing Defensive Lineman. Most of the time, he went up against Alabama DE Da’Shawn Hand, a player he went up against in the National Championship game.

From left to right: Appalachian State G Colby Gossett, Georgia G Isaiah Wynn, Clemson G Taylor Hearn from the 2018 Senior Bowl. Photo by Michael Hanich

Southern Miss Golden Eagles RB Ito Smith

In every Senior Bowl, NFL coaches preach to Running Backs on not only going hard during the plays but also finishing the plays. Each of the Running Backs played with intensity and rushed towards the end zone even when stopped at the line of scrimmage. Ito Smith didn’t just play with intensity, but he ran through multiple holes created by the Offensive Line and continue to burn out the Linebackers and Defensive Backs untouched. Smith was reliable in every phase of the offense, whether that was running the ball, pass protecting, or catching the ball. There was a huge difference between the productivity of the other Running Backs that displayed effort in comparison to Smith to where he was making huge plays left and right.

Southern Miss RB Ito Smith at the 2018 Senior Bowl. Picture by Michael Hanich of

Auburn Tigers S Tray Matthews

Another player who displayed a huge amount of intensity in Tuesday’s practice was a defender deep in the defensive backfield. Matthews was a defender who flew to the ball in both the running and passing game where he was counting on making the tackle. The former Auburn Safety would react so quickly from 10 to 15 yards away to the play design of the offense to where he would make the tackle at the line of scrimmage. Matthews was also very efficient in reading the Quarterback’s eyes and follow the trajectory of the ball to where he would help break up the pass of the intended Receiver.


Pittsburgh OT Brian O’Neill Senior Bowl 2018. Photo by Michael Hanich of

Clemson Tigers ILB Dorian O’Daniel

With the rule that Linebackers cannot blitz in practices and in the game through the Senior Bowl week, it is harder to evaluate the potential and talent of Linebackers. For Inside Linebackers, it doesn’t affect them much because they normally don’t blitz unless specially designed by coaches. O’Daniel still performed to his normal attributes of reacting to the run and making efficient tackles. O’Daniel did mention how difficult it was to learn a new system in a short time span, but it seemed he caught on quickly during team drills. In one-on-ones, O’Daniel made great shedding the blocking Running Backs/Fullbacks in the backfield to pressure the Quarterback consistently.


North Squad

Pittsburgh Panthers OT Brian O’Neill

Many scouts and analysts were very questionable on Brian O’Neill because of his sudden rise in Mel Kiper Jr.’s board and Draft selections. From the beginning of the North squad’s first drills, there was no more doubt. At 6’6, 305 lbs, O’Neill was excellent in the drills he participated in. He has quick feet, slides in motion quickly, delivers powerful punches to the bags or defenders, rarely gave up spacing, and consistently kept the defenders from to the Quarterback. O’Neill was one of the best Offensive Linemen in Tuesday’s practices and has shown his surprising athleticism along with his huge frame.


Texas A&M Aggies S Armani Watts

Washington State QB Luke Falk at the 2018 Senior Bowl. Photo by Michael Hanich of

Watts stood out the most in the one-on-ones in the passing game. Almost every single pass thrown in Watts’ direction was either disrupted from him busting the route or him causing the pass breakup. Watts mainly plays the Safety position, but he did a tremendous job in Tuesday’s practice while acting as the sole Cornerback. His athleticism and strive towards the ball makes him a dangerous coverage player at the next level. During the last portion of the team period in practice, Armani accounted for an interception from a tipped pass.


Ohio State Buckeyes DE Tyquan Lewis

The Ohio State Buckeyes have always produced incredible Defensive Linemen for the NFL. This year is no exception as two Buckeye Defensive Ends in Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes are participating in this Senior Bowl. Throughout practice, Lewis was in the offensive backfield consistently disrupting the play. At the one point during the run game portion, Lewis got into the backfield with his amazing quickness that he caused the Running Back to fumble the ball when trying to fully secure the ball.


Washington State Cougars QB Luke Falk

Wyoming QB Josh Allen and Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield were the main center of attention for the entire Senior Bowl. Despite Allen and Mayfield performing very well in the practices, another Quarterback rose to the occasion to further develop his draft stock. Luke Falk practiced at the same level of intensity and efficiency as the two Quarterbacks projected to go in the 1st round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Many of Falk’s passes were highly accurate and thrown with excellent poise. Falk will be looking to keep his name in the discussion of one of the top Quarterbacks throughout the Senior Bowl week.

CCC: The Difference Between Hobby & Retail Boxes

For seasoned collectors such as myself the difference is rather huge, but for collectors who just started or only have a Wal-Mart/Target etc. around them the difference is unknown. Here’s the difference between Hobby and Retail.



Hobby is a term to card collectors that describes a bigger chance at getting “hits” (autographs or memorabilia). Hobby Shops are places that sell sealed boxes (occasion single cards) that are usually guaranteed hits. Hobby also has a higher percentage for one of the most valuable cards anyone could own, which is the 1 of 1. The 1 of 1 is one of the most sought after card for any player because basically only one version of the certain card is made.

Photo Credits:

Superfractors are just one type of 1 of 1 you could pull. Most Chrome products produce Superfractor 1 of 1’s instead of nasty patch autos or a different color. Some products such as Bowman Sterling (Shown in above picture) include insane looking patches in the card, others just are an autograph. 1 of 1’s come in all different types of cards, different colors, different patches. Some 1 of 1’s are just parallels, which are different colors of the normal base cards. Hobby is geared towards older collectors because of the price point. Hobby Boxes can range from $19.95 (2013 Rookies and Stars Longevity Football) to $1,074.95 (2015 Flawless Football) which is the most pricey product in the hobby.

Photo Credits: Sports Card Plus



Retail is the “little brother” to Hobby, Retail is one of the best things for young collectors to start out with. The “hits” are few and far between but the parallels and some boxes that guarantee a hit are some of the reasons people chose retail. The main reason people chose retail is the price point, some blasters can contain hits which could be similar to  the product that comes out of hobby but might not be serial numbered (numbered by how many cards they made) to where most hobby hits are serial numbered. Retail has a few different ways of selling cards, you could get individual packs with usually 5-10 cards in them depending on product (Chance of getting a “hit”=10%) you could also get something called Rack-Packs that could have anywhere from 30-40 cards also depending on product (Chance of getting a “hit”=25%). The grand thing to buy at retail is called a blaster box, which mimics hobby. Blaster boxes could have anywhere from 20-100 cards which sometimes boxes guarantee hits but when they don’t the hits are few and far in between. (Chance of getting a “hit”=40%). 


In my opinion, if you are just starting to collect then you should go to your local Wal-Mart/Target and pick up a blaster box. But if you have been trying your luck at retail then the step to hobby boxes is the next best thing for you. IF you don’t have a hobby shop near you don’t fear. The Loot Locker has you covered ( or @thelootlocker on Twitter) The Loot Locker delivers hobby packs to your front door along with supplies to keep your cards safe. You are not guaranteed a hit but personally, I think its better to spend $20 on a Loot Locker then to spend $20 on a blaster box and not get anything rather than possibly getting something.

Card Collectors Clubhouse: 2015 Panini Certified Football Review

Panini offered certified starting in 2013, a blue box featuring then top player Geno Smith. The product has since revealed other superstars such as DeAndre Hopkins, Eddie Lacy, Jordan Reed, and LeVeon Bell. The featured player Geno Smith…has dropped off in price as his talent has dropped off. Just like recent years, Certified the debut was full of parallels of different colors and different numbering variations. 2014 was the first year of the guaranteed RPA (Rookie Patch Auto), but with the addition of that, they took away one hit (only guaranteeing 3). 2014 saw Johnny Manziel on the box, and as the product came out Manziel was one of the cards to own. Like 2013 alot of players came out of the woodwork to become the “money cards” such as Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Devonta Freeman, Khalil Mack, Mike Evans and Teddy Bridgewater. With that it leads us into 2015, lets take a look at one of my favorite products personally.


Details of the Product:

  • Box Breakdown: 1o packs per box, 5 cards per pack2015pncertfbpre-copy-620x320
    • 1 Freshman Fabric Patch Auto
    • 3 more Autographs or Memorbillia Cards
    • 3 Mirror Silver Parrralels (Serial Numbered to /499)
    • Parralels include: Red (/99), Blue (/50), Gold (/25), *NEW* Purple (/10), Green (/5), Black (1 of 1)
  • Price: Depending on where you buy it, the prices vary
    • Dacardworld: $59.95
    • Blowout Cards and Steel City Collectibles: $64.95
    • My Local Card Store: $70


Why Should I Buy This Product?

2015 Certified shows the best rookie class yet, but with the hardest odds to pull these best rookies. As of right now Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston have the highest priced rookie patch autos throughout the world of ebay (one of the main places to sell your sports cards). As of the September 2016 issue of Beckett Football, The Marcus Mariota RPA was the highest price card booking in between $60-$120 then following right after him is The Jameis Winston RPA which is between $50-$100. Todd Gurley ($50-$100) and Amari Cooper ($30-$80) follow right behind. Everytime I have watched this product broke (Me and my friend bought about 10 boxes) in real life our hits have been the middle in price wise (Tyler Lockett, Jamison Crowder). We did have our fair share of good luck though as we have pulled 2 David Johnson RPA’s which accoridng to the September beckett is a $15-$30 card which after how he has played the last 2 years should sky rocket. 1 box that we bought off a website that sells boxes yielded an Amari Cooper Certified Signatures Auto out of /25.

Pictures of Possible Pulls


Photo Credits: Cardboard Connection


Photo Credits:










Product Grade and Final Thoughts


If I had to grade this product I would give it a solid B-. Here are my reasons:

  • The cards are hard to come by, but when you do hit them they are worth some money
  • The serial numbered cards are plentiful, really easy to pull lower numbered inserts such as 1/1’s.
  • Affordable break, Great Box for a starting collector, Possible Big Returns
  • Cool Design, Nice Patches, Sleek looking autographs.

If you are a father of a collector (possibly you collect yourself) then this is a great box to start your child off with in the world of autographs and patches. If you are into flipping cards for value then this is a nice cheap box to try to get an expensive card to flip for more money. Its also a great box if you are into parallels and enjoy hunting low numbered cards.

2016 Pac 12 Preview: UCLA Bruins

For the first time in nearly a decade, the South division looks to crown the Pac-12 champion – and this very well could be the year that they do so. The favorite within the division looks to be the Trojans of USC. Despite moving onto their third head coach in five years, the Trojans enter the season with arguably the highest expectations of any team in the conference, and deservedly so. They have all the pieces to make a legit run at a conference championship, but can Clay Helton lead them to glory in his first full season as the headman in LA? The UCLA pose the biggest threat to USC as they return promising sophomore QB Josh Rosen, a QB with #1 pick potential. His talent alone could lead the Bruins to a conference championship. One of the most underrated teams in the country, the Arizona Wildcats are a sleeper to take the conference this season, but will they be able to overcome the likes of USC and UCLA? Kyle Whittingham leads a strong Utah unit year after year, but will their depleted offense be able to keep up with other high-powered offenses in the country? Arizona State has one of the best RB tandem in the country, but their defense still poses as a liability to giving up the big play; they may be a year or two away as Manny Wilkins needs experience under center. Colorado went 1-8 in conference play last season, but they return 16 starters, and experience goes a long way in the college game.Pac12IntroPhoto

Take a look as we dig deep into the Pac-12 South division. Comment with some predictions of your own for the UCLA Bruins and if you think Josh Rosen is the real deal and is ready to lead the Bruins to a Pac-12 championship. Follow @JonValencia_WiB for more Pac-12 updates throughout the offseason as we gear up for opening week.

2 – UCLA Bruins (9-3, 6-3 – SOUTH)

Players to Watch: QB Josh Rosen, RB Soso Jamabo, OT Conor McDermott, DE Takkarist McKinley, DE Deon Hollins, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Jayon Brown
Key Departures: RB Paul Perkins, WR Thomas Duarte, WR Devin Fuller, WR Jordan Payton, OT Caleb Benenoch, G Alex Redmond, C Jake Brendel, DT Kenny Clark, LB Myles Jack

Since being named head coach at UCLA in 2012, Jim Mora immediately helped the Bruins become relevant again in the Pac-12. In only his 2nd season he guided the team to their first double-digit win season since 2005. He now has a stud behind center in sophomore Josh Rosen, a QB with #1 pick potential. The duo of Mora and Rosen could be the best QB-HC tandem in the conference, but will they be enough to bring UCLA their first conference championship since 1998?

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It all starts with Josh Rosen. The well-polished QB showed tremendous flashes and potential as a true freshman, he is bound to continue to take steps forward and solidify himself as the best gunslinger in the conference, but he’ll have to do so with a fairly new supporting cast as top weapons: Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller and Thomas Duarte all found themselves getting drafted, along with star tailback Paul Perkins. The Bruins have a lot of star power to replace, but Rosen is the type of QB who could make it work from the get-go. True freshman Theo Howard gives the Bruins a weapon they haven’t had in a long time. He has burner type speed and can make plays happen on short routes. Redshirt junior Darren Andrews is the returning leading receiver, hauling 43 catches and 443 receiving yards last season – he should serve as the most reliable weapon for Rosen. Senior Ishmael Adams is a converted cornerback and brings an intriguing skillset, he could make a lot of big plays.

Forced to replace almost the entire WR corps, the Bruins are forced to do so in the backfield as well. UCLA and new offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu will implement a three-headed monster, which may even be more effective rather than leaning on a guy like Perkins throughout the entire season. Sophomore Soso Jamabo is expected to emerge as the leader of the pack. A former five star recruit, Jamabo has great size and an even better skillset. As a freshman he was 2nd on the team with 403 yards on the ground with 4 TDs and 6.1 yards per carry. Junior Nate Starks is next in line. Starks averaged a team-high 6.4 yards per carry last season and added 5 TDs as well. The duo of Jamabo and Starks will lead the charge. Expect contributions from Bolo Olorunfunmi as well.

Like the skill positions, the Bruins have some reloading to do on the offensive line as well. They return All-Pac 12 left tackle Conor McDermott along with Kenny Lacy on the left side of the line. They are the only returning starters. Junior Scott Quessenberry returns after redshirting last season due to injury, he does have starting experience and brings a good presence to the interior. With all the reloading UCLA is forced to do in 2016, the departure of Noel Mazzone has flew under the radar. Kenneth Polamalu has big shoes to fill.NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Arizona State at UCLA

The Bruins look solid on defense despite the losses of Kenny Clark and Myles Jack in the front 7. A lot was made of Jack’s absence last season after a devastating knee injury, but the absence of Eddie Vanderdoes was just as bad. He returns healthy this season and is a huge interior force and quite possibly the best defensive linemen in the conference. The duo of Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins flank Vanderdoes and provide a great pass rushing tandem off the edge – both great athletes who should see career-high production as seniors. After losing linebackers such as Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jack in consecutive years, the Bruins are desperate for Jayon Brown to step up to the plate in 2016. UCLA has high hopes for the senior LB who replaced Jack and went to lead the team in tackles. Back in the secondary the Bruins field an experienced unit headlined by senior Randall Goforth. Seniors Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau return to start on the outside at the corner positions.

Even with all the production UCLA lost on offense, they’ll sustain their offensive success as Rosen is poised to take another step forward which is bad news for fellow Pac-12 foes. His supporting cast is mostly inexperienced, but very talented. On defense they have a lot of athleticsm and playmakers led by Eddie Vanderdoes up front, a 1st round lock if he can stay healthy. The Bruins look like the only competitor for USC in the South division. Mora faces a fairly tough non-conference schedule with road games against Texas A&M and BYU.

9/3: @ Texas A&M WUCLA+flag+football+helmet_mid
9/10: vs UNLV W
9/17: @ BYU W
9/24: vs Stanford W
10/1: vs Arizona L
10/8: @ Arizona State W
10/15: @ Washington State W
10/22: vs Utah L
11/3: @ Colorado W
11/12: vs Oregon State W
11/19: vs USC W
11/26: @ California L

2016 Pac 12 Preview: Arizona Wildcats

Pac12IntroPhotoFor the first time in nearly a decade, the South division looks to crown the Pac-12 champion – and this very well could be the year that they do so. The favorite within the division looks to be the Trojans of USC. Despite moving onto their third head coach in five years, the Trojans enter the season with arguably the highest expectations of any team in the conference, and deservedly so. They have all the pieces to make a legit run at a conference championship, but can Clay Helton lead them to glory in his first full season as the headman in LA? The UCLA Bruins pose the biggest threat to USC as they return promising sophomore QB Josh Rosen, a QB with #1 pick potential. His talent alone could lead the Bruins to a conference championship. One of the most underrated teams in the country, the Arizona Wildcats are a sleeper to take the conference this season, but will they be able to overcome the likes of USC and UCLA? Kyle Whittingham leads a strong Utah unit year after year, but will their depleted offense be able to keep up with other high-powered offenses in the country? Arizona State has one of the best RB tandem in the country, but their defense still poses as a liability to giving up the big play; they may be a year or two away as Manny Wilkins needs experience under center. Colorado went 1-8 in conference play last season, but they return 16 starters, and experience goes a long way in the college game.

Take a look as we dig deep into the Pac-12 South division. Comment with some predictions of your own for the Arizona Wildcats and if you agree or not that they’re the darkhorse in the Pac-12 this season. Follow @JonValencia_WiB for more Pac-12 updates throughout the off-season as we gear up for opening week.

3 – Arizona Wildcats (8-4, 5-4 – SOUTH)

Players to Watch: QB Anu Solomon, QB Jerrard Randall, RB Nick Wilson, LB DeAndre’ Miller, LB/S Paul Maglorie, CB DaVonte’ Neal
Key Departures: WR Cayleb Jones, LB Scooby Wright III, S Will Parks

AnuSolomonThe Wildcats entered 2015 with the highest of expectations during the Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson, but it turned out to be the worst season during his four-year stint as the team won ‘only’ 7 games. Heading into 2016, things are looking up in Arizona. While they aren’t gaining the national recognition of other Pac-12 teams, they have the roster makeup to make a run at a South division title with nearly their entire offense returning, and some notable playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest sleeper in the Pac-12 this season, and one of the most underrated teams in the country. But, will they be able to compete with teams like USC and UCLA?

Any Rich Rodriguez squad starts with high-paced offense and more importantly, scoring points. Like any team, it all starts under center, but even more emphasis is put on the QB position in Rich Rod’s offense. Junior Anu Solomon returns as the team’s starting signal caller. While he’s not the prototypical running QB you’d expect in the zone-read, he is efficient with the football as his 20-5 TD:INT ratio would indicate from last season, that he is also a great game manager. One of the more underrated QBs in all of college football. He has battled injuries, staying healthy will be key. When Rodriguez wants to run the football, he has the luxury of shifting to Jerrard Randall. While nowhere near the passer of Solomon, Randall knows his role as a primary runner under center and emerged during Solomon’s injury absence last season. On the ground, Randall rushed for over 700 yards, averaging 9 yards per rush and scored 5 TDs. Early enrollee and four star QB recruit, Khalil Tate is the best athlete of the trio and should see some playing time as a freshman. The future of Arizona football.

With a lot of depth and talent at QB, the Wildcats have just that in the backfield. Junior Nick Wilson is an All-League talent, although his 2015 campaign was diminished by injury. Still, he rushed for 725 yards with 8 TDs – most of that production came in the first half of the season. He forms a great tandem with sophomore Orlando Bradford, another talented ball carrier. Between the QB and RB positions, the Wildcats have plenty of explosiveness to go around and should be among the most efficient running teams in the country. On the offensive line the Wildcats return four starters and boast huge size with the average linemen at 6’6”/308. ‘Zona has a lot of experience in the trenches and their great running ability makes their job even easier.

While they lose their top receiving threat from last season in Cayleb Jones, the Wildcats return a solid bunch headlined by big play threat Trey Griffey. Not a huge contributor thus far in his college career, but Griffey has outstanding athletic ability and averaged 25.8 yards per catch last season. His 6’3” size will be coveted in a WR corps that lacks ideal height. Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant will step up as the prime producers. The duo combined for 75 catches, 865 receiving yards and 6 TDs last season – both of whom are no taller than 5’9”. Cam Denson is a name to watch for – the junior converts back to his natural position after playing cornerback the past two years.TreyGriffey2

Things get a little confusing on the defensive side of the ball. Rodriguez brought in Marcel Yates from Boise State to assume coordinator duties in hopes that he can improve on Arizona’s 114th ranked defense from last season. Yates brings more of an aggressive, attacking style which could suit the personnel better, particularly in the back 7. DeAndre Miller is the name to watch for. The redshirt junior will make his living as a standup pass rusher off the edge – highlighted the defense last season with 8 tackles for loss. He is joined in the LB corps by S/LB tweener Paul Magloire who made 72 tackles last season. On the defensive line, two starters return in Luca Bruno and Sani Fuimaono.

With only one returning starter to the secondary, concerns may hover around a defensive backfield which ranked 114th last season in the country. However, they should be an improved unit this season. Notre Dame transfer DaVonte’ Neal is a gifted athlete who continues to grow as a corner after making the conversion from receiver. The coaching staff has high expectations for junior college transfer Dane Cruikshank – he will lineup opposite Neal at corner and solidify the position. Cam Denson will also see time at corner, although will now be a primary receiver. Along with Magloire’s contributions from safety, the Wildcats get even more of a boost in redshirt freshman Anthony Mariscal. An underrated athlete coming out of high school, Mariscal is another guy poised for a big year, and better yet career as he’s set to be a four-year starter.

Like last year, Arizona will likely be a mixed bag. They’ll be one of the best offensive teams in the country, but their defense will continue to be shaky, although it will be improved. The mix at QB and established running game give the Wildcats great variety and capabilities on offense. They’ll be able to burn a lot of clock and keep their defense off the field, allowing them to stay rested throughout most games. Last season they got torn apart by better conference opponents, they’ll need to squeeze out a win or two against the better teams if they want to compete and live up to my ‘sleeper’ label. I really like the team Arizona has this season. As I said earlier, they’re one of the most underrated teams heading into 2016.

9/3: vs BYU Warizona-stadium
9/10: vs Grambling State W
9/17: vs Hawaii W
9/24: vs Washington W
10/1: @ UCLA W
10/8: @ Utah W
10/15: vs USC L
10/29: vs Stanford L
11/5: @ Washington State W
11/12: vs Colorado L
11/19: @ Oregon State L
11/25: vs Arizona State W

Illini in Lovie

JoshWhitmanIllinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman made the most of his first few days in office. First, he fires Bill Cubit, who was signed to a two year extension after being the interim coach last season. Then, Whitman goes out and hires longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith.

Wonder how Lovie will do without Rex being his quarterback? I’m sure just fine.

This is a big sign by Illinois. The Fighting Illini have not had a winning season since 2011. Whitman brings a winning mentality to UI and wants to put this team back on the map.

Lovie Smith has made it to the top. Smith, who coached the Chicago Bears from 2004-2012 and led them to the Super Bowl, brings experience and a winning mentality. Lovie knows how to win and knows what it takes to be a successful football team with the correct schemes and discipline.

Illinois needed a big hire and they got one. It has been hard to watch this program the past few seasons. From the lack of talent on the field to the poor era of John Beckman, Illinois needed something big to start anew. And Whitman brining in a successful big name like Lovie Smith, just gave many Illinois fans and other college football people a reason to put interest back in Illini football.LovieSmithIUquote

Smith returns to college football for the first time since 1996 after spending 19 years in the NFL, including 11 years as a head coach. He led the Chicago Bears for nine seasons from 2004-12 and amassed a record of 81-63 (.563 win pct.), including three division titles, two NFC Championship Game appearances (2006 and 2010) and a berth in Super Bowl XLI. The AP Coach of the Year in 2005, Smith’s 81 wins with Chicago are the third-most in Bears history. He spent the past two years as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where the Bucs improved from two victories in 2014 to six wins in 2015.

Lovie Smith was on the Illinois campus on Monday and was given a warm welcome by the community. He was crowded by Illinois students and said: “I’m glad to be here and become the head coach of this football team.”

Not only will the program improve, but so will the recruiting. As we know, recruiting is more popular than ever nowadays. Scouts and programs are always in continuous pursuit to grab the most talented athletes and explain how/why their program is the best fit. Recruits love all the publicity surrounding them, but when it comes time to choose, the people at the University really make up their decisions.

Jim Harbaugh was made for the college game. He has the IQ and the personality to connect with players and transfer his IQ and schemes onto the field on Saturdays. When you have a coach sleeping over and climbing trees all because you want him to attend your school, it really shows dedication and the will to win. Now Lovie may not be good at climbing trees or may not be a fan of sleeping outside of his own home, but Smith has the background knowledge and skills to encourage kids to join his program. His name may be enough to draw kids to visit UI and attend because they know what Lovie is capable of.LovieSmithHeadShot

Lovie Smith is going to turn this program around. He has proved himself and the pro level, and it won’t take him long to be mentioned in the same sentence with Harbaugh or Dantonio.  Smith is going to take this program to the top.

Illini Nation has been through a lot. Losing the Rose Bowl in 2007 was a stinger and still doesn’t sit well.  Fans have been through the up and down seasons of Ron Zook and Tim Beckman in recent years. Right away, Illini player, fans, and staff will be seeing major improvements in all aspects of the program.  You heard the press conference; Lovie is not here to just wear the fancy gear.  Lovie is here to win.  He knows this is a great opportunity and Whitman has put complete trust in him.

Smith and the UI have a six-year agreement calling for payments of $2 million annually for 2016 and 2017, $3 million for 2018, $4 million for 2019 and $5 million annually for both 2020 and 2021.


Collector’s Clubhouse – Episode 6

We’ve covered a lot of ground here in the Collector’s Clubhouse in our first five installments. I hope that together they have provided a good overview of the hobby from a strategy perspective at least. We have most recently been discussing the single card market and how to determine who to target. This discussion has by default been focused on ROI, buying low and selling high. Since we’ve mainly focused on the “who” so far I’ll be covering the “what” in this article as we put a bow on the topic.

If you haven’t read our first five articles (and I would encourage you to go back and read them) we looked at how for sports collectibles (and specifically sports trading cards) the two most important factors are player and hype. We have seen how finding market inefficiencies can allow you to buy low and sell high. Once you’ve taken these into account you then have to decide what to buy. Let’s take a look at what are the best types of collectibles to target.

  • Autographs

Still at the top of the collecting hierarchy, autographs are usually the most highly sought after type of collectible. Whether that’s a card, ball, bat, helmet, puck an authenticated signature item is going to be something worth targeting. Autographed cards have become a staple in sports trading card releases from all major manufacturers. In 1990, Upper Deck inserted Reggie Jackson autographed Baseball Heroes inserts into their Hi Series release. The card was hand numbered to 2,500 and became highly sought after. The rest is history. These autographed inserts are a great way to get exposure to a player you believe will become highly valuable. Autographed memorabilia like jerseys usually have a higher cost but carry huge upside.

  • Once the Holy Grail of late 80s Rookie Cards.

    Once the Holy Grail of late 80s Rookie Cards.

    Rookie Cards

Once upon a time rookie card were the most highly sought after singles in a card set. Anyone who was around for their heyday remembers the hottest ones. 1984 Fleer Update Roger Clemens, 1985 Topps Mark McGwire, 1993 SP Derek Jeter, and of course 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Today, rookie cards have lost some of their luster because of the emergence of autographed and game used cards. In addition, the market has become saturated with multiple variant sets per release many of which are low count serial numbered. All in all, this means that the base, non auto, not serial numbered rookie isn’t the hot item it once was. However, with the expansion of types of rookie cards available there are still a number that are highly sought after. Football, basketball and hockey make defining and recognizing rookie cards easy. The official definition of “Rookie Card” with respect to baseball causes many problems and confusions. A good overview is located here.

  • Low Print Runs

While the number of parallels that sets include has become somewhat overwhelming, it does offer us another opportunity to grab valuable cards. Cards serial numbered /10, /5, and of course the 1/1 can bring big cash. While the number of different low print releases overall keeps serial numbered cards as a whole from being huge value anything under /100 tends to hold good value. Do your research but these can be very much worth your while.

Hopefully if you’ve read through these first six articles they’ve been helpful. One of the best things about collecting is the chance to interact with fellow collectors. Hit us up if you have questions. We’d love to talk collecting.

Since I’m really behind writing this Thursday Night Football has already happened. So I’m calling an audible this week and previewing the Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and the San Diego Chargers. For the Bears it looks like the changing of the guard has begun. Prior to his injury Matt Forte was being shopped around and it seems the versatile back may be out in Chicago. Queue up Jeremy Langford. He doesn’t profile as a great prospect but the opportunities will be there. I don’t love putting a lot of stock into him but we know what a marginal prospect can do with a load of opportunities (see Devonta Freeman). I like him as a BUY but in small quantity. Conversely, I think its probably time to SELL on Matt Forte. There’s no telling what’s next for the perennial pro bowler.

For the Chargers, Keenan Allen was a great value before the 2014 season. He’s taking off and I think the value will continue to climb. Overall I’m playing a unique angle with the Chargers. As most football fans know the chances look pretty good that the Chargers will be playing in Los Angeles next season. I cannot overstate the impact that will have from a collecting standpoint. I love the idea of investing in some of the Chargers’ stars now. Rivers, Allen, Gordon, all will see a lift if the move takes place.

Another reminder about our Cleat Geek only group break with free 15pnsignatureserHKstuff! We’ve pulled a box of 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft Football out of our store and are offering spots to Cleat Geeks readers only. That’s 5 cards, all autographed, one card per slot. AND each slot will get a bonus grab bag courtesy of Cleat Geeks. Also, Hockey is back!!!! So we’re doing a special Cleak Geeks only break of 2015-16 Leaf Signature Hobby Box. 8 autographs and only for Cleat Geeks readers. Plus, we will do this DRAFT style which is so much fun! Don’t miss it. We will continue to do these kinds of special Cleat Geeks reader only opportunities as a thank you for being a part of the Cleat Geeks readership. If you want in on the 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft break or the 2015-16 Leaf Signature break you must email us at and tell us you read about it on Cleat Geeks.

That’s all I’ve got today. Happy Collecting!



The Collector’s Clubhouse – Episode 4

AP_Madison_Bumgarner_bc_141030_4x3_992The baseball playoffs are back! The Wild Card games are in the books and the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs are moving on to the Division Series for their respective leagues. Last year it was one of the Wild Card winners who ended up hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy after the World Series. Along the way a bonafide ace and World Series hero was made.  Madison Bumgarner became a household name, an icon in San Francisco, and a collecting star. A year ago you could’ve bought a Bumgarner autograph for a fraction of the price you would pay today. Today’s prices are also a fraction of the price you would’ve paid last November as Bumgarner was named World Series MVP. It is these types of market fluctuations that make or break after market single card sales. If you can buy low and sell high you’ll be in good shape. In order to do this you have to know what to look for. What are the signs it is time to buy? What about signs for when it is time to sell? This is what today’s episode will be focused on.

I mentioned in a previous episode about how the single card market can be viewed like the stock market. One stock market analyst that I admire greatly has an indicator he uses to gauge a stocks value versus price. He calls it “The Mother Indicator”. Basic premise being that when his mother knows about a stock, thinks that stock is a buy, he knows that stock has reached a point when it is no longer a bargain. He knows his mother doesn’t research stocks, isn’t reading through company financials, isn’t locked into the pulse of the market. So, she is a good barometer of what the outsiders, the general population, knows. The same is true for sports and collecting. We know this inherently already. You know you aren’t going to get sleeper picks for your fantasy football team from your mom. She’s going to tell you “that Aaron Rodgers is pretty good”. We can take that idea and use it when it comes to collecting too.

In collecting there are two main factors that drive price: Talent and Media Coverage. When it comes to talent that’s pretty obvious, most people don’t have any interest in collectibles from players who aren’t any good. No one’s really interested in an autographed rookie card of a guy who got cut in training camp his rookie year. So talent matters, it matters a lot, but it isn’t all that matters. Ultimately unless the general population, the “moms” so to speak, is aware that a player is great prices will stay low. Obviously moms also aren’t buying sports collectibles typically but that’s not the point. Ultimately, only about 25 percent of the American population plays fantasy football. Of that group many are casual players who are huge football fans. In other sports (baseball, basketball, hockey) the percentage of fans who play the fantasy version of that sport is even lower. The point being, there are a lot of sports fans out there who aren’t plugged into who is talented, they are plugged into who they see.

Jacob DeGrom was a 9th round pick out of Stetson University. Only the most hard core of Mets fans new who he was before his breakout 2014 MLB campaign. Fact is, he wasn’t c1458a0631a9691f97382fef47015860a hyped draft pick, wasn’t a top prospect, but is now one of the best pitchers in baseball. Depending on how the Mets fare during the playoffs he could be this year’s Bumgarner. His collectibles’ prices have already increased in value based on his current body of work. The talent was there but it took a breakout in front of a national audience (playing for a New York team takes that profile even higher) for the masses to realize that talent.

The point I hope I have communicated is there is an opportunity to take what many of us already do with fantasy sports and apply it to collectibles. You’re here reading this article right now so I’m pretty sure you are the kind of sports fan who knows those talents, those “next big thing” types. I hope you take that and use it to your advantage. Treat it like your fantasy football/baseball/basketball/hockey team, that young dynasty stash whose blocked by the aging veteran go ahead and buy up some of his cards. Find those market opportunities that present minimum downside with a lot of upside. I want to help you do that and I plan to in this column (like I do with the Thursday Night Football feature).

Next time we will take this idea even deeper as we look at more specifics about what to buy, when to buy and when to sell. Now, let’s go ahead and look at tonight’s TNF game. Tonight we have an AFC South showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans. The Colts will be without Andrew Luck who was wounded by a cannon explosion that threw him from his horse as he directed his men along the front lines at Chancellorsville. This is not completely true but isn’t that far fetched. Between that and the Texans ability to play the pass I’m not very  bullish on their aerial attack tonight. Who I am bullish about going forward from a collecting standpoint is Donte Moncrief. Andre Johnson looks like a player who is just hanging on. T.Y. Hilton is not the prototypical WR1 body type. Moncrief is. He is already getting as many targets as Hilton and it is only a matter of time before he is Luck’s favorite target. The hype hasn’t reached peak levels yet so Moncrief is very much a buy.

For Houston they have a young WR star in the making as well. DeAndre Hopkins got a whopping 22 targets last week against the Falcons. With Houston’s other options in the passing game being Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts (both of whom are dealing with injuries) Hopkins will continue to get all the targets he can handle. Hopkins should make his first Pro Bowl this season and will be in the conversation regarding the top WRs in the game for the foreseeable future. His collectible prices aren’t as juicy as they were going into last year (when I targeted him heavily) but they are still low enough to warrant buy status,

Another reminder about our Cleat Geek only group break with free stuff! We’ve pulled a box of 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft out of our store and are offering spots to Cleat Geeks readers only. That’s 5 cards, all autographed, one card per slot. AND each slot will get a bonus grab bag courtesy of Cleat Geeks. We will continue to do these kinds of special Cleat Geeks reader only opportunities as a thank you for being a part of the Cleat Geeks readership. Stay tuned as we have some fun stuff planned to commemorate the start of the MLB playoffs and the upcoming NHL season. If you want in on the 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft break you must email us at and tell us you read about it on Cleat Geeks.

In addition to this we are commemorating the MLB playoffs AND the start of the NHL season (!!) with two new Cleat Geeks only offers. Stay tuned next week as we reveal more about those opportunities. Until next time have some fun and happy collecting!

The Collector’s Clubhouse – Episode 3

In episode one of the Collector’s Clubhouse wee talked about the enjoyment of collecting and the nostalgia and fun that collecting brings to following sports. Episode two focused on the financial side of collecting, the opportunities for collecting as an investment. Last week I promised to delve into this second concept in more depth. So, that’s exactly what we are going to do.

I said last week that collectibles can be thought of like the stock market. There is one really big difference between the stock market and collectibles however. When you buy stock you know exactly what stock you are buying. The price changes depending on a number of factors but if you go buy 100 shares of Apple stock you will receive 100 shares of Apple stock. You can buy collectibles this way (buying single cards after market, purchasing autographed balls, jerseys, etc.) but for the most part this is not the way collectibles are packaged by the manufacturer. Ever since the first wax packs were produced decades ago (gum included!) sports cards have been sold in “packs”, groups of cards in various numbers (usually around 10-12) that are sealed in a wrapper. You won’t know what you bought until after the fact.


A monster hit worth way more than the price of the pack.

In my opinion, this is one of the real true joys of collecting. You never now when you’re going to open a pack of Upper Deck basketball and pull a Michael Jordan autographed patch card serial numbered /5. In the business this kind of hit is called a BOOM!!!!! (typically with the all caps and exclamation points included, collectors are excitable people). Pulling something big from a pack is the quickest way to end up profitable in collecting. You don’t have to hit a monster like the Jordan to end up with more value than the cost of the pack/box you purchased. Sometimes, it may take a few years for that value to be realized (think about the 2011 Topps Update example from episode 2).

Of course you won’t always end up with a successful break and there will be times where you’ll open a product and end up with less than you paid. However, if you can keep your losses small when they happen (I’ll talk about that in the coming weeks) when you hit big it’ll put you on the plus side. Even if the number of times you “lose” outweigh the number of times you “win”. I hope that all makes sense. If not I’ll be getting more into the specifics soon.

This doesn’t only exist with cards anymore as now manufacturers are selling a number of other items (autographed and/or game used balls, gloves,

An example of boxed autographed baseballs.

An example of boxed autographed baseballs.

jerseys, etc.) in sealed packaging. So if you don’t like the idea of paying $300 for a Mike Trout autographed baseball you can pick up a 2015 Tristar Hidden Treasures box instead. Maybe you end up with a Mike Trout and your $75 investment turns into $300. Or maybe you end up with a ball only worth $50. But, again, if you keep those losses small eventually when you do hit it’ll be a big profit.

Which brings us to the idea of “group breaks”. Group breaks are a really fun and economical idea. Instead of one person having to float the cost of an entire box of cards or case (cases are how manufacturers package boxes, so a case may have 5, 10, or even 20 boxes) of cards, a group of collectors can share that cost. A few common ways to spit up a group break include by teams, divisions, or hits (example, if there are 10 hits, autographs or game used cards, then those would be split up among the breakers in the group). This allows each group member to lower their overhead costs and allows them to have a chance at bigger profit for less cost. Again, you won’t always “hit” but it’s a lot of fun and the costs are much lower. Plus, it’s a great way to get a chance to interact with other collectors.

Those are the basics of breaking and next week we will talk more in depth about the other side of collecting, singles and how to buy and sell them for investment. Another reminder about our Cleat Geek only group break with free stuff! We’ve pulled a box of 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft out of our store and are offering spots to Cleat Geeks readers only. That’s 5 cards, all autographed, one card per slot. AND each slot will get a bonus grab bag courtesy of Cleat Geeks. We will continue to do these kinds of special Cleat Geeks reader only opportunities as a thank you for being a part of the Cleat Geeks readership. Stay tuned as we have some fun stuff planned to commemorate the start of the MLB playoffs and the upcoming NHL season. If you want in on the 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft break you must email us at and tell us you read about it on Cleat Geeks.

Last but not least we’ve got our collecting picks for tonight’s Thursday Night Football match up between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Let’s start with the Ravens who have seen a lot of turnover on offense around Joe Flacco recently. While Justin Forsett had his coming out party last season I’m not convinced that his value holds moving forward. I’m not seeing the overall success or the media hype that is required for collecting values to rise for the, to this point, journeyman running back. A young, potential star in the making I do have my eye on is Breshad Perriman. More than likely this will be Steve Smith Sr.’s last NFL season and there is a dearth of  pass catching talent behind him on the Ravens’ depth chart. Perriman is the one receiver who appears to have the skills required to be a #1 in the NFL. Don’t let his injury woes deter you as they only drive his current price down. Once he gets healthy and starts to see the field, production will follow. Perriman is a buy.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are an interesting team that is full of older players or young players whose star has already brightened. Big Ben is a national star as is now the case for Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell too. In general offensive players are always more hyped (and therefore more pricey) than defensive players. Throughout the years though there have been defensive starts that have transcended the typical defensive player valuations. I think Ryan Shazier (if he can say healthy) could be one of those players. In a market like Pittsburgh with a rich defensive legacy Shazier could become a star. He doesn’t have the Polamalu hair but he could be a Ray Lewis type who becomes a household name at the inside linebacker position. I would recommend Shazier as a buy but keep your exposure small.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Thanks for reading and happy collecting!

The Collector’s Clubhouse – Episode Two

In our inaugural article here at The Collector’s Clubhouse we talked about the joys of sports collecting. How sports collecting enhances the experience of following your favorite teams and players as well as reminding you of the “good ole days” when you were just a kid in love with sports. That’s all well and good but the truth is sports collecting can be a pretty expensive hobby. If nostalgia is all you’re getting out of it chances are you’re not going to be getting a good return on your investment.

The good news, however, is that sports collectibles are not a sunk cost by any means. What do I mean by sunk cost? Well, if you purchase a Blu-ray for $29.99 chances are if you try to resell, your return would only be $4-$5. So for all intents and purposes that Blu-ray is a sunk cost. I’m not saying that the purchase of a Blu-ray is a bad one, there is much intrinsic value that it provides. However, a Blu-ray collection is going to almost always end up failing to return value.

Sports collections (here we are focused mainly on cards but include autographs and game used memorabilia) are a completely different situation than the Blu-ray collection we just took a look at. The reality is that these collections can not only return value (aka you can sell them for what you paid for them) but in some instances can be sold for much more than the purchase price. Let’s look at a somewhat extreme example that illustrates this point.

In 2011 Topps released its annual Update series which features traded players in their new team’s uniform and rookie cards of young players not included in the original set. This set is a very basic set with retail (products available at retail stores like Target or Walmart) boxes selling for $19.99 and hobby (products available at hobby stores like your local trading cards shop) boxes selling for  $39.99. The 2011 set however has exploded, with hobby boxes now selling on eBay for 10 times the original sale price. Rookie cards of Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt (two of the biggest young stars in the game today) has driven those prices. If you had bought boxes four years ago (and had the discipline to not open the packs) you would be able to sell at this point for a large profit. Or, if you had purchase a box and ended up pulling a Trout or Goldschmidt you would also be able to sell that card for a big profit.

Boxes like this one now sell for up to 10 times their MSRP

Boxes like this one now sell for up to 10 times their MSRP            

Keep in mind if you are starting to get the urge to head down to you closest Target and buy up their entire inventory of trading cards that not all products are created equal when it comes to profitability. There are many products with which your chances of ending up profitable are very slim (I plan on diving into this concept in our next article). So what you buy is very important. However, the point I want to make clear is that collecting is something that you can invest in without the heartburn of feeling like you are setting your money on fire. Will you be able to retire off it? Maybe, but I’m not going to make any promises.


2011 Topps Update Mike Trout RC

Like I said, I want to really delve into the specifics of the concept of collecting and profit in the next article. So stay tuned for that because you won’t want to miss it. I’m going to give a sneak peek right now, because the NFL season is here and it gives us a unique opportunity. Here’s your sneak peek into next week’s article. Sports collecting is a lot like the stock market. Buying sports collectibles is a lot like buy stocks. Sometimes their values go up and sometimes they go down. Think about it like your fantasy football team. Next week we will get into that in depth.

I plan on having a new article out every Thursday in lead up to that week’s Thursday Night Football broadcast. Each week, I will highlight a player from each team to keep an eye on them from a collecting standpoint and tell you whether I think you should buy or sell. Tonight we have the Washington Redskins vs. The New York Football Giants. Not a ton of young talent on the field for either of these two teams. You know about RGIII (looks like he’s officially busted as an NFL quarterback) and Odell Beckham Jr. (prices are sky high for his items) but unless you’ve been paying close attention to the Redskins (I’m sure most of you haven’t) you may not be aware of what’s starting to transpire in their backfield. Rookie Matt Jones outcarried Alfred Morris 19 to 18 a week after being on the field for only 62% of Washington’s offensive snaps in Week 1. While it is early there are indicators that say this is a trend not an anomaly (Jones was drafted by the current coaching staff, Morris by the previous). I recommend selling any collecting shares of Alfred Morris you have before his lead back days are officially over.
On the other side of the ball the New York Giants have an interesting young RB in Andre Williams. Williams’ physical profile coming out of college (read: combine numbers) compare favorably with Adrian Peterson, Latavius Murray, and the aforementioned Alfred Morris. He is still relatively unknown as he played at Boston College and is behind Rashard Jennings on the Giants depth chart. He may not be for much longer as Jennings has a history of being injury prone and if given the job Williams may not give it back. The knock on Williams is he is a “plodder”, a term also used to describe Le’Veon Bell before his breakout last season. I’m not saying Williams the next Bell or Pederson but with his autographed cards currently selling on eBay for less than $10 there’s a lot of upside without a whole lot of downside at that price. For that reason, I’m calling him a buy.

That’s all for now! Tune in next time as we continue to expand on the ins and outs of the sports collecting marketplace. Before I’m done I want to tell you about a very special promo. As you know (or maybe you don’t) I have a startup box/case breaking business called Majestic Card Breaks. Our goal is to give collectors a chance to partner with other collectors from across the country and break some of the top products being released today across all sports. Everyone gets a piece of the pie without having to drop enormous amounts of cash. It’s a win/win for everyone. Now that we have partnered with Cleat Geeks we want to give readers an exclusive chance to break with us and also get some cool bonus items courtesy of Cleat Geeks. So we’ve pulled a box of 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft out of our store and are offering spots to Cleat Geeks readers only. That’s 5 cards, all autographed, one card per slot. AND each slot will get a bonus grab bag courtesy of Cleat Geeks. We will continue to do these kinds of special Cleat Geeks reader only opportunities as a thank you for being a part of the Cleat Geeks readership. Stay tuned as we have some fun stuff planned to commemorate the start of the MLB playoffs and the upcoming NHL season. If you want in on the 2015 Leaf Ultimate Draft break you must email us at and tell us you read about it on Cleat Geeks. Happy Collecting!


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