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Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT), Target Corporation (TGT), eBay Inc (EBAY): Football Cards: 2013 NFL Draft Cause for Concern?

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Last year was a banner one for football cards, highlighted by an unusually strong 2012 NFL rookie class.

That rookie class featured what looks to be at least three elite quarterbacks, including Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, and Andrew Luck, who set single-season and single-game rookie passing yardage records and led an Indianapolis Colts team that was the league’s worst in 2011 to 11 wins and the playoffs in 2012. Griffin and Wilson both ranked in the NFL’s top five in passer rating, and both led their teams to the playoffs as well. Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins could very well join this elite group in the next year or two.

The 2012 draft class also had two rookie running backs who ended up in the top five in the league in rushing yardage — Doug Martin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and sixth-round pick Alfred Morris of the Washington Redskins — as well as a rookie linebacker in Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers, who led the league in tackles. In addition, RB Trent Richardson of the Cleveland Browns and wide receiver Justin Blackmon of the Jacksonville Jaguars — the third and fifth overall picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, respectively, may yet pan out as elite players.

The strong rookie class has made its impact on cardboard prices. As demand has increased while supply has dried up, blaster boxes of 2012 Topps Chrome Football, which sold for $19.99 at retail at Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT) and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT), are now going for $30 to $35 a pop on eBay Inc (NASDAQ:EBAY). Meanwhile, 12-box hobby cases of the same set — which could be had for less than $1,300 as recently as January — are now pushing $1,700 to $1,800 per case.

 Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT)

With the 2013 NFL Draft just weeks away — and with the first 2013 NFL sets featuring players who haven’t even been drafted yet are already on the market — are we in for an encore?

On one hand, retailers and collectors alike have expressed concern over what is perceived to be an exceptionally weak 2013 NFL draft class. On the other hand, at last month’s Industry Summit in Las Vegas, card manufacturers were quick to point out that players can emerge seemingly out of nowhere. After all, Wilson was a third-round pick, while Alfred Morris flew so under the radar as a sixth-round selection that he wasn’t even included in the 2012 Topps Chrome set.

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