UPNXT First Half Recap: Best NFL Waiver Wire Pickups and Trading Card Moves

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Is it just me, or does it seem like this year has moved faster than DK Metcalf chasing down Budda Baker to save a pick six? It felt like only yesterday I was worried if we would even have an NFL season. Fast forward, and we’re already at the halfway point of a schedule that has had its ups and downs. Teams have overcome the difficulties of not having a preseason, the effects of COVID-19, and a plethora of injuries to key players this year. If nothing else, 2020 has showcased the resilience of people from all walks of life.

Despite all the bad, there’s been some bright spots worth mentioning too! That’s what this week’s UPNXT article is all about. We want to look back at the first half of the NFL season, and check in on some of the young guys we discovered who have lived up to the hype so far. These represent the crème de la crème of UPNXT, the ones who have made the most noise in the fantasy football and trading card hobbies. Hopefully, you have them on your fantasy rosters, or at the very least, picked up a couple of their trading cards while their prices are still reasonable.

So, if you’re looking to take a quick break from all the politics, you’ve come to the right place. We’re kicking it old school this week by dusting off the VCR, popping in the UPNXT VHS, and hitting the rewind button, as we look back at five of the hottest names in the NFL after eight weeks of action. In the famous words of Terrell Owens, “Getcha popcorn ready,” because we have a value packed article with your name on it! Let’s go!

Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers

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Fantasy: They say everything happens for a reason, right? Unfortunately, Tyrod Taylor’s cracked ribs in Week 1, led to a botched pain-killing injection before the game in Week 2. That left the door wide open for Justin Herbert to come in and seize the moment, and that’s exactly what he did.

Herbert made his unexpected first career start against a formidable Kansas City Chiefs defense, impressing from start to finish. He would end up with 311 yards, one passing touchdown, and one rushing touchdown. But where things really took off for the former Oregon Duck was Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The rookie threw for 290 yards, three touchdowns, and posted an impressive 137.9 quarterback rating in defeat. Since taking over, Herbert ranks in the top ten in the following passing categories:

  • Passing TD (15)
  • Passer Rating (104.5)
  • Long Pass (72)
  • Passing Yds/Game (303.3)
  • Yds/Pass Att (8.0)
  • Yds/Pass Cmp (11.9)
  • Pass Attempts/Game (37.8)
  • Adj Yds/Pass Att (8.35)
  • Net Yds/Pass Att (7.33)
  • Adj Net Yds/Pass Att (7.64)
  • Passes Completed/Game (25.5)
  • Passing TD% (6.6%)
  • QBR (79.10)

So, if you can’t tell by now, this kid has been lights out, something that not even we expected when he took the reins in Week 2. He would be a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year if it weren’t for another young signal caller in Cincinnati (more on him later). Herbert sits as the 12th quarterback overall in fantasy football.

Card Market: Simply put, the Herbert card market is on fire and we haven't even seen what's about to happen when Prizm football drops in early December. The Chargers haven't been winning many games, but don't blame Herbert for that. He is putting up crazy numbers and is likely to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. I made some sneaky good plays on his raw NFL Debut Silver Mosaics that were available for around $20/each only a few weeks ago and are now selling for around $60-70 regularly with PSA 10's going for around $700! (Can't wait to get my PSA submission back!). His raw standard silver Prizm Mosaic is selling for $500+ with a PSA 10 selling for $3000 on Halloween. 

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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Fantasy: The bid for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is most certainly not a one-horse race. As good as Justin Herbert has been, perhaps Joe Burrow has been even better, but that’s for you to decide. What isn’t debatable, is the Bengals have found their quarterback of the future in Burrow. It hasn’t always come easy for the first-year starter, but he has shown guts, grit, and toughness in the face of adversity.

Some standout performances include his two games versus the Browns, where he combined for 722 yards, six touchdowns, while adding 53 rushing yards with one rushing touchdown. Another strong showing came in Week 3 vs the Eagles, which saw Burrow pass for 312 yards and two touchdowns in what ended up as a tie game. “The Tiger King” now ranks:

  • 1st in Passes Completed
  • 1st in Pass Attempts
  • 3rd in Passing Yds
  • 7th in Passing Yds/game
  • 9th in Yds/Pass Att
  • 2nd in Pass Attempts/Game
  • 2nd Passes Completed/Game

While these ranks may not jump off the page like Herbert’s do, they show that Cincy not only trusts him, but have placed a lot of responsibility on his shoulders from day one. If the Bengals’ defense improves, their offensive line can protect their franchise quarterback better, and he can rack up some more wins, it won’t be long before he’s ranked inside the top ten at his position. Burrow currently ranks 11th overall at quarterback in fantasy football.

Card Market: Burrow, like Herbert, has been as advertised and looks every bit the part as a future franchise quarterback. Also like Herbert, his card market is white hot and again, the release of Prizm football in a few weeks looms large! His raw silver Mosaic Prizm recently sold for $260, but my sneaky good play on him again was scooping up his raw silver NFL Debut cards for around $20-25 that are now selling for $60+. It will be crazy to see how much his Prizms sell for with hobby boxes selling for $1000/each. If you are lucky enough to land one during a break, get it to PSA ASAP! 

Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Fantasy: Talk about making a statement! Coming into this season, the outlook on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense was positive, given that future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back James Conner, and number one wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster were all finally healthy. On top of that, second year receiver Diontae Johnson, who missed ten games because of injuries, was also back in the fold and expected to have a big year. As is the case in football, it’s a next man up mentality, and with Johnson struggling to stay healthy so far, Chase Claypool emerged as a bonafide stud.

The 6’4, 238-pound athlete from Notre Dame first showed flashes of his immense upside in Week 2 versus the Broncos. He turned his three targets into three catches for 88 yards, and a touchdown. In Week 5, Claypool would put the league on notice by scorching the Eagles to the tune of 110 receiving yards, three touchdowns, plus another touchdown on the ground! For his efforts, Claypool was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Some other noteworthy rankings include:

  • 9th Receiving TD (5)
  • 1st Long Reception (84 yards)
  • 10th Yds/Reception (16.3)
  • 5th Touchdowns (7)
  • 5th Rushing/Receiving TD (7)

With many expecting the Steelers to move on from Smith-Schuster after this season, Claypool’s fantasy stock will continue to climb. In his short career, he’s shown the athleticism to stretch the field, and the versatility to line up in various spots, which bodes well for league managers who were able to pick him up in their leagues. Claypool currently ranks as the 13th best wide receiver in fantasy football and should continue to be a solid starter in the second half of the schedule.

Card Market: Claypool's card market is definitely the hottest of all non-quarterback rookies. He has had some huge games and plays for a team with one of the biggest fan bases. That is a solid recipe for investment success. His raw silver Mosaics were selling for over $100 in mid-October but have pulled back a bit and can now be had for around $50. I like that buy. A couple more good games down the stretch for an undefeated team will likely shoot those prices right back up. A game winning touchdown in a playoff game (or better yet, the Super Bowl) would really do wonders. Plenty of meat on that bone still. I'm a buyer. 

Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings

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Fantasy: When the Minnesota Vikings decided to move on from Stefon Diggs after five highly productive seasons, the writing was on the wall that they’d need to address the wide receiver position in a meaningful way. The Vikings decided the best way to bolster the position would be to spend a late first round pick on LSU Tiger Justin Jefferson. Selecting a receiver wasn’t so much a surprise, but what was, was him falling far enough to land in their laps. Most mock drafts had the Philadelphia Eagles selecting Jefferson at pick 21 of the first round. Instead, the Eagles took TCU receiver Jalen Reagor, a controversial pick that is still too early to judge.

Jefferson didn’t come running out of the gates, but once he moved from the slot to lining up on the outside, he started finding success. His breakout game came in Week 3 against the Titans, where he exploded for 175 yards and a touchdown. He’d follow that performance up the next week going for 103 yards against the Texans. He’d have arguably his best game in Week 6, topping 160 yards, while adding two scores and a two-point conversion.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Vikings have found their next Stefon Diggs, or perhaps their first Justin Jefferson. His productive college career has finally started to translate to the pro level, and if Minnesota’s defense keeps struggling, the Vikes will be forced to pass, meaning more big games lie in wait for Jefferson. He currently sits at 16th overall among wide receivers in fantasy football.

Card Market: This is a textbook case of the difference between playing for the 7-0 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2-5 Minnesota Vikings. Jefferson's superior stat line (31 catches, 563 yards, 3 td's) compared to Claypool's (23 catches, 375 yards, 5 td's) is not translating to the card market as his silver Mosaics are selling for around $30. At such a low entry point, now may be a very good time to buy some Jefferson cards, and I just may go do that. 

Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers

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Fantasy: Has there been any team more negatively impacted by injuries than the 49ers this year? From quarterback, to running back, to wide receiver, and tight end (and that’s just on offense!), the Niners have been decimated from the start of the season. One guy who has managed to avoid being bitten by the injury bug since his debut in Week 2, is Brandon Aiyuk. The former Sun Devil receiver has been truly impressive in his rookie year, showing insane athleticism and unparalleled versatility in the process. In fact, he might be a better version of teammate Deebo Samuel! 

The Niners continue to find creative ways to get the ball in his hands in space, taking full advantage of his freakish physical gifts. Back in weeks three and four, Aiyuk found the endzone twice, rushing for a touchdown in each game. In weeks six through eight, Aiyuk has 218 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. He continues to be a big-time playmaker and should see even more opportunities if San Fran struggles to stay healthy. He is the 23rd ranked wide receiver in fantasy.

Card Market: Aiyuk's stat line does not compare well to Jefferson's (28 catches, 371 yards, 2 td's), yet his silver Mosaics are selling for about the same price ($30). I like Aiyuk's long-term playing in Shanahan's offensive system, however, if I am investing $30 right now in one of these guys, it's Jefferson all day. That is no slight to Aiyuk, it's just an apples-to-apples comparison. 

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