CHICAGO -- With the next chapter of their football careers about to begin, a new crop of NFL rookies began 2016 NFL Draft Week festivities with Panini America on Tuesday as part of the annual NFLPA Rookie Debut.
CHICAGO — With the next chapter of their football careers about to begin, a new crop of NFL rookies began 2016 NFL Draft Week festivities with Panini America on Tuesday as part of the annual NFLPA Rookie Debut.
Nearly 20 players spent the afternoon signing autographs and posing for photos slated to be featured in upcoming Panini America releases. There was also plenty of time for fun as these gridiron standouts marveled at seeing themselves on cardboard for the first time while busting packs of the newest Panini America products (including the new 2016 Score Football) with some of the big names in group breaking.
“That’s real life,” Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander said boldly as held his 2016 Score Football Rookie Card.
Nearby, TCU running back Aaron Green studied his card closely while sitting in with Bomber Breaks. A short time later, Duke safety — and ACC Defensive Player of the Year — Jeremy Cash paused for a moment when handed his 2016 Score Football Rookie Card.
“It’s crazy that I’m on a card people will want,” Cash said.
In addition to providing autographs for future cards, many of the players gave impromptu signatures on copies of their cards as they were pulled from 2016 Collegiate Prizm Draft Picks Football and Score Football boxes by Top Shelf Breaks, Ultimate Box Breaks and Bombers. While they put blue markers through a workout, the players thought about the first time someone asked for their autograph, memories which stretched back to youth football for Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard and seventh grade for two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller from Ohio State.
“It means a lot,” Miller said of how it felt to know collectors and fans look forward to finding his autograph cards in packs.
The beaming smiles could be spotted easily in the Panini America suite when Vernon Adams, of Oregon, and South Carolina’s Jerell Adams, held their cards proudly. A few, including UCLA’s Paul Perkins, found it just as exciting to see a teammate’s card, which prompted phones to come out for texts and calls to share the experience.
For most of the players, Tuesday was their first exposure to not just the popular world of online breaking, but to opening sports cards in general. Braxton’s teammate at Ohio State, Michael Thomas, appeared to be the exception as he mentioned collecting Kobe Bryant jersey cards as a kid.
Thomas stepped away from signing long enough to pull up a seat with Ultimate Box Breaks as host Bryan Gavin cracked a box of 2015 National Treasures Football. Thomas lingered a little as he studied the mix of high-end autographs and memorabilia cards before making it clear he was impressed.
“I get to keep these, right?” Thomas wondered aloud. “I need one of those (boxes).”
Despite Chicago’s chilly conditions on Tuesday, the players warmed to the task of sharing what NFL Draft weekend means to them after years of hard work.
“It’s everybody’s dream to play for an NFL team,” North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett said after mentioning Hall of Famer Warren Sapp as one of the autographs he collected as a kid.
Added Miller, “I’m ready to start a new chapter.”
Panini America will be all over the NFL Draft this week, from Thursday’s first round to the fun at Draft Town. Follow along on Twitter and Instagram and, of course, check out The Knight’s Lance for coverage as we welcome the Class of 2016. In the gallery below, we bring you a photographic recap of yesterday’s NFLPA Rookie Debut, starting with a visual checklist of the future NFL players in attendance. Enjoy the gallery.