15 Most Valuable 1990 Action Packed Football Cards

Written By Ross Uitts

Last Updated: March 1, 2024
1990 Action Packed Football Cards


Featuring embossed printing and 3-D sculptured imagery, the 1990 Action Packed football card set offered a unique collecting experience in a heated market.

During the hobby boom of that era, innovative ideas like these were precisely what it took for brands to stand out...

Companies like Topps, Fleer, Score, and Pro Set were already fighting neck and neck for every piece of market share they could get.

So, the folks at High-Pro Marketing needed to bring something special to set themselves apart.

Looking through the cards in this set, you can see they accomplished that goal.

And in this guide, we'll look at the 15 most valuable.

Let's jump right in!

Ross Uitts

Ross Uitts - Owner

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Let's be clear: most of the cards from this set do not have any value these days.

Like the 1990 Fleer, Pro Set, Score and Topps sets, large print runs saturated the market with these cards, driving down their values.

So, for the cards on this list to be worth much, they'll have to be graded by PSA to be in perfect, gem mint condition.

That means the card needs to be flawless.

Now that we got that out of the way, let's take a look at the list:

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #34 Emmitt Smith Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $800

When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Emmitt Smith at number 17 in the 1990 NFL Draft, they knew they were adding much-needed help to their run game.

Initially, many teams thought Smith would not adapt well at the NFL level.

However, the Cowboys believed in him enough to trade up with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the chance to grab him.

And that move proved one of the smartest decisions in franchise history.

During the first thirteen seasons of Smith's fifteen-year career in the NFL, he'd help bring three Super Bowl championships and many other accolades to Dallas.

And by the time his career ended in 2004 with the Arizona Cardinals, Smith would retire as the game's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards.

It all started during his rookie season in 1990 when he ripped off 937 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns to take home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl selection.

From then on, the rest was history.

You won't find this card in the base 1990 Action Packed set but will instead need to search for it in the 1990 Action Packed Rookie Update set.

But because I won't likely get a chance to cover the Rookie Update set, I decided to include him and multiple other key players in this list.

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #34 Emmitt Smith Rookie Card

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #46 Shannon Sharpe Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $450

Like Smith, Shannon Sharpe was another rookie in 1990 with no shortage of doubters despite having a standout collegiate career.

Because of his size, many NFL scouts and coaches felt he was too big to play wide receiver and too small to be a tight end.

He was an incredible athlete with seemingly nowhere to fit in the NFL.

Hence, Sharpe fell to the seventh round of the 1990 NFL Draft when the Denver Broncos finally selected him at 192nd overall.

No one could have guessed it at the time, but that pick was arguably the best in franchise history.

Sharpe struggled to find his way during his first two seasons with Denver, catching just 29 passes with two touchdowns.

But by his third year in the league in 1992, Sharpe found his footing and morphed into a Pro Bowler.

Throughout his fourteen seasons in the NFL, Sharpe earned First-Team All-Pro four times and became an eight-time Pro Bowler while amassing an eye-popping 10,060 receiving yards.

Sharpe retired as the all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns by a tight end while paving the way for future tight ends to take the position to a new level.

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #46 Shannon Sharpe Rookie Card

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #39 Cortez Kennedy Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $300

While at the University of Miami, Cortez Kennedy emerged as an All-American defensive lineman with size and speed that many NFL teams would've loved to have on their roster.

As it turned out, the Seattle Seahawks were the only franchise fortunate enough to ever have him in uniform.

After Seattle selected Kennedy with the third pick in the 1990 NFL Draft, he remained with the Seahawks throughout his thirteen-year Hall of Fame career.

Things got off to a bumpy start in 1990 as Kennedy remained unsigned until two days before the start of the regular season.

And the lack of work leading up to the season likely played a part in his underwhelming rookie debut.

Kennedy started just two games in 1990, finishing the season with 48 tackles, one forced fumble, one recovery, and one sack.

But the Seahawks knew he had the potential to be unique.

With plenty of offseason focus and practice, Kennedy rose to expectations during his sophomore campaign in 1991, earning his first of eight career Pro Bowl nominations.

And, by 1992, he'd become the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.

Kennedy was an incredible talent and played a massive role in how teams would utilize the defensive tackle position for years to come.

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #39 Cortez Kennedy Rookie Card

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #10 Leroy Butler Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $200

After taking linebacker Tony Bennett and running back Darrell Thompson with the 18th and 19th picks of the 1990 NFL Draft, Green Bay then looked to shore up their defensive secondary.

During the 1989 season, Green Bay sported a decent passing defense.

But defensive backs Jerry Holmes, Dave Brown, and Mark Murphy were on the backside of their careers, and the Packers needed youth for the future.

Fortunately, Butler, a standout from Florida State University, was still available when it was their turn to pick again in the second round.

Butler came off the bench in all sixteen games during his 1990 rookie season, but when he played, he made it count.

With three interceptions and a forced fumble in limited time, Butler showed plenty of promise.

By 1991, he'd worked himself into the starting position at right corner and had an immediate impact in the secondary.

However, with longtime strong safety Mark Murphy's retirement after the 1991 season, Butler really settled into his own when he took over the position.

From then on, Butler would build a legacy as one of the best strong safeties of his era, becoming a four-time First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in the process.

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #10 Leroy Butler Rookie Card

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #38 Junior Seau Rookie Card

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $115

Throughout his incredible twenty-year NFL career, Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau struck fear into the hearts of opposing offenses.

With a passion that few possess, Seau worked tirelessly to perfect his craft.

After starring for the USC Trojans in college, Seau headed south on I-5 to San Diego when the Chargers drafted him fifth overall in the 1990 NFL Draft.

And fortunately, Seau's transition to the professional level went quite smoothly.

During his rookie year, Seau started in all but one game while compiling an impressive 85 tackles with one sack to take home a third-place finish in the Defensive Rookie of the Year vote.

From then on, Seau kept his foot on the gas, ripping off twelve straight Pro Bowl seasons for San Diego from 1991 to 2002.

In all, Seau spent thirteen years in San Diego and most linebackers would've called it quits at that point.

But Seau would play for three years with the Miami Dolphins and four with the New England Patriots before finally retiring at 40.

Though he was known for his high energy and explosiveness, his longevity at the linebacker position was perhaps just as impressive.

1990 Action Packed Rookie Update #38 Junior Seau Rookie Card

1990 Action Packed #246 Joe Montana

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $100

Midway through the 1980 NFL season, with Steve DeBerg struggling with turnovers, Joe Montana began to take over as the San Francisco 49ers' starting quarterback.

Montana's results were initially mixed and the team even benched him again at one point in favor of DeBerg.

However, he'd finish the season's last four games as the starter, going 2-2 and ending the year as the NFL's league leader in completion percentage.

From then on, Montana would become the face of the franchise through the 1990 season, winning various awards and helping the 49ers win four Super Bowl championships.

Unfortunately for Montana, the 1990 season would be his last full season in red and gold.

And it was as good of a season as any, with Montana taking home MVP honors for the second consecutive season, though it ended with a heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship.

But the heartbreak only grew from there.

During the 1991 pre-season, Montana suffered an elbow injury that would derail his career with the 49ers.

Fellow Hall of Famer Steve Young played well enough in his absence that he would eventually take over, forcing Montana to leave for Kansas City in 1993 to write a new chapter in his career.

1990 Action Packed #246 Joe Montana Football Card

1990 Action Packed #248 Jerry Rice

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $100

With Joe Montana leading the offensive attack and Ronnie Lott spearheading the defense, the San Francisco 49ers had already won two Super Bowls in the 80s before Jerry Rice showed up in 1985.

Little did everyone know it then, but San Francisco was about to become even more dominant.

When head coach Bill Walsh saw Rice play at Mississippi Valley State, he knew he had to have him.

Rice was the deep threat San Francisco needed to take Walsh's "West Coast" offensive attack to the next level.

After trading multiple picks with the New England Patriots, San Francisco secured the 16th pick in the 1985 NFL Draft, just one slot ahead of the Dallas Cowboys, who also had their eye on Rice.

And with that pick, San Francisco landed arguably the greatest wide receiver ever in NFL history.

Rice started four games in 1985, finishing with 927 receiving yards and setting the franchise record for receiving yards in a game when he lit up the Rams for 241 yards in Week 13.

If there was ever even the tiniest doubt that Rice could excel at the NFL level, he immediately erased it during his rookie season.

And from then on, Rice rewrote the record books.

1990 Action Packed #248 Jerry Rice Football Card

1990 Action Packed #78 Barry Sanders

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $50

When Sanders entered the league in 1989, he took the NFL by storm, ripping off 1,470 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns to capture NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

The question on everyone's mind entering the 1990 regular season was: could Sanders maintain such a high level of output?

By season's end, there were no more doubters.

In only his second year in the NFL, Barry Sanders zigged and zagged for a league-leading 1,304 rushing yards.

It was the first of four times during his Hall of Fame career that the elusive back would lead the NFL in rushing.

On top of that, Sanders added a career-high 480 receiving yards, showing he could beat teams through the air, too, if needed.

Most importantly, his performance in 1990 solidified his reputation as one of the most dominant backs in the league.

And from there, he just kept rolling.

Sanders would spend eight more dominant seasons in the NFL before retiring as a ten-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro after the 1998 season.

Though he may not hold the all-time rushing record, Sanders has no shortage of supporters who consider him the greatest running back of all time.

1990 Action Packed #78 Barry Sanders Football Card

1990 Action Packed #128 Bo Jackson

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $50

Though he may not have been as elusive as other top backs of the era, Bo Jackson relied on his incredible speed and power to dominate the opposition.

You could argue that Jackson's 1989 season was his most statistically impressive.

But the 1990 season was the year that forever etched a unique place in history for the Alabama native.

Averaging a robust 5.6 yards per carry on 125 carries, Jackson racked up 698 rushing yards and five touchdowns to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl.

And since he had made the All-Star team with the Kansas City Royals in 1989, that Pro Bowl selection made Jackson the only person in history to be an All-Star in both the NFL and MLB.

Not even Deion Sanders could pull off that achievement and it's unlikely anyone else ever will.

Another key point about Jackson's 1990 season was that his 88-yard touchdown run in Week 14 against the Bengals made it the third time in his four-year career that he ran for the longest touchdown in the season.

Unfortunately, a much sadder event would occur during a playoff game against the Bengals a month later when he suffered his career-ending hip injury.

1990 Action Packed #128 Bo Jackson Football Card

1990 Action Packed #63 John Elway

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $40

To say that the 1980s brought plenty of ups and downs for John Elway and the Denver Broncos would be an understatement.

On the one hand, Elway and crew rattled off six winning seasons and took home three AFC Championships from 1983 to 1989.

However, the door would slam shut on their Super Bowl aspirations all three times.

They just couldn't seem to get over the hump when it mattered most.

And during the 1990 season, it began to look like Elway would never even get back to the Super Bowl.

Though he did plenty on his part, passing for 3,526 yards and 15 touchdowns, the Broncos were lousy that season, finishing last in the AFC West at 5-11.

It didn't help that the league's top defense from the year before collapsed to finish as the NFL's 23rd-ranked unit in 1990.

Fortunately, the 1990 Broncos' woes turned out to be sudden.

The defense showed up again in 1991 and Elway kept things rolling on offense to help Denver to a 12-4 record.

And even though the Bills shut down Elway's Super Bowl hopes in 1991 during the AFC Championship, he'd go on to win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998.

1990 Action Packed #63 John Elway Football Card

1990 Action Packed #146 Dan Marino

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $40

If you were to ask NFL fans to name the greatest player ever without a Super Bowl, most would immediately point to Dan Marino.

As soon as Marino took over the starting quarterback job for the Dolphins in 1983, he wowed fans with his incredible arm strength and quick release.

By season's end, he became only the third QB in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl roster since fellow Dolphins legend Bob Griese did it in 1967.

And the following year he was setting the single-season record for passing yards and passing touchdowns on his way to leading the Fins to the Super Bowl.

From then on, Marino established a legacy as a passing machine.

However, the 1990 season turned out to be a bit of an off-year on his resume as he threw for an average of 222.7 yards per game, the lowest per-game average since his debut in 1983.

But he still passed for 3,563 yards with 21 touchdowns to help lead the Dolphins to a second-place finish in the AFC East with a 12-4 record to grab a Wild Card birth.

The Dolphins squeaked by the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card but lost a tough one on the road in the Divisional game against the Buffalo Bills.

1990 Action Packed #146 Dan Marino Football Card

1990 Action Packed #189 Lawrence Taylor

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $40

After nine straight Pro Bowls, three Defensive Play of the Year Awards, an MVP, and a Super Bowl title, Lawrence Taylor had little to prove heading into the 1990 season.

Clearly, he was the top defender in the league and critical to the New York Giants' success.

But he didn't feel like his paystub reflected his true value.

So, Taylor held out for several weeks for a new contract, missing training camp and the preseason entirely.

Finally, a few days before their Week 1 showdown against the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, the two sides reached an agreement.

For the next three years, Taylor would earn $5 million to do what he did best: wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

You might have expected LT to come out rusty in his first game if it were anyone else.

But he was the same old LT, racking up three of his 10.5 sacks that year to help lift the Giants to a 27-20 victory at home in from of the fans at Giants Stadium.

LT and crew didn't look back from there, riding a 13-3 regular season record to a playoff run that culminated in a second Super Bowl ring.

1990 Action Packed #189 Lawrence Taylor Football Card

1990 Action Packed #9 Deion Sanders

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $35

Before he was winning Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, Deion Sanders made waves in the NFL as a lockdown corner with the Atlanta Falcons.

After winning the Jim Thorpe Award during his time at Florida State University, it was no mystery that he was an outstanding corner.

And the Atlanta Falcons didn't hesitate to use the fifth pick of the 1989 NFL Draft to grab him.

He was solid in his rookie debut in 1989, finishing the season with 39 tackles, five interceptions, two force fumbles and a fumble recovery.

And his reputation as a playmaker only grew from there.

During his sophomore campaign in 1990, Sanders was all over the place.

On defense, Sanders turned in the second-most tackles (50) of his career while recovering two fumbles and snagging three interceptions, two of which were pick-sixes.

On special teams, Sanders returned 29 punts for 250 yards and one touchdown while he returned 39 kick-offs for 851 yards.

But his versatility wasn't limited to the football field alone.

As late as June that year, Sanders was also playing Major League Baseball for the New York Yankees and growing his legacy as a two-sport superstar.

1990 Action Packed #9 Deion Sanders Football Card

1990 Action Packed #20 Thurman Thomas

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $30

Entering his third year in the NFL, Thurman Thomas had already built a reputation for being a dual threat within the Buffalo Bills' offensive juggernaut.

Thomas was quick and crafty on the ground and a substantial threat in the passing game, too.

During his sophomore campaign in 1989, Thomas led the NFL with 1,913 yards from scrimmage with six rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns.

In 1990, he ran for 1,297 yards and eleven touchdowns while tacking on another 669 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

There was simply no good way to stop Thomas as he thrived in the Bills' explosive offense.

For four straight seasons from 1989 to 1992, Thomas led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and would continue to be one of the top backs in the league throughout the 1990s.

Unfortunately, he and the other players on those incredible Buffalo Bills teams of the early 90s never won a Super Bowl, leaving a slight blemish on an otherwise impeccable career.

1990 Action Packed #20 Thurman Thomas Football Card

1990 Action Packed #Jim Plunkett

Estimated PSA 10 Value: $25

Over his fifteen-year career in the NFL, Jim Plunkett may not have lit up the stat sheets, but he was an effective field general who could win when it mattered most.

Despite finishing his career with a 72-72 record, Plunkett would help bring two Super Bowls to the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders in 1980 and 1983.

And he even brought home Super Bowl MVP honors in 1980 after throwing for 261 yards and three touchdowns in the 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

But by the time this set was released in 1990, Plunkett had already been retired since 1986.

So, why did Hi-Pro Marketing include him in the checklist?

The company wanted to promote awareness for people who are blind, and since both of Plunkett's parents were blind, they created this card especially for him.

And on the reverse side, there is a blurb of text in braille that reads, "Raiders Win Super Bowl XV - Jim Plunkett Named MVP."

It may not be the most valuable card in the set, but it's undoubtedly unique.

1990 Action Packed Braille Jim Plunkett Football Card
1990 Action Packed Braille Jim Plunkett Football Card Reverse Side

1990 Action Packed Football Cards In Review

It's always fun to look back on sets like this to see what different kinds of ideas companies were experimenting with to try and carve out even the tiniest share of a booming market.

So you gotta tip your hat to the team at Hi-Pro Marketing for coming up with an innovative design during such a highly competitive time in hobby history.

Unopened Box of 1990 Action Packed Football Cards

There might not be any big-name rookies in the base set to give it much appeal to collectors, but it does have plenty of stars and Hall of Famers to make things interesting.

And collectors can certainly turn to the Rookie Update set if they'd like to have some incredible rookie cards of several NFL legends.

The 280-card checklist is loaded with fantastic-looking cards with incredible imagery and certainly delivers on its name, "action-packed," with its innovative design.

Overall, this is a neat set built on innovation and creativity while packing some huge superstars and Hall of Famers within.