Smith, Derron

Card: Topps AAF Now 2019, Panini Prism 2015, Crown Royale 2015, Sage 2015, Score 2015, Topps XFL 2019,
Acquired: IP 2019, SA Commanders Team Signing Dick’s Sporting Goods at The Rim.
Ebay, 2020
TTM 2020, C/o Home
Sent: 7/13 Received: 7/24 (11 days)
Failure: TTM 2019, C/o The Minnesota Vikings

An all-star at Fresno State, Derron was named first team All WAC three times while playing for the Bulldogs. He pulled down 7 interceptions and 4 sacks in 2013, and 7 pass breakups and 80 tackles in 2014. Derron’s 15 career interceptions tied him for 5th on the school charts. A perfect storm emerged however with a hernia injury, (that caused Derron to miss the Senior Bowl and the combine,) and a bad pro day, which caused his draft day stock to drop. Scouts however, loved his ability to keep his eyes focused on the ball and the action in front of him, as well as his man cover skills.

Derron was selected in the 6th round in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. He’d spend the next two seasons there, eventually landing on their practice squad in 2017, where he was signed off the Bengals by the Cleveland Browns. Over that period he got some game time experience posting 16 total tackles, a fumble recovery, and a pass deflection. Cut by the Browns in 2018, Derron kept in football shape, prepping for his next shot.

In late 2018, Derron got his next shot- An invitation to play for the new Alliance of American Football. He’d be traded by the Fleet to the San Antonio Commanders in December for Damontre Moore. The Commanders were already steeped in defensive secondary talent, and looking to add depth at safety alongside guys like Orion Stewart and Kurtis Drummond. Derron would also be coached in the secondary by longtime NFL veteran and ballhawk Bill Bradley.

“He’s quiet in the DB room, but he’s the one guy that the guys look to. He’s kind of the calming factor in a very raucous bunch of defensive backs on our team.”

– Commanders GM Daryl Johnston

Derron made a lot of noise near the end of camp, and actually didn’t even start until Week 3 of the 2019 AAF season against the Iron. From there on however, he was lights out.

Derron in Week 4 earned AAF Defensive Player of the Week Honors, when he single-handedly demolished the Arizona Hotshots. He’d pick off a John Wolford pass and race 66 yards the other direction for a TD to open up the scoring. Then later in the game, he’d pick off Wolford again as the Hotshots tried to claw their way back into the contest. The following week against the Legends, he stepped in front of an errant Aaron Murray pass late in the game, and took that pass 87 yards to paydirt.

On the season Derron finished with 22 solo stops, 11 combined tackles, 8 pass deflections, and 3 interceptions for 153 yards and 2 TDs. Although the league ceased operations after 8 contests, Smith was posthumously named the AAF Defensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Focus for his outstanding play.

“On 309 snaps in coverage, Smith led the league at any position on defense with his 93.2 coverage grade as he intercepted three passes and broke up another five. He stuck his head in on 37 total tackles and missed just three while his eight defensive stops were a top-10 figure among safeties. His prowess in the secondary for the Commanders make him a legitimate candidate to potentially land a spot in the NFL this next season.”

-Pro Football Focus (on naming Smith the AAF Defender of the Year)

Derron was snatched up by the XFL later that year, after spending training camp with the Minnesota Vikings. He’d be the first defender taken off the board by his former GM Daryl Johnston, who was now working with the Dallas Renegades.

In 5 games with Dallas, Derron had 15 tackles, and an interception before the XFL 2020 folded due to COVID concerns.

I had a giant stack of cards of Derron I wanted to get signed and with his amazing game against the Hotshots and Legends, he zoomed near the top of my favorite Commanders defensive players. I got most of these autographs in person at an event at The Rim, before Week 7. Annoyingly the Topps AAF Now card arrived the next week in the mail so I had the stress of firing out this $10.00 card out into the wind and hoping it came back.

So you’re probably wondering, “How’d you track down Derron?” Easy. I cross referenced his bio to Twitter and found where he was at attached to his profile. From there I used Advanced Background Checks- and he popped right up.

Derron replied in about 10 days, signing both his XFL and AAF Now cards and wrote me a nice note, thanking me for being a fan. I was pumped.

Wells, David (SDSU)

Card: Panini Contenders 2018
Acquired: 2018, Box Breaker

David Wells played college ball for the San Diego State Spartans. At 6’6″, 256, Wells certainly fits the mold that teams are going for now with tight ends being used as an in-line blocker. A reliable asset in the run game, during college, Wells helped block up front for the nation’s leading rusher Rashaad Penny. He played 4 years for the Spartans, recording his best year as a receiver in 2016 when he had 25 receptions for 294 yards and 4 TDs. Although he didn’t really have a career that statistically jumps out, Wells drew interest from a few teams following the 2018 draft. He’d sign as a priority free agent with the Dallas Cowboys, but not make the squad. David was quickly snapped up by the Kansas City Chiefs and placed on their practice squad.

Cook, Connor

Cards: Panini Contenders 2016 GameDay, Panini Contenders 2016 Passing Grades, Leaf Draft 2016, Leaf Draft 2016 All-American, Score 2016 ScoreCard, Panini Elite 2016, Topps XFL 2020, Panini Prism 2015, Panini Draft 2015
Acquired: IP 2019, Houston Roughnecks Fan Meet & Greet.
TTM 2020, C/o Home
Sent: 7/3 Received: 7/24 (21 days)

Connor Cook was a 3 year starter for the Michigan State Spartans. He played college ball there from from 2011 to 2015, and saw action in 43 games, passing for 9,184 yards and 71 TDs to 22 interceptions. Cook was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Raiders saw value selecting him and decided to groom Cook behind incumbent quarterback Derek Carr.

He was pressed into his first starting duty- a grinder of a game against the Houston Texans in the first round of the 2016 Playoffs. The Raiders fell 27-14, as Cook threw for 161 yards and a TD to 3 interceptions. Connor saw no action in 2017 and was cut in 2018 after the Raiders traded for AJ McCarron.

Connor spent the next year on and off the rosters of the Panthers, Bengals and Lions. He was selected in the first round of the XFL 2020 Draft by the Houston Roughnecks. I sort of questioned the move considering the Roughnecks already had Philip Walker allocated to the team, but coach June Jones insisted that he was picking the best player available with NFL experience.

I pulled every card I had of Connor and added 2 or 3 more hoping to get Connor’s autograph during the season. Luck was on my side as the Roughnecks frequently put together fan events.

The Roughnecks put together an event in the Woodlands where they had Connor Cook and Sammie Coates at. It was a no brainer. I was going to call it a success if I could get 2 or 3 cards signed- but in the end I was able to get all 5 knocked out along with a stack of cards of Sammie as well.

The event itself went well. The players were friendly and approachable. Connor talked to me one on one for a few minutes. We talked about briefly about the AAF and how it failed before he had to go up on stage. There Connor really shined, with a quick wit and clever smile. Afterwards both he and Sammie signed more autographs for fans. I was able to get them both on posters before I headed back out.

Of this group, the Panini Contenders cards really stood out. I love the Gameday cards. I wasn’t really fond of either of the Leaf entries, but the Score Scorecard makes up for the Leaf cards trite design.

Well the quarterback competition between Cook and Walker apparently went down to the wire. In the end PJ was named starting quarterback of the Roughnecks. I really had hoped to see more of Connor, but PJ played lights out the entire way. Still I think Connor has the prospects of being one of the brighter stars in a spring league if he decides to try that route again.

I got a few more cards of his after being caught flat footed at the Roughnecks season ticket holder event, but the cards, ordered 2 weeks before the league shut down- didn’t arrive until after 2 months after the league shut down. Still that gave me a chance to add his Topps XFL 2020 card to the batch, which really pushed him up on my list of players I wanted to get an autograph from thru. I really liked how the Elite cards were designed in 2016 as well. The abstract design is actually really smart as the lines all cross artistic points of emphasis. It’s a beautiful card, but like many the distribution kills my interest in making this one a set to collect. I’m not very hot on the gaudy Prism set, but I liked the die cut helmet one enough as it is eye catching.

Celebrating the game, the players, the cards, and the autographs for over 25 years.