Beniquez Brown was the motor in the middle of the Birmingham Iron defense during its lone 8 game season in the AAF. He finished with 51 solo tackles, 19 assists, 3 sacks, a forced fumble, and 4 pass deflections. His best week arguably game in Week 3 against the Legends, when Beniquez had 10 tackles, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble.
Beniquez played college ball at Mississippi State. He chased down 200 ball carriers, posting 6 sacks, 4 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries. 39 games. After not going selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, he signed as a free agent with the Green Bay Packers but did not make the squad.
After the AAF folded, Beniquez was selected by the Houston Roughnecks during the 5th round of the XFL Draft. I was very excited that Houston got him under defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, and Brown did not disappoint as the Roughnecks linebacker corps was among the best in the league. At a few games during the season, I narrowly missed out on getting his autograph before the world shut down due to COVID in 2020. Beniquez finished with 36 combined tackles, 2 quarterback hits, 4 tackles for loss, 2 pass deflections, and a forced fumble in 5 games.
Card: Panini Unparalleled 2016 Acquired: IP 2020, Houston Roughnecks/ Tampa Bay Vipers Joint Practice
After he was selected by the Roughnecks, I was willing to pay a couple of bucks to get this beauty of a card of Phillip. Although the canvas is blasted out with stars on a shiny background- it’s a very unique design and a solid shot of Walker surveying the battlefield. I then tried to figure out the best time to get him to sign this card, being that I’d have to make a long drive from Central Texas to Houston. I passed up a few events that he was the marquee player at, in favor of maybe a bigger event where I could corral him.
Look no further than the Houston Roughnecks/ Tampa Bay Vipers joint practice. I got wind of the event and figured it’d be my best shot at getting both the Roughnecks and Vipers. As a season ticket holder, the league gave us ‘access’ to the field- a joke of a cornered off area on the home side between the 20 and the end zone. I saw Phillip warming up and asked him for his autograph. He gestured to his teammate he was tossing the ball with and came over to sign his card. It’s a nice autograph, minus the smudge, but I see these mainly as like tattoos or scars- rather than blemishes. – They add personality.
Phillip Walker played in college for the Temple Owls from 2013 to 2016. A dynamic passer and playmaker for the Owls, he set numerous school passing and career passing records for the school. He finished with 10,668 yards (830/1,458) for 74 TDs (44 INT). Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts after the 2016 NFL Draft, he found himself on and off the team’s practice squad over the next 3 seasons.
In 2020, Phillip was assigned by the XFL to the Houston Roughnecks, after he was recommended by former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. He’d compete with Connor Cook for the starting quarterback job in the Run N Shoot offense and win the starting job.
Walker was an untamed, wild talent, in the XFL to say the least. Every week he’d razzle and dazzle, impressing the local crowd and winning hearts and minds for the league. PJ led the team to a 5-0 record, completing 119 of 184 passes, for 1,338 yards, 15 TDs to just 4 interceptions. PJ had incredible pocket presence and awareness, but didn’t take off scrambling at the drop of a hat. He finished with 24 carries for 99 yards and a TD. Every game the home crowd was behind PJ chanting ‘PJ MVP’. It was electric.
After the XFL folded, PJ signed a free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers for the upcoming 2020 NFL season. He’d be reunited with his former college coach Matt Rhule, who had become the HC in Carolina. Walker backed up Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, starting an 11/22 matchup against the Detroit Lions, and notching his first professional win.
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.