The Arizona Cardinals (formerly the St. Louis Cardinals and before that, the Chicago Cardinals) have not exactly been a dominant franchise over the years. They have one Super Bowl appearance and only a handful of playoff appearances since 1960. But they have had some of the greatest warriors to play the game of football.
They have several Hall of Famers and potential Hall of Famers despite their shortcomings as a franchise over the past 60 years. In this article, I will list their all-time greatest draft picks, guys who are in the Hall of Fame despite being 10th round draft picks or who helped carry a poor team on their backs.
Because of the level of talent I'm talking about here, I've decided not to attempt to do a straight-up 1st-to-10th ranking because you can bet I will mess up somewhere and someone will disagree with my order.
I hope you enjoy the article as much as I enjoyed writing and researching it.
OT Dan Dierdorf (Drafted: 1971, Round 2 / Pick 43)
Dan Dierdorf was drafted in the second round, 43rd overall in the 1971 NFL Draft. He was originally taken as a guard but eventually switched to the right tackle position where he remained for the rest of his career.
He was an exceptional run and pass blocker who played in every single Cardinals game for his first seven years as a professional.
Deirdorf was a 6-time Pro Bowl selection, a 5-time All-Pro and was a member of the 1970s All-Decade Team. He played for the Cardinals for his entire career spanning 13 years (1971-1983).
One of his standout feats as a Cardinal was when he did not give up a single sack in two entire seasons(1976, 1977). He was also part of the offensive line which held records for the fewest sacks allowed in a single season.
In 1996, Dan Diedorf was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He now runs his own restaurant in St. Louis with his former quarterback, Jim Hart, the guy he did such an effecient job of protecting during his playing days.
There aren't really any stats to show how good Dan Dierdorf was due to the fact he was an offensive lineman which operates more as a unit than an individual. But he did recover seven fumbles in his career.
TE Jackie Smith (Drafted: 1963, Round 10 / Pick 129)
Jackie Smith was drafted in the 10th round, 129th overall in the 1963 NFL Draft. He spent the best part of 15 seasons with the Cardinals and was the Tony Gonzalez of his day, holding records for tight end receptions and touchdowns at the time of his retirement.
Smith was featured in five Pro Bowls between 1966 and 1970 and was a regular All-Pro selection, receiving the honor no less than five times in his career. His best ever season came in 1967 where he had 52 receptions for 1,205 yards and nine touchdowns.
He was an exceptional football player known for his blocking ability and his speed. He was also the Cardinals' punter for his first three seasons. In a game during his rookie season he had 212 yards from nine receptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also had a streak of 45 games with at least one reception.
In 1994, Jackie Smith was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Jackie Smith's Cardinals career stats were: 480 receptions, 7,918 receiving yards, 40 touchdowns, and 12 fumbles.
CB Aeneas Williams (Drafted: 1991, Round 3 / Pick 59)
Aeneas Williams was taken with the 59th pick in round 3 of the 1991 NFL Draft. He spent 10 years with the Cardinals before being traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2000.
He was widely regarded as being one of the top cornerbacks in the league and this was proven with his eight Pro Bowl appearances (siz as a Cardinal) and four All-Pro honors.
Two of his standout moments whilst wearing Cardinal red came in the 1998 NFC Wild Card playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys - the famous Cowboys team who had won three Super Bowls in the early 1990s - intercepting Troy Aikman twice.
The other standout moment came when he was single-handedly responsilbe for ending the career of San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young. Williams hit Young on his blind side on a blitz play.
Aeneas Williams has not yet been inucted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame but it is only a matter of time before he does. He was a finalist in the Class of 2012 but failed to make the final list.
His career stats for the Cardinals were: 46 interceptions, two sacks, four forced fumbles, and 498 tackles.
SS Adrian Wilson (Drafted: 2001, Round 3 / Pick 64)
Adrian Wilson was selected in round 3 with the 64th pick of the 2001 NFL Draft. He has established himself as one of the best safeties in the league in a position with huge competition.
Wilson is still a regular starter for the Cardinals being only 32 with a few more years in the tank.
He is known for his run support and blitzing ability and is also one of the toughest players in the league - a point I will describe in the next paragraph. He has also got incredible strength having once benched 455 pounds.
In the summer of 2011, Adrian Wilson tore his biceps mucle in a routine training exercise with the Cardinals. Many Cardinals fans feared his season was over and that they would have to start the unproven Rashad Johnson.
Not only did Wilson return for the Week 1 opener against the Carolina Panthers but he went on to have a Pro Bowl season and played more downs on defense than any player in the league.
He achieved this with what was essentially one arm as one wrong move - such as landing too heavily on the injured arm - would have popped the last strand of muscle holding his biceps to his forearm (the biceps has two muscles in it, Wilson tore one of them so tearing or damaging the other could have had serious repercussions).
Wilson has represented the Cardinals five times in the Pro Bowl and has been selected three times as an All-Pro. He is also only the 10th player in NFL history to join the exclusive 20/20 club - getting 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career.
To date, Adrain Wilson's career stats for the Cardinals are: 22.5 sacks, 26 interceptions, two touchdowns, 15 forced fumbles, and 682 tackles.
CB Roy Green (Drafted: 1979, Round 4 / Pick 89)
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "This guy is trippin', Roy Green was a wide receiver!". And you'd be correct. But Green was originally drafted as a cornerback and didn't make the switch to wide receiver until his 4th season with the Cardinals.
The fact that Green spent 12 years as a Cardinal and only eight as a wide receiver and was still the all-time franchise leader in receptions, touchdowns, and yards until he was recently overtaken by a certain Larry Fitzgerald is a testament to his ability.
Green was once described by John Madden as not just being the best wide receiver, but also being the best player. He was a burner with incredible speed and routinely burned opposing cornerbacks.
Green went on to represent the Cardinals in two Pro Bowls and was voted to two All-Pro teams.
Roy Green's Cardinals caeer stats were 522 receptions, 69 touchdowns (66 receiving, one rushing, one punt return, one kick return), 8,496 receiving yards, four interceptions, and 20 fumble recoveries. He has gone down as one of the best wide receivers in franchise history even though he will probably never make the Hall of Fame.
CB Roger Wehrli (Drafted: 1969, Round 1 / Pick 19)
Roger Wehrli was drafted in the first round (19th overall) in the 1969 Draft. Like many players drafted in the era, Wehrli was a multi-talented athlete who competed in four different sports as well as playing both sides of the ball in football.
Roger Staubach - the Hall of Fame quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys - once said of Wehrli, "The term ‘Shutdown Corner’ originated with Roger Wehrli. There wasn’t a better cornerback I played against. He was a great, great defensive back. You had to be aware of him all the time."
High praise indeed from one of the best quarterbacks of the day and one of the all time greats.
In his entire 14-year career, Roger Wehrli played for the Cardinals. He represented them in seven Pro Bowls and was voted an All-Pro five times. Along with his Cardinals teammate, Dan Dierdorf, Wehrli was voted into the All-Decade team for the 1970s. In 2007, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Roger Wehrli's Cardinal's career stats are: 40 interceptions and that's the only significant stat because they didn't record sacks and tackles in the 1960s and 1970s NFL.
WR Larry Fitzgerald (Drafted: 2004, Round 1 / Pick 3)
Larry Fitzgerald was taken with the third overall pick of the 2004 Draft. He is argubly the best wide receiver since Jerry Rice.
He doesn't have super speed and he isn't a huge 6' 6" behemoth who towers over cornerbacks.
What he does possess is excellent hands and route running. He is still able to consistently make plays despite being double and triple covered by opposing defenses.
He is the current Cardinals all-time leader in yards, receptions, and touchdowns having recently overtaken the previous holder of the records, Roy Green, who we have already talked about.
He has had over 1,000 receiving yards in all but two of his eight years in the NFL. He's achieved this with some terrible quarterbacks including Derek Anderson, Max Hall, Josh McCown, and three years with a Kurt Warner who couldn't keep his job and was in and out of the starting lineup.
Fitzgerald has been a regular in the Pro Bowl since 2005, making six appearances. For some reason however, he's only been voted to one All-Pro team. He recently signed an 8-year, $120 million deal which will keep him a Cardinal until 2019.
To date, Larry Fitzgerald's career stats read like this: 693 receptions, 9,615 receiving yards, and 73 touchdowns. Cardinals fan are looking forward to having Fitzgerald break more records and eventually getting to the Hall of Fame.
RB Ottis Anderson (Drafted: 1979, Round 1 / Pick 8)
Ottis "OJ" Anderson was selected by the Cardinals with the 8th overall pick of the 1979 NFL Draft. He was a power back with explosive speed and was the lone bright spot in his rookie season where the Cardinals finished 5-11, but Anderson rushed for 1,605 yards and eight touchdowns.
As a Cardinal, Anderson averaged 4.0 yards per carry and had five out of six seasons with over 1,000 yards. The exception was the strike shortened season of 1982 although he was on course to rush for over 1,000 yards had it been a full 16-game season as opposed to being an 8-game season.
He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1979 and was a two-time Pro Bowler as a Cardinal, and was also a two time All-Pro. A lack of production and the emergance of Stump Mitchell as the Cardinals' starting running back and the belief of the Front Office and Ownership that he was turning into a locker room poison resulted him in being traded to the New York Giants during the 1986 season where he was a two-time Super Bowl champion.
Anderson is the all-time Cardinals leader in rushing yards with 7,999. He has 51 touchdowns (46 rushing, five receiving). He had a 4.3 yards per carry average as a member of the Birdgang.
He was also one of the few bright spots in a poor Cardinals team of the 1980s which never made the playoffs in a full 16-game season. Because of this, he will go down as one of the best Cardinals' draft picks.
FB Larry Centers (Drafted: 1990, Round 5 / Pick 115)
Larry Centers was drafted in the fifth round, 115th overall in the 1990 NFL Draft. When Centers was drafted, the fullback position was becoming more of a blocker than a receiver or rusher (as is still the case today). This did not daunt Centers however and he became a premier pass-catching fullback.
His excellent pass-catching ability could be attributed to having started his college career as a wide receiver before moving to running back after a finger injury. He was also a player with incredible heart. He would dive over a defense and try to squeeze out some extra yards even if it was 3rd-and-20 and there was absolutely no way he would make the first down.
In the season of his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 1995, Centers put up an astonishing 101 catches for 962 receiving yards. Those are the sort of numbers you would expect from a wide receiver or a tight end, not a player who lines up 10 yards behind his offensive line.
In total, Larry Centers represented the Cardinals in two Pro Bowls and made the All-Pro list once.
At the end of his Cardinals career in 1999 when he moved to the Washington Redskins, his stats were: 535 receptions, 4,539 receiving yards, 19 receiving touchdowns, 517 rushing attempts, 1,736 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, and 6,275 total yards from scrimmage.
He was a dual-threat fullback and the NFL has not since one like him since. Fullbacks are now primarily blockers and get very few carries or receptions. One day we may see Centers enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Until that day comes however, he will go down as being one of the greatest players drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.
FS Larry Wilson (Drafted: 1960, Round 7 / Pick 74)
Larry Wilson is now regared as one of the greatest draft steals in the history of the NFL. Of course, when the Cardinals selected this multi-talented player in the 7th round of the 1960 Draft, little did they realize that they were in fact selecting a future Hall of Famer who went to the Pro Bowl eight times and made two seperate All-Decade teams despite only playing for three years of the 1970s.
Wilson was the main weapon in the original Wildcat. Unlike the modern version, Wilson's Wildcat had him being involved in a defensive blitz. It was a massively effective play because in those days a defensive back was not expected to be involved in a blitz and therefore teams weren't prepared for it.
Unfortunately, we do not know how effective the Wilson Wildcat was because sacks and tackles were not recorded in the 1960s. For all we know, Wilson could be the first and only member of the 50/50 club since he had 53 career interceptions.
In one particular game, Wilson not only played but also intercepted a pass with both hands in plaster casts as a result of two broken wrists. It gives some prespective when you compare this feat to that of modern athletes who miss games due to stubbed toes or sore ankles.
Such was Larry Wilson's legacy as a Cardinal after his retirement, he served in many Front Office roles including General Manager, Director of Scouting, and was even the interim Head Coach in 1979. His #8 jersey is retired by the Cardinals.
All in all, Larry Wilson represented the Cardinals in eight Pro Bowls, eight All-Pro teams, was a member of the 1960s and 1970s All-Decade team and was in the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time team. In 1978 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also had 53 career interceptions (as mentioned before, it's the only stat which was recorded in the 1960s and 70s for defensive players).
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