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Top Five: NFL Draft Steals In Arizona Cardinals History

With the NFL draft on the horizon, a look back at the greatest draft steals in (Arizona) Cardinals history.

First of all, hello friends. I apologize for not gracing you with a column last week but I was in transit to the United Kingdom for what will be a three month period. Feel free to be jealous any time you like. Yet while you may be able to remove me from the country I've still kept a watchful eye on our beloved local sports squads.

Obviously, I've noticed that the NFL Draft is just 10 days away. It seems like most of us here have done the "who will the Cardinals pick at no. 5" thing to death so I'm going to be focusing on the later rounds.To be more specific, the best steals the Cardinals have come up with in the NFL Draft. 

Naturally this poses the question of what a steal actually is. Well friend, that's why we have criteria:

  • As always with any of my lists it must be during the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals era (1988 draft and on)
  • Needed to be someone that actually produced with the Cardinals. If the team drafted someone in the sixth round, released him, and he became a stud elsewhere that doesn't qualify. Example is former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jeff Christy who the Cards snagged in the fourth round in 1992 - he never played a game for them but became a Pro Bowler with Minnesota/Tampa Bay.
  • It's a value proposition.Someone could be a quality value in the third round but if you get a decent contributor in the seventh round that seems to be more of a steal to me.
  • Has to be between third round or later. I debated on this for a while since Anquan Boldin was a pretty sweet steal in the second round in 2003 but I had to draw the line somewhere.

Alright enough - list time.

Honorable Mention:

  • Tim Hightower: 5th round, 2008 - THT has been up and down in his 3 seasons with the Cardinals but he's managed to rush for over 1,700 yards and score 23 touchdowns in that period. But who am I kidding - he's on this list for the screen pass that sent the Cardinals to the Super Bowl.
  • Steve Breaston: 5th round, 2007 - Awfully close to making it on here, what with his 187 catches and 2,500+ yards in four seasons but he's got to do something, anything really with Boldin and Warner gone.
  • Reggie Wells: 6th round, 2003 - What if I were to tell you that your team could draft a guard in the 6th round who would start 90 games for your team over 7 seasons? If that something you'd be interested in? Of course it is. And that's exactly what the Cardinals got from Reggie Wells.
  • Pat Tillman: 7th round, 1998 - A Cardinal legend for his off the field actions, Tillman was also quite good on it. In four seasons he started 39 games and played with the unmatched reckless abandon that defined his life.
  • Johnny Johnson: 7th round, 1990 - Contrary to popular belief, the Cardinals haven't actually been swimming in 1,000 yard rushers since they move to Arizona. That's why when Johnson managed to rush for 926 and make a Pro Bowl in his rookie year he was considered a standout. Just don't google what happened after.

(5) - Michael Bankston (defensive line): 4th round, 1992

Why The Slippage? :

He came from Sam Houston State. Sam Houston hasn't even heard of Sam Houston State. 

Notables Picked Ahead Of Him:

Former Notre Dame star running back Tony Brooks went seven picks in front of Bankston. Then played only five games in his one year in the league. 

Cardinals Career:  

In his first season with the Cards, Bankston played nose tackle - that didn't work out that well but he still started 6 games. For the next 5 years he was a defensive end and a pretty solid one. He started 76 of the Cardinals 80 games during that period and racked up a total of 16.5 sacks. His opus was the 1994 season where he produced seven lining up for Buddy Ryan's defense.  

Sure his numbers or longevity don't jump off the page, but that's just flat out good value for the 4th round. 

(4) - Darnell Dockett (defensive line): 3rd round, 2004

Why The Slippage? :

He had the size, he had the Florida State pedigree but he also had personal problems. Dockett was arrested for shoplifting during his junior season and though he was the ACC defensive player of the year as a senior apparently he reputation suffered too much damage.

Notables Picked Ahead Of Him:

Not a big fan of doing this, but only one pick ahead of Dockett the Patriots selected LSU defensive end Marquise Hill. In his three seasons in the league Hill played in just 13 games and made only two total tackles. I hate to reference him here because Hill died in a jet ski accident during the summer of 2007.   

Cardinals Career:

Dockett has been a Cardinals starter almost from day 1 - in seven seasons he's missed exactly one game and failed to start in just two. Though he accumulated just six sacks in his first three seasons, he's more than made up for that with 25 in his last four.

In those last four seasons, Dockett has been named a Pro Bowler three times and was rewarded with a contract extension prior to the 2010 season. 2008 was the one year he didn't make the Pro Bowl but he compensated for that by tying a Super Bowl record with three sacks. Say what you will about the Cardinals defense in that game but you certainly can't put the blame on Dockett. 

His Twitter persona indicates a "colorful" personality but as long as he can anchor the Cardinals defense for the next 7 years or so people are probably going to give him a pass. 

(3) - Adrian Wilson (strong safety): 3rd round, 2001

Why The Slippage? :

Wilson was a two-year starter for NC State but apparently thought to be a little too raw when he skipped his senior season and entered the 2001 NFL Draft. Because who wants a guy who ran a 4.52 40 at the combine and hits like a Mack truck?

Notables Picked Ahead Of Him:

Eight picks before Wilson, the Cowboys were in the market for a strong safety - they decided to go with Alabama's Tony Dixon. He started just 14 games in his four seasons with the team but hey - he did play four years in college! 

Cardinals Career:

Wilson may not have been an immediate starter for the Cardinals but he certainly was by his seconds season, and he's not let go since. The devastating hitter has started 132 games over the last nine seasons and has been a key part of the Cardinal revival in the past several seasons - being named a Pro Bowler in four of the last five years.

In late 2009, Wilson became just the 10th player in NFL history to record 20 sacks and 20 interceptions for a career. Though it didn't count for the sack total, Wilson also picked up a pair of sacks in the 2009 NFC Championship game - forcing a Donovan McNabb fumble on one of them. 

Provided he can recover from a hip injury that haunted him throughout 2010, Wilson may be able to place himself among the Cardinals all-time greats. 

(2) - Larry Centers (fullback):  5th round, 1990

Why The Slippage? :

Fullbacks don't exactly fly off of draft boards, they don't today and they didn't in 1990. The odds of them flying decrease even further when they come from mighty Stephen F. Austin, a school which hasn't exactly mass produced NFL stars. 

Notables Picked Ahead Of Him:

Just six picks before him went Rico Labbe. Never heard of Rico Labbe? Well you and the NFL have that in common since he played in exactly zero games in his illustrious career. 

Cardinals Career:

For a period in the mid-90s, Centers was the ultimate safety valve - not just for the Cardinals but for the entire NFL. Though he was a fullback, between the 1995 and 1996 seasons, Centers caught a ridiculous 200 passes. 200!

In his Cards career as a whole he grabbed 535 passes which when he retired was tops in franchise history (though since passed by both Boldin and Fitzgerald). His receiving yardage total of 4,539 was nothing to sneeze at either. Though he maxed out at rushing for 425 yards in 1996 that wasn't really his job - Centers just caught the ball...a lot.

Like the only person that precedes him on this list, Centers was an excellent player on a bunch of bad, bad football teams. Yet that didn't stop him from being a 2-time Pro Bowl selection and it certainly didn't effect his effort level. He did fortunately get to score a touchdown in the Cardinals first playoff win during their stay in Arizona. 

(1) - Aeneas Williams (cornerback): 3rd round, 1991

Why The Slippage? :

Though at 5'11 he had decent size for a corner, Williams was coming out of non-football factory Southern. You'd think people would have known though since Hall of Fame corner Mel Blount was also from Southern. 

Notable Picked Ahead Of Him:

The immortal Reggie Barrett (WR) went 1 pick before him and went on to catch four glorious passes in 10 games with the Lions

Cardinals Career:  

Before Kurt Warner came along this guy was basically Mr. Arizona Cardinal. Williams played 10 full seasons for the Cardinals, appearing in every last game and starting all but 1 (it happened in his rookie year).

In that time, Aeneas intercepted 46 passes and scored 8 total touchdowns - including leading the NFL in picks in 1994. For his trouble, Williams was a 6-time Pro Bowler as a Card and twice an All-Pro selection. He was basically a shining beacon in a pile of crap for a number of years. He got the honor of playing on 4 different 4-win teams, a 3-win team, and a 6-win team. That's why it was so sweet when he basically keyed the Cardinals 1998 playoff victory over Dallas with a pair of interceptions.

Williams took off for St. Louis for the 2001 season and added a couple more Pro Bowls and another All-Pro appearance but he'll always be one of the greatest Cardinals there ever was. He was a Hall of Fame semi-finalist in 2010 and the Hall may eventually be in his grasp.