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Top Five: NFL Draft Misses In Arizona Cardinals History

Not so surprisingly, the Cardinals have had some brutal draft misses since they moved to Phoenix - here are the worst ones.

Even over in jolly old England I'm getting NFL Draft fever. The Suns are (as Seth so eloquently put it) irrelevant, the Diamondbacks are middling at best, and if I have to read another story about the Coyotes and the Goldwater Institute I might give up sports entirely. Thus, though the NFL is in lockout hell right now they've still got the draft. 

Last week I looked at the five biggest draft steals in Cardinals history and since that was a rare turn of positivity for me this week I'll return to my negative roots. More specifically I want to look at the Top 5 Draft Misses in Arizona Cardinals history. 

Now, my definition of what a draft miss might be a little different. The rule I'm establishing here is that the team had to actually be looking to fill the position of the future star player who went after their pick. To use a bad analogy, if you're in the market for an economy sized car you probably aren't going to buy a pick up truck. Using a better example - the Cardinals would have been much better off using the fifth pick in 2007 on Patrick Willis or Darrelle Revis but they weren't looking to take a linebacker or defensive back that high. 

It also has to be within reason that the team would pick such a player at the level which he went. So for example here, the Cardinals picked Ernest Dye 18th in 1993, perennial Pro Bowler Will Shields went 76th in the third round. It's disingenuous at best to think at the time that Shields would have been a reasonable pick at 18. Let's arbitrarily say it had to be within 20 picks. 

And as always this has to be from the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals era of 1988 to present.

Honorable Mention:

  • 1989 2nd round - Tight end Walter Reeves over Wesley Walls: The future star tight end for the Panthers wasn't an immediate success but he did enjoy a 14 year career where he snagged 450 passes and made five Pro Bowls. Reeves was a Cardinal for five seasons but caught just 42 passes.
  • 1998 1st round - Defensive End Andre Wadsworth over Grant Wistrom: Wadsworth was an athletic freak but right from the beginning of his NFL career he suffered from injuries. He lasted just 3 seasons and 36 games. Wistrom went 3 picks after Wadsworth and though he was never elite he had 53 sacks in 9 NFL seasons.
  • 1998 2nd round - Tackle Anthony Clement over Flozell Adams: This only fails to make the list because Clement played 7 solid years as a Cardinals starter, but when a five-time Pro Bowler like Adams goes just a couple picks later it certainly warrants mentioning.
  • 2006 1st round - Quarterback Matt Leinart over Jay Cutler: Not sure if you'd ever read anything about this one. Apparently Matt Leinart was a prolific college quarterback and the Cardinals picked him and he went bust. Though he's been terribly maligned in his NFL career, Jay Cutler (who went 1 pick later) has been to a Pro Bowl and taken a team to the NFC Champioship.
  • 2007 1st round - Tackle Levi Brown over anyone else (well Joe Staley): This pick is famous since Brown went before Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, and Darrelle Revis but those guys would be against the rules of my list. Niners tackle Joe Staley who went 28th is not against the rules.

(5) - 2003: Local College Stars Never Work Out, Right? 

The Pick -  Trading Out Of The 6th Pick For the 17th and 18th to select Calvin Pace and Bryant Johnson

This situation doesn't completely jive with the rules but it's a popular one. The Cardinals had tons of needs coming off of a 5-11 season and found themselves sitting with the 6th pick. New Orleans sat with both the 17th and 18th picks and was looking to deal into the top 10.

The final deal involved the Cardinals trading the 6th pick, 37th pick, and 102nd pick to the Saints for 17, 18, and 54. Though wide receiver and defensive end were needs the Cardinals basically whiffed when they selected Bryant Johnson and Calvin Pace.

Pace played 5 years in Arizona but his only decent season (6.5 sacks) was followed by his departure for the New York Jets. Johnson didn't set the world on fire either, averaging 42 receptions a year in his 5 seasons. The Cards did strike gold at #54 with Anquan Boldin but if they really knew something they wouldn't have snagged Johnson before him. 

The Miss -  Terrell Suggs (10th pick - DE/LB, Arizona State)

There was a great deal of chatter that the Cards were basically locked into Suggs at the 6th pick and it made sense. He was a local product from Hamilton high school and Arizona State, he filled a need, and damn he could sack the quarterback.

Arizona passing turned out to be a boon for Baltimore as Suggs has been a four-time Pro Bowler and was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. His 68.5 sacks in 8 seasons certainly would have looked nice in  Cardinal uniform as well. 

(4) - 2000: Running Back Doesn't Bloom In The Desert

The Pick - Thomas Jones (7th pick - RB, Virginia)

A year removed from the playoffs and back stepping their way into the 7th pick, the Cardinals were looking for a running back to complement young Jake Plummer. When first team All-American Thomas Jones out of Virginia was available it made a good deal of sense.

Some of you might be looking at this and saying, what the hell - Thomas Jones has rushed for 10,000 yards in his NFL career! Well friends, you don't know his Cardinal career. In 3 injury prone, time splitting seasons, Jones rushed for just 1,264 total yards. Not what you'd expect from such a high selection.

The Miss - Shaun Alexander (19th pick - RB, Alabama)

Alexander's stock had slipped a bit do to an injury marred senior season at Alabama but the loss of the rest of the NFL was the gain of the Seahawks. As most Cardinals fans remember from him running rough shod over the team twice a year - Alexander rushed for 9,429 yards as a Seahawk.

He was also the 2005 NFL MVP when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,880 yards. The guy had about a 5 year prime but it was one hell of a prime as he put up huge numbers and led the Seahawks to multiple division titles and the NFC Championship in 2005. 

(3) - 2002:  So Close To Getting The Dream Defensive Lineman They Wanted

The Pick - Wendell Bryant (12th pick - DT, Wisconsin)

When you use a high pick on a guy you should probably make sure he's not a drug addict. Personally that's where I would start. Bryant tested positive for marijuana as a rookie which put him in the NFL's substance abuse program and then tested positive again the next season to earn a four-game suspension.

The third strike came the following season and Bryant was suspended for the entire 2005 season. Arizona reacted to this news by releasing the bust. When he wasn't using drugs his football play wasn't exactly stellar, in 29 games he had just a sack and a half. Nice production.

The Miss - Albert Haynesworth (15th pick - DT, Tennessee)

Down just a few picks from Bryant went big Albert Haynesworth from Tennesee. Most remember Haynesworth from the bust he's been since signing an enormous contract with Washington but he had to be pretty awesome just to get that initial contract.

Though Haynesworth wasn't immediately dominant with the Titans he was a first team All-Pro in both 2007 and 2008 and had a combined 14.5 sacks. That many sacks in two seasons for an interior defensive lineman is nothing to sneeze at. He also commanded double teams like nobody else in the league, anchoring the NFL's top defense in 2008. Imagine him on the 2008 NFC Champion Cardinals. 

(2) - 1993: The Bust Precedes The Bus

The Pick - Garrison Hearst (3rd pick - RB, Georgia)

When he was selected out of Georgia in 1993 Hearst had all the credentials you'd expect from a top 3 running back. He was the reigning SEC player of the year where he set the conference record for touchdowns, points, and yards per carry. He also finished third in the Heisman Trophy race.

But due to injuries and ineffectiveness he barely played with the Cardinals - going just 30 games in 3 seasons. In those 30 games he rushed for just 1,503 yards. He did peak at 1,070 in his final season but that certainly wasn't enough to overcome the bust label.

Hearst went on to reinvent himself with the 49ers but his contributions to the Cardinals were below average at best.

The Miss - Jerome Bettis (10th pick - RB, Notre Dame)

The other highly touted running back coming out of college that season was Notre Dame's Jerome Bettis - and his NFL career was pretty impressive. In his first season with the Rams he rushed for 1,429 yards, made the Pro Bowl, and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year.

His next two seasons with the Rams weren't quite as good but after being run out of St. Louis he found a landing spot in Pittsburgh and stayed for the next 10 years. In total, the Bus was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. He finished his career fifth on the NFL's all-time leading rusher list. 

Sure there's no guarantee that he would have had 13 great seasons in Arizona but you sure would have liked to try. It also warrants mentioning that future star running back Robert Smith went 21st in the same draft. 

(1) - 1988: Cardinals Pick Some Guy Over Future Hall of Famer

The Pick - Tony Jeffrey (38th pick - RB, TCU)

In the 2nd round of the 1988 NFL Draft the newly minted Phoenix Cardinals were looking for a running back to take over the miscast as a feature back, Stump Mitchell. Fortunately when the Cardinals came to bat there was a record setting running back available in the person of TCU running back Tony Jeffery.

Jeffery had once rushed for 343 yards in a Southwest Conference game and held the TCU all-purpose yardage record until LaDanian Tomlinson busted that apart. So what could go wrong?

He lasted exactly three games with the franchise, carried the ball three times, and rushed for a grand total of 8 yards in his entire NFL career. 8 yards.

The Miss - Thurman Thomas (40th pick - RB, Oklahoma State)

It probably would have just been a normal draft bust if a Hall of Fame running back didn't go 2 picks later. Buffalo was also in the market for a running back but they decided to go after a guy who rushed for 4,595 yards in his college career and managed to keep Barry Sanders glued to the bench.

Thomas turned into a key player on a Buffalo Bills team that won 4 AFC titles while he personally was a three-time All-Pro and rushed for over 12,000 yards in his career.

The misses don't come a whole lot more blatant than that.