The Arizona Cardinals have done a relatively decent job through the draft over the last ten years, but as with any team, they hit on later picks while missing on first and second round picks. While those top two rounds do dominate the list, there have been players later who have been those hidden gems teams long for in the later rounds. The team has only had two general managers over that period, Rod Graves (1997 – 2012) and Steve Keim (2012 – present). They’ve had four head coaches, and while coaches obviously contribute to a team’s draft, the responsibility rests with the general managers. Here is a quick look at the Cardinals best draft picks each year over the last decade.
Keim hit a home run when he nabbed Mathieu in the third round after many teams passed on him three times. Pro Football Focus graded the talented nickel back out as the third best cornerback in 2013, and he finished the season with 65 tackles, nine passes defensed and two interceptions. A severe knee injury put him out for the season in Week 13, but he was on the short list for many people as a possible Defensive Rookie of the Year.
With a strong nod to special teams prodigy Justin Bethel who was taken in the sixth round, Floyd gets the nod here after a strong sophomore campaign in which he caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns. His highlight game of the year came in Week 10 when he caught six passes for 193 yards and a score, including an electrifying 91 yard touchdown where he bounced off three tacklers and broke away. He followed it up with another 100-yard game the following week. The 6’2″ 220 receiver is evolving in to exactly what the Cardinals envisioned when they selected him.
It was widely speculated that Peterson might be the first player drafted overall and many draft experts had him rated as the top player in the draft. The Cardinals did not hesitate to pull the trigger when he fell to them at the five spot, and Peterson has done nothing to disappoint. Consistently rated as one of the top cornerbacks in the league, he has the speed and fluidity to lure opposing quarterbacks into throwing in his direction, closing the gap and making the play. He has been named to the Pro Bowl each of his three seasons: as a special teamer in 2011 and a cornerback in 2012 and 2013. At 6’1″, 219-pounds, he has exceptional size to go with his speed; it is a high priority for the Cardinals to extend Peterson long-term and keep him on the team.
Washington was a steal in the second round and he is easily the best linebacker on the team. In four seasons, he has 394 tackles, 18 sacks, six interceptions, and three forced fumbles. He was also named to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and was listed as an alternate in 2013. The criticism off Washington comes from his behavior on the field. He was suspended for four games in 2013 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, breaking her collarbone after pushing her.
The 2009 draft was an unremarkable on for the Cardinals following their Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They missed on several picks, including running back Beanie Wells (first round) and linebacker Cody Brown (second round), the latter of which never played a down in the NFL. Johnson has been a steady contributor for the Cardinals, notching 148 tackles, ten passes defensed, and three interceptions in 70 games. Last year, he famously lost a piece of his finger on a special teams play versus the New Orleans Saints, but was back on the field within weeks.
Without question, Campbell was the best pick for the Cardinals in the 2008 draft, and even the most ardent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie supporters would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. He is consistently rated as one of the top defensive ends by Pro Football Focus and is a terror for opposing offenses. In 92 career games, Campbell has notched 245 tackles, 36.5 sacks, 30 batted passes, five forced fumbles and a safety. After signing a five-year, $55 million contract, he has continued to play at a high level and has shown he is worth the investment by the team.
If there is one draft over the last ten years the Cardinals would like to have back, it would be this one; granted they only had five picks, but they missed on just about all of them. Passing on NFL superstars like running back Adrian Peterson and cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Cardinals selected oft-criticized offensive tackle Levi Brown with the 5th pick overall. Breaston is the the pick here simply because he was great value and contributed much more than expected. In 60 games, he caught 187 passes for 2,528 yards and seven touchdowns, but he spent his rookie season primarily as a kick/punt returner.
Another forgettable draft for the Cardinals, they famously missed on quarterback Matt Leinart who was expected to be the quarterback of the future. Lutui provided a decent inside presence along a horrid Cardinals offensive line. It was thought that he would be able to provide some stability with the line because of the chemistry he shared with Leinart (both were drafted out of the University of Southern California). He played 93 games for the Cardinals before departing for one season with the Tennessee Titans.
Rolle was drafted to be a cornerback but was moved to safety in 2008, the position he has played since the switch. The only Pro Bowler drafted by the Cardinals in 2005, he had a breakout year in 2007 in which he intercepted five passes and scored three defensive touchdowns. He has been named to the Pro Bowl three times, twice since he left the team for the New York Giants after the team cut him as a cap casualty to avoid paying him a $4 million roster bonus. In 68 games with the Cardinals, he 294 tackles, 12 interceptions, and four touchdowns.
When his career is finally over, Fitzgerald may go down as the greatest Cardinal to ever play the game. He has been the face of the franchise and he has been one of the league’s top receivers despite not having a quarterback outside of Kurt Warner to throw to him. The recent addition of Carson Palmer brings hope to the desert that Fitzgerald will again have a competent quarterback to get him the ball. In 156 games, he has caught 846 passes for 11,367 yards and 87 touchdowns.
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