As short as Monday’s list of candidates was, Tuesday’s list provided a different challenge: namely, how to narrow a sizeable group of worthy candidates. We didn’t pore over lists for every other team in the NFL, but our guess is that this is not a malady unique to the local franchise, despite its historic struggles.
As we noted Monday, despite all the preparations, analysis and eye-balls tests that precede it, the NFL Draft is a crapshoot with the misses as common as the hits. When you factor in the pressure placed on first-round picks to deliver impact, not just solid play, their grades get skewed by expectation.
Without further ado, we give you five first-round picks the Cardinals really got wrong.
1. Matt Leinart, QB, USC, 2006, 10th overall
You know those quarterback issues we’ve been discussing for the last three years? None of them would exist if Leinart had panned out as the Cardinals’ quarterback of the future. Could things have been different for the fair-faced Trojan if coach Ken Whisenhunt had given him the chance he probably deserved instead of turning to
Derek Anderson? Maybe. Maybe Leinart’s confidence would have carried him to at least mediocrity, a level not achieved in these parts since Kurt Warner retired. But given his current club-hopping resume, Leinart owns a permanent spot on the list of all-time busts.
Bryant joins a long list of highly-drafted defensive linemen who never panned out for the Cards due to substance, injury and motivational issues. In Bryant’s case, drugs and alcohol were the problems. He served a year-long suspension in 2005 following his third drug policy violation, which also ended his NFL playing days. He concluded his career with 1.5 sacks and 29 games in three seasons, although he attempted
a comeback in the UFL in 2009, playing with the Las Vegas Locomotives and Omaha Nighthawks.
3. Tom Knight, CB, Iowa, 1997, No. 9 overall
Wait, who? Knight played five uninspiring seasons in Arizona and made stops in Baltimore and St. Louis before his career ended. He totaled 218 tackles, three interceptions, six passes and numerous injuries. Knight’s impact was so minimal that many Cardinals fans -- and even longtime Valley media members -- don’t remember his name. Hard to believe the Cardinals selected Jake Plummer (second round) 33 picks later.
4. Andre Wadsworth, DE, Florida State, 1998, No. 3 overall
In fairness to Wadsworth, nobody saw the knee issues coming that eventually derailed his career, but when a player is taken No. 3 overall, where major impact is expected, it doesn’t matter why he doesn’t pan out. All that matters is that he didn’t. Wadsworth was supposed to be a savior for the Cardinals defense, but a contract holdout got him off on the wrong foot in his rookie season – Wadsworth wanted to be paid closer to the QBs taken ahead of him, Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. He played in all 16 games his rookie season, finishing with five sacks and 57 tackles, including 42 solo, but the stats and games played declined thereafter until microfracture surgery in 2000 – then a four-letter word in professional sports – ended his career miles short of expectations.
5. Levi Brown, OT, Penn State, 2007, No. 5 overall
Brown’s placement on this list is more a product of well-chronicled circumstance than his own play. Brown has not played like the No. 5 pick in the draft and at times has rated among the worst tackles in the game, but he did earn alternate Pro Bowl honors in 2009 and he came on toward the end of the 2011 season. The greater evil here is the fact that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson --
he of the 2,000-plus yard, 2012 season after major knee reconstruction – was still on the board. Brown’s story will always include that snippet, but as time has worn on, he has come to grips with it and anybody who spends time around the man knows him to be a grounded, intelligent, affable leader of the offensive line. The Cards will be counting heavily on those qualities this season after Brown missed last season following a triceps tear.
There were too many candidates for the previous list, so here are a few more names to ponder.
Thomas Jones, RB, Virginia, 2000, No. 7 overall: Jones went on to a nice career in Chicago and New York, but he never managed more than 511 yards or 3.7 yards per carry in three seasons in Arizona.
Joe Wolf, OT, Boston College, 1989, No. 17 overall: Played nine NFL seasons with just 59 starts.
Leonard Davis, OT, Texas, 2001, No. 2 overall: Davis started 91 games in six seasons for Arizona and eventually made a Pro Bowl as a guard in Dallas. But Davis was the No. 2 pick, a spot that requires far more impact.
Bryant Johnson, WR, Penn State, 2003, No. 17 overall; Calvin Pace, DE, Wake Forest, 2003, No. 18 overall: Both players were fine in their own right, though never impact players in Arizona. What wasn’t fine is that Arizona State All-American defensive end Terrell Suggs was in the same draft and went at No. 10. The Cardinals had the sixth pick but resisted the clamoring to take the hometown star and traded down for the 17th and 18th picks. They supposedly had their eye on Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle, but the Eagles traded up and took him with the 15th pick. There are some who believe the Cards simply didn’t want to pay Suggs. Regardless, the former Chandler Hamilton star has 84.5 career sacks, five Pro Bowl selections, was the 2011 NFL defensive player of the year and just won a Super Bowl with the Ravens.