The definitive ranking of quarterbacks drafted by the Arizona Cardinals
Will they or won’t they?
Since the end of a disappointing 2016 season, the Arizona Cardinals have been pretty up front about their intention to identify a “quarterback of the future.” They just won’t say when.
Their next opportunity to address the position comes later this week when the 2017 NFL Draft rolls around. The Cardinals own eight picks in this year’s draft and will have chances to draft a college signal caller at any juncture — even the first round, where they own the 13th overall pick.
Speculation is one thing. Reflection is another.
The Cardinals’ quarterback draft history hasn’t been great since they moved to the Valley in time for the 1988 season. Since then, they’ve used a regular draft pick on a QB 12 times. In 1989, the team used a supplemental pick to select Timm Rosenbach out of Washington State, but we’re not including him for our purposes here.
That may seem like a lot, but it’s actually in the middle of the pack among NFL teams. In that same time span, the Green Bay Packers have picked 18 QBs; the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys have only tabbed seven each.
So, about those 12…
The Cardinals have only invested one first-round pick on a quarterback. Just as often, they picked one in the 12th round — a spot in the draft that doesn’t even exist anymore.
Here’s a quick ranking of the Cardinals’ quarterback draft history in Arizona.
12. Jeff Bridewell – 1991 – 12th round (309th overall) out of Cal-Davis
High point: Getting drafted by an NFL team.
Low point: He’s the only quarterback on this list who never threw a regular-season pass in a Cardinals uniform.
Who they passed on: Future Super Bowl MVP Larry Brown was taken by Dallas 11 spots later and wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who had 883 career catches (23rd all-time) was taken by Washington at No. 326.
Note: His photo is from his LinkedIn account. Feel free to reach out. Mr. Bridewell has done well for himself.
11. Tony Sacca – 1992- 2nd round (46th overall) out of Penn State
Sacca started for two seasons in college, putting up pretty pedestrian numbers for the Nittany Lions (53.7%, 4,354 yards). But Penn State went 20-5 over those years, so the Cardinals reached.
The New Jersey native played in only two games as a Cardinal, completing 4-of-11 passes for 29 yards and two interceptions. He was pressed into duty in the 1992 season opener at Tampa Bay when starter Timm Rosenbach was sacked by Santana Dotson and left with a concussion and backup Chris Chandler also left with an injury.
Claim to Fame: His first NFL pass was picked off. Facing a 1st-and-10 at his own 2-yard line, Sacca was inexplicably asked to throw and Jimmy Williams intercepted it at the Cardinals’ 15. Three plays later, Tampa Bay got a field goal from Ken Willis to finish off the Bucs’ 23-7 win.
Who they passed on: The 1992 quarterback class wasn’t memorable in any way (at least positively), but Jeff Blake, Kent Graham and future Super Bowl winner Brad Johnson were all picked at least two rounds after the Cardinals swung and missed on Sacca.
10. Logan Thomas – 2014 – 4th round (120th overall) out of Virginia Tech
If the movie character Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh had a football equivalent, it may have been Logan Thomas.
The former Hokie QB had an impressive throwing arm, you just never knew if his pass was going to hit the mascot. Head coach Bruce Arians, himself a former Virginia Tech star, took a chance on the physically impressive Thomas.
The pick looked decent after Thomas’ first NFL action. He completed 11-of-12 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown to Dan Buckner in the Cardinals’ preseason opener — a 32-0 blowout of Houston. Things got worse from there. Despite a shaky performance in two preseason losses, Thomas won the the third-string quarterback job over Ryan Lindley.
With Carson Palmer injured and Drew Stanton banged up, Thomas was pressed into duty in a Week 5 contest against Denver. Trailing 24-13 in the third quarter, Thomas was sacked on his first two dropbacks. On the next series, he’d throw two incompletions on another three-and-out. On the first play of his third drive, Thomas thew a pass out of the backfield to Andre Ellington, who split two defenders and raced 81 yards for a touchdown to pull Arizona to within four points.
That was the entirety of Thomas’ Arizona highlight reel. It’s the only pass he’s completed in his NFL career. To make matters worse, the desperate Cardinals turned to Thomas to take over as the team’s starter late in the regular season, but his lack of preparedness led to Arians pulling the plug on the experiment after only one practice.
He was cut in during the 2015 preseason, but holds the distinction of being one of only two passers in NFL history to complete one career pass for more than 80 yards. The other was Rabbit Keen, who had an 86-yard touchdown pass for the Eagles in 1937 lone passing stat.
Who they passed on: Tom Savage, A.J. McCarron and Zach Mettenberger were all QBs drafted later than Thomas.
Claim to Fame: It had nothing to do with the Cardinals, but Thomas’ run in the Sun Bowl against UCLA was ridiculous.
9. Chris Greisen – 1999 – 7th round (239th overall) out of NW Missouri State
Greisen, only the second player ever drafted out of Northwest Missouri State (we’ll give you a high-five if you can name the mascot) went on to a brilliant career that saw him throw for over 15,000 yards and 324 touchdowns.
For the Cardinals, Greisen saw mop-up duty in five games over two seasons and he threw a touchdown pass to Frank Sanders in a Week 14 loss to Jacksonville that narrowed the Jags’ lead to 34 points.
By the way, the NWMSU mascot is ‘Bearcats’.
8. John Navarre – 2004 – 7th round (202nd overall) out of Michigan
The Cards invested a late pick on Navarre, who had a decent career in Ann Arbor in the years following the Tom Brady/Drew Henson era.
Navarre had good size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds), but not much could be expected of him being such a late selection.
He made one career start, going 18-of-40 for 168 yards with a touchdown and four picks in a Week 13 road loss to the Lions in 2004. He served as a backup to Kurt Warner and Josh McCown in 2005 before finding his way out of the league.
Claim to Fame: He was tall. One of the tallest quarterbacks in recent memory, according to this 2012 NFL.com article.
7. Ryan Lindley – 2012 – 6th round (185th overall) out of San Diego State
Few Cardinals in recent memory will evoke more of a reaction than Lindley, a late-round pick in 2012. With a quarterback room that featured Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, some thought Lindley might have a chance to develop into the team’s “QB of the future.”
He got chances during his rookie season, getting four starts late in the year. He threw four picks in his first start, a Week 11 loss to St. Louis. The next week, in what some people (translation: ME) call the ugliest NFL game ever, he completed 10-of-32 passes for 74 in a 7-6 road loss to the Jets. The Cardinals actually won Lindley’s next start, using two pick-sixes and three rushing touchdowns to beat Detroit, 38-10, two weeks later.
Arizona cut Lindley in 2014 in favor of rookie Logan Thomas, but was forced to sign him off of San Diego’s practice squad midway through the season when Carson Palmer went down a torn ACL. After Drew Stanton went down with a knee injury of his own during a late-season road win at St. Louis, the playoff-bound Cardinals found themselves with Lindley as their guy.
In a Week 16 Sunday night game against Seattle with the NFC West crown on the line, Lindley stunk up the joint (as did the rest of his teammates), going 18-of-44 with a pick in a 35-6 loss. The next week, Lindley made history. On his fourth pass of a loss to San Francisco, he found Michael Floyd on a 20-yard touchdown off a flea-flicker. It was the first of his career. Yes, Lindley threw 229 passes in the NFL before he ever threw a scoring strike.
The next week, with Stanton still not healed, the Cardinals had no choice but to start Lindley in the NFC Wild Card game at Carolina. With Lindley at the controls, Arizona managed just 78 yards of offense — the fewest ever in an NFL playoff game — and the Cardinals fell 27-16.
Claim to Fame: Lindley joins Jake Plummer, Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer as the only Cardinals QBs to start in the postseason since 1988. Oh, and there’s this highlight video set to upbeat reggae, so…
6. Tom Tupa – 1988 – 3rd round (68th overall) out of Ohio State
There were many people in the NFL in the 70s and 80s who believed the Cardinals had no idea what they were doing in the NFL Draft each year. Those people got more fuel in Phoenix’s first draft when they picked an All-American in the third round. The problem was, Tupa was an All-American punter.
Yes, he did start for the Buckeyes at QB in 1987, but was marginal at best, throwing for 1,786 yards with a TD-Int ratio of 12-10. With Tupa at quarterback, OSU went 6-4-1 under head coach Earle Bruce and didn’t make a bowl game for the first time since 1971.
Yet, the Cardinals picked him in the third round. And as a harbinger of things to come, he was pressed into duty as a QB as a second-year player. Tupa’s first pro start was an abject nightmare. In Week 8 of the 1989 season, against the fearsome defense of the Philadelphia Eagles, Tupa completed 16-of-41 passes for 266 yards and six interceptions. Yes, six. The Cardinals lost 17-5 (even the score was ugly).
Tupa actually won the Cardinals’ starting job in 1991 (gulp!). In 11 contests, he completed 52.4 percent of his passes for 2,053 yards with six touchdowns and 13 interceptions. In all, he went 4-9 as a starter as a Cardinal.
Claim to Fame: That six-pick performance puts him in rare company. Tupa joins Vinny Testaverde, Bobby Hebert (twice), Donald Hollas, Ty Detmer, Chris Chandler, Peyton Manning and Ryan Fitzpatrick as the only quarterbacks to throw six or more picks in a single game in the Arizona NFL era. Detmer actually threw seven. Yikes!
Claim to Fame Pt. II: Scored the first two-point conversion in NFL history in 1994 while with the Cleveland Browns.
Claim to Fame, Pt. III: Was awarded worker’s compensation from the NFL for a back injury he suffered while warming up for a preseason game in 2005.
5. Stoney Case – 1995 – 3rd round (80th overall) out of New Mexico
There are plenty of interesting side notes about Case, just none during his three-year Cardinals career.
Before his college days, Case was actually Mike Winchell’s backup at Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. The team was the subject of the 1990 novel Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by Buzz Bissinger. The book was later turned into a motion picture, and while Case wasn’t a character, you can see his name on the depth chart as head coach Gary Gaines (played by Billy Bob Thornton) readies his roster for the 1989 season. Unlike the featured team, Case’s Panthers went on to win a Texas state championship.
Case also dated Ali Landry, a former beauty queen who went on to star in commercials for Doritos. That’s worth at least a spot in these rankings.
On the field, Case threw a total of 57 passes for the Cardinals. He started one game in 1997 — a 13-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in which he threw for 94 yards and was sacked five times. He was relieved by Jake Plummer, who took over the starting job the next week against Tennessee, and didn’t relinquish it for the next five-and-a-half years.
While Case didn’t do much for the Cardinals, his selection wasn’t a total miss either. Nine quarterbacks were drafted behind him in ’95, the most successful of which was either Rob Johnson or Craig Whelihan.
Claim to Fame: We mentioned the Ali Landry thing, right? That spot also starred Sean Hayes, before he broke out as a star on Will and Grace.
4. Matt Leinart – 2006 – 1st round (10th overall) out of USC
Leinart, at the time of the 2006 draft, was arguably the most decorated quarterback in college football history with two national championships and a Heisman Trophy on his résumé. So when he was available at No. 10, head coach Dennis Green referred to it as a “gift from heaven.”
Leinart’s arrival coincided with the Cardinals moving into University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. After the Cardinals started the season 1-3, Green inserted Leinart into the starting lineup for a Week 5 game against Kansas City. The rookie played decently, but the losing continued. In fact, Arizona dropped Leinart’s first five starts and found themselves at 1-8. He’d get his first pro win in Week 11 — a 17-10 triumph over the Detroit Lions.
The Cardinals ended the season just 5-11, but Leinart’s performance instilled confidence that he was the quarterback of the future. Then, injuries happened. Leinart started the first five games of the 2007 season and ended up splitting time with Kurt Warner, who was very effective in leading Arizona’s no-huddle system. In a Week 5 win over the Rams, Leinart was sacked by Will Weatherspoon and suffered a broken collarbone, which sidelined him for the rest of the year.
The quarterback job was Leinart’s to lose heading into 2008, and he did just that. The third-year pro was downright awful in the Cardinals’ third preseason game at Oakland, completing just 4-of-12 passes for 24 yards and three interceptions. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s hands were tied, and he named Warner the starting quarterback. Of course, Warner would go on to lead the Cardinals to an NFC West title and the franchise’s first-ever berth in the Super Bowl.
Leinart’s next two years were dotted by mop-up duty and in 2010, after Warner had retired and the starting job was again up for grabs, the Cardinals released their “gift from heaven,” instead handing the job to Derek Anderson.
There’s no question that Leinart is one of the biggest busts at the quarterback spot in last quarter century in the NFL, yet he still outranks most on the Cardinals’ depressing quarterback list.
Claim to “Fame”: Matt seemed like a guy who liked a party. Especially when hot water and bikini-clad women were involved. Oh, and he was a great college QB.
3. Josh McCown – 2002 – 3rd round (81st overall) out of Sam Houston State
McCown wasn’t well-known coming out of college, but was still the fourth QB drafted in 2002 behind top overall pick David Carr, Joey Harrington (3rd) and Patrick Ramsay (32nd). He’s the only member of the 2002 quarterback class still playing 15 years later. In fact, he’s one of only three members of that entire draft class still active; Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers are the others.
McCown saw backup duty as a rookie and then started three games in his second season. The most memorable was his third career start, which came in a Week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings at Sun Devil Stadium. The Cardinals were playing out the string at 3-12 while the Vikings needed a win to get into the playoffs. Trailing 17-6 midway through the fourth quarter. McCown led the Cards on a drive which ended in a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Steve Bush. A two-point conversion attempt failed and the score was 17-12. Neil Rackers’ onside kick attempt was recovered by Damien Anderson, giving the Cardinals a chance to ruin the Vikings season.
They would do just that. On 4th-and-25 from the Minnesota 28-yard line and only four seconds remaining, McCown rolled to his right and threw a rope to receiver Nate Poole, who made a great catch between two defenders to give Arizona an improbable 18-17 win.
McCown would play two more years in Arizona, and notched a career record of 10-12 as a starter. That’s certainly not earth-shattering, but considering his career record is 8-30 since, it’s quite an accomplishment.
2. John Skelton – 2010 – 5th round (155th overall) out of Fordham
In continuing with the depressing theme, yes, John Skelton is No. 2 on this list.
A physical specimen with a strong arm, Skelton wasn’t all that well-known coming out of Fordham, an FCS program, but the Cardinals took a shot on him in the fifth round.
It didn’t take long for the rookie to find himself on the field. In a quarterback room that included Derek Anderson and fellow rookie Max Hall, Skelton seized the opportunity and started four games in 2010, winning two of them.
Skelton started 2011 as the backup to Kevin Kolb, whom the Cardinals traded for and then rewarded with a huge contract following the lockout. But the second-year player wouldn’t have to wait long for his chance behind the oft-injured starter. Kolb suffered a turf toe injury in a Week 8 loss to Baltimore, and Skelton took over the reins, leading Arizona to a 6-2 finish over the season’s last eight games to finish 8-8. While his statistics weren’t eye-popping (151-275-1,913-11-14), Skelton routinely made plays to help the Cardinals win.
He entered the season as the starter in 2012, but got hurt in the opener against Seattle and wouldn’t return to the field until five weeks later when Kolb, who helped the Cardinals to a 4-0 start, suffered a concussion against Buffalo. Skelton would start five games the rest of the way, with Arizona going 0-5. His last action as a Cardinal came in a record-setting 58-0 loss to the Seahawks in which he threw four interceptions.
Skelton was cut in April of 2013, but considering he was only a fifth-round pick, and went 8-9 as a starter during parts of three years, he turned out to be a pretty good value pick.
1. Jake Plummer – 1997 – 2nd round (42nd overall) out of Arizona State
In the spring of 1997, Jake Plummer was Arizona royalty. After a four-year career at Arizona State that ended with the Sun Devils just moments away from likely being voted as the AP national champion, the Cardinals plucked him in the second round.
If anyone could rescue a struggling franchise, it was a local hero with a cool nickname.
Plummer didn’t exactly single-handedly save the Cardinals, but he did a lot. He took over as the starter midway through his rookie season, and in his second year, became the first Cardinals quarterback to win a playoff game in 51 years when Arizona upset the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC Wild Card game.
“Jake the Snake” would start for six years in the desert, and while the Cardinals never recaptured the success they had in 1998, Plummer did his part in campaigning for a new stadium that would usher Arizona into the next phase of its existence when it opened in 2006.
Plummer still leads most Cardinals’ Arizona passing categories.
Bonus: This video highlighting the Cardinals’ Week 16 win over the Saints in 1998, which kept their playoff chances alive. Needing a field goal to win, Plummer rallied the Cards from their own 8-yard line with 1:15 to go. And, it features legendary play-by-play announcer, the late, great Tom Dillon.