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Arizona Cardinals Draft History: The fifth-rounders

Over the next week or so, we’ll be taking a round-by-round look at the draft history of the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals since they relocated from St. Louis in 1988.

So far, we’ve looked at the sixth and seventh rounders that made their marks in the desert.

Now, a look at the fifth-round picks…

5. John Skelton, QB, Fordham (5th round, 155th overall, 2010)

Don’t laugh.

While Skelton’s third (and last) season with the Cardinals didn’t go so well — he went 1-5 as a starter and regressed tremendously — his first two weren’t so bad.

As a rookie in 2010, Skelton took over the offense in December and guided the Cardinals to a 2-2 record, including a Christmas night win over the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, in his starts Skelton completed only 47.5 percent of his passes and had a terrible QB rating of 61.5, but it’s wins that count.

In 2011, Skelton began the season on the bench as newly-acquired Kevin Kolb took over the starting role. Kolb got injured and Skelton stepped in, throwing for 1,913 yards and 11 touchdowns over the last eight games of the year. While the QB rating still was nothing to write home about (68.9), the Cardinals went 6-2 in the second half to finish the year 8-8, and more importantly, provide optimism for the future.

Optimism can be misguided sometimes. Skelton won the starting job during training camp in 2012, but was injured in the season opener against Seattle. Kolb took over and helped the Cardinals to a 4-0 start. But when he went down again with an injury, Skelton was unable to recapture his previous magic, and the Cardinals lost 11 of their last 12 games.

The Cardinals released Skelton in April of 2013 to make way for Carson Palmer, whom the team acquired from the Oakland Raiders.

4. Tim Hightower, RB, Richmond (5th round, 149th overall, 2008)

Hightower was a relative unknown when the Cardinals announced his name in April of 2008. Hell, he wasn’t even invited to the combine!

That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a very good college player. Hightower amassed 4,448 yards from scrimmage at Richmond and left the school as its all-time leading rusher.

Hightower quickly made an impression as a rookie, scoring a touchdown in his first career game — a win over San Francisco. He eventually took over the starting role from veteran Edgerrin James, and finished the year with ten rushing touchdowns, which tied for seventh-most in the league.

His signature touchdown came in the biggest win in Cardinals history. On third and goal from the Philadelphia 8-yard line, Hightower took a short pass from Kurt Warner, ducked under tacklers and found his way into the end zone to give the Cardinals a 31-25 lead with under three minutes to play in the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

Hightower would play two more seasons with the Cards. In fact, his 1,733 rushing yards place him seventh on the all-time Phoenix/Arizona rushing list.

After the Cardinals drafted Ryan Williams out of Virginia Tech in 2011, they shipped Hightower to Washington for veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and a 2012 draft pick that turned into special teams ace Justin Bethel.

3. Antonio Smith, DE, Oklahoma State (5th round, 135th overall, 2004)

Smith played two seasons in Stillwater after transferring from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and racked up 8.5 sacks for the Cowboys.

The Cardinals snapped him up with the third pick of the fifth round, and Smith spent most of his rookie season on the sidelines.

Smith became a part-time starter in 2005, and in 61 career games in Arizona, he amassed 14.5 quarterback sacks. Smith started for the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII and had two tackles, including one for loss.

That game was Smith’s final one in a Cardinals uniform. He signed a five year, $35 million deal with the Houston Texans, where in 2013 he became America’s sweetheart for ripping off Richie Incognito’s helmet and swinging it at his head. OK, America’s sweetheart is a little strong, but you get the idea.

2. Steve Breaston, WR, Michigan (5th round, 142nd overall, 2007)

Breaston was a much talked-about player during his days at Michigan. He left Ann Arbor as the Wolverines’ fifth all-time leading receiver and all-time leading punt returner.

Despite his prolific college career, Breaston lasted until the fifth round, where he was picked by the Cardinals.

He contributed mostly on special teams as a rookie, averaging 9.4 yards per punt return and 22.4 yards per kick return. In his second year, Breaston became a big part of the Cardinals’ dynamic passing game. He teamed with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin as Arizona became just the fifth team to have three players with 1,000 or more receiving yards in a single season. That magical season ended in an appearance in Super Bowl XLIII, where he caught six passes for 71 yards.

In all, Breaston played four years in Arizona, catching 187 passes for 2,528 yards and seven touchdowns.

He became a free agent following the 2010 season, and signed with Kansas City Chiefs.

1. Larry Centers, FB, Stephen F. Austin – (5th round, 115th overall, 1990)

Raise your hand if you’d heard of Larry Centers before the Cardinals drafted him.


Centers still holds the Stephen F. Austin single-season record for rushing yards — he piled up 1,440 on 315 carries in 1989 for a Lumberjacks team that went 12-2-1 and played for the NCAA Division I-AA championship.

The Cardinals used a fifth-round pick on Centers, but it took him a while to adjust to life in the NFL. In 1990, Centers played in six games, but didn’t touch the ball on offense. The next season, he played a little more, getting 14 carries and catching 19 passes.

It wasn’t until his third year where Centers started to really make his mark, mostly as a receiver out of the backfield. He caught 50 passes for 417 yards and two touchdowns. Over the next few seasons, Centers would cement himself as the best pass-catching back in the league. In nine seasons with the Cardinals, he caught 535 passes for 4,539 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s still third on the franchise’s all-time receptions list, behind only Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

Centers would go on to play for Washington, Buffalo and New England, and his 827 career catches are good for 26th-most in league history and the most among running backs.

If all that wasn’t enough, Centers’ famous hurdle over Larry Brown during a 1995 Christmas night loss to the Dallas Cowboys has been immortalized in the film Jerry Maguire. That’s pretty tough to beat.

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