The 5: Impactful late-round NFL Draft picks by the Cardinals
Only once since the NFL Draft condensed to seven rounds in 1994 have the Arizona Cardinals stockpiled 11 selections.
The total increased with the NFL awarding four late-round compensatory picks last Friday, and while a deep draft should give Arizona GM Steve Keim the ability to draft a number of plug-and-play rookies, the latter rounds will give him the ability to add depth this year and develop prospects for key roles down the road.
Arizona, like most NFL teams, has hit on sixth- and seventh-round prospects.
Keim can be credited with at least one in his first draft as GM: Andre Ellington, a sixth-round pick in 2013. Perhaps that number can grow after 2017 seventh-round pick Korey Cunningham develops into a starting-caliber offensive tackle.
The number will certainly grow if Keim can make good with six picks in the final two rounds of the draft this year. Let’s take a look back on what talent Arizona has drafted in the last two rounds with a look at five strong contributors — and a list of honorable mentions — who were afterthoughts in their respective draft classes.
But first, here is a list of all 11 of the Cardinals’ 2019 draft selection slots.
Second round (# in round)
179th (6th) – Swapped for first pick in the seventh round (215th overall) for Buccaneers’ hiring of Bruce Arians
207th (35th) – Compensatory
248th (34th) – Compensatory
249th (35th) – Compensatory
254th (40th) – Compensatory, Mr. Irrelevant
DT Mark Smith, 1997 – seventh round (212th overall)
Smith didn’t take long to make an impact. Though he only started four games as a rookie, the Auburn product recorded 6.0 sacks from his tackle spot. The total rose to 9.0 sacks along with 72 tackles his second season, when he grabbed a hold of a starting role.
Injuries in his third year in 1999 kept him out of all but two games, and Smith returned in a smaller role the next season before leaving for Cleveland as his NFL career lasted just two more years.
In all, Smith started 24 of 46 games and produced 147 tackles (13 for loss) with 18.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries with Arizona.
S Pat Tillman, 1998 – seventh round (226th overall)
The Cardinals had one sixth-round pick and four seventh-round selections in this draft, and two of those players ended up producing for Arizona.
While linebacker Zack Walz played in 46 games with 16 starts to record 100 tackles and 2.0 sacks, it was Tillman who of course made remade himself as a defensive back after playing linebacker at Arizona State. He started 39 games and appeared in 60 over his four NFL seasons.
Tillman accumulated 340 tackles with 2.5 sacks, all as a Cardinal, before opting to join the Army Rangers, ultimately losing his life to friendly fire in 2004.
DB Renaldo Hill, 2001 – seventh round (215th overall)
Hill played out his rookie deal with the Cardinals en route to a 10-year NFL career.
After starting just one game as a rookie, he became a cog for Arizona by his second season. By his third, he was setting a career high with five interceptions, a forced fumble and 2.0 sacks.
A four-year career in the desert ended with 190 total tackles, eight interceptions, two forced fumbles and 4.5 sacks. Hill went on to play six more seasons with Oakland, Miami and Denver.
OL Reggie Wells, 2003 – sixth round (177th overall)
One of few on this list who played beyond his rookie contract, Wells, a Clarion University product, started all 16 games his second year and was a staple at left guard (and sometimes tackle) for Cardinals through 2009.
Wells even scored a touchdown in his Cardinals career, jumping on a fumble by running back Edgerrin James in the end zone during the 2007 season.
RB Andre Ellington, 2013 – sixth round (187th overall)
Few late-round picks had as instant of an impact as Ellington.
As a rookie, the running back out of Clemson posted 652 rushing yards at 5.5 yards per pop. He also added 371 receiving yards on the year.
His touches nearly doubled in Ellington’s second season, from 157 to 247. While his yards-per-attempt dwindled, he still posted 660 yards on the ground and another 395 through the air for his second season in a row with more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Injuries would ultimately take a toll on Ellington, as his role diminished in each of the next two years.
Ellington didn’t play in 2018 but rejoined former Cardinals coach Bruce Arians with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason.
Honorable mention: LB Zack Walz (1998, sixth round), OL Nick Leckey (2004, sixth round), TE Ben Patrick (2007, seventh round), RB/returner LaRod Stephens-Howling (2009, seventh round), TE Jim Dray (2010, seventh round), CB Justin Bethel (2012, sixth round)