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Cardinals thought they were getting draft-day steals — they were wrong

Each year the NFL Draft comes and goes, and by the time every selection is made fans and analysts alike go over the picks and determine who did the best job.

One factor everyone looks at is who got the biggest “steals” of the draft. You know, players who fell in the draft, only to fall into the wide-open arms of a team that is certainly happy to get them.

As it turns out, though, apparently teams aren’t always as dumb as we think. Sometimes players fall for a reason.

The Cardinals know this all too well, as ESPN compiled a list of the top 10 NFL draft steals that failed, with Arizona players making up 30 percent of the list.

At number five is Leeland McElroy. Though a writer who will remain unnamed (unless you read this article’s byline) may own an autographed football card of his, the former Texas A&M star’s career with Arizona was, well, uneventful after being taken with the 32nd-overall pick in the 1999 draft.

After an All-American year for Texas A&M, one in which he showed off his skills as a rusher (1,112 yards) and a kick returner (at the time, he held the record for most return touchdowns in a season), he declared for the draft fully expecting to be a first-round pick. Injuries that caused him to miss two games and parts of others dropped his stock, and once he was drafted by the Cardinals, his career was largely forgettable. He lost his starting job in both his rookie and sophomore years, and was eventually pushed out of the league entirely by 1999.

The next Cardinal on the list, unfortunately, was picked a little higher than the second round.

Andre Wadsworth, who many argued was the best player in the 1998 draft (who would want some guy named Peyton Manning?), was taken third by the Cardinals. The good news is they traded down from the second spot, thereby avoiding the Ryan Leaf disaster. The bad news, though, is Wadsworth wasn’t much better than the guy picked one spot ahead of him.

Wadsworth held out until the day before the season started, had a solid rookie year and then proceeded to have knee surgery in three consecutive offseasons, sapping him of all his burst. He wound up playing only three NFL seasons, the last in 2000, after a comeback attempt with the Jets ended on the day of final cuts in 2007.

Of course, what would a list of Cardinals steals-turned-busts be without mentioning the guy who was a “gift from heaven,” according to then-coach Dennis Green.

Matt Leinart, taken 10th overall in 2006, was generally thought to be the most NFL-ready QB in what was a pretty good class for signal callers. He had a decent rookie season, but that was about the last time anyone really thought of the former Trojan in a positive way.

His intensity and dedication were questioned frequently as Kurt Warner’s understudy, and after Warner left, he embarrassingly lost a quarterback competition to Derek Anderson and was released. You hate to write off a player who admittedly hasn’t looked completely clueless on the field, but it sure looks like Leinart is nothing more than a backup quarterback at this point.

True, it’s hard to blame the Cardinals for making these picks. It is not as if they reached for any of these players (Levi Brown says hi), so it’s tough to argue with their selection.

That said, at the very least this list should get people to pause, if only for a little bit, before crowning any draft pick as a “steal.”

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