For the longest time the Arizona Cardinals were regulars in the top half of the NFL Draft.
That’s what happens when you struggle to win games.
However, things have been different of late. The Cardinals have won 34 regular season games over the last three seasons, and last year went 13-3 before falling short in the NFC Championship Game. Because of their success, the team holds the 29th overall selection in April’s draft. It is the second-lowest first-round pick in franchise history, trailing only the draft following their appearance in Super Bowl XLIII, which granted them the 31st pick.
As it is, just seven times have the Cardinals held a first-round pick in the 20s or later. Below is a look at every player the Cardinals have ever taken with a pick in that part of the draft.
1975: No 21 overall
The 1974 St. Louis Cardinals won the NFC East with a 10-4 record but lost in the divisional playoff round to the Minnesota Vikings. This left them with the 21st pick in the draft, and they used it to select defensive back Tim Gray out of Texas A&M.
Gray lasted just one season with the Cardinals, though, appearing in all 14 games but failing to record an interception. He returned one kick for 20 yards
1976: No. 22 overall
The 1975 Cardinals reached the postseason for the second straight year with an 11-3 record along with another NFC East title, but saw their season come to an end by way of a 35-23 loss to the L.A. Rams in the divisional round. That left them with the 22nd pick in the draft, and they spent it on defensive tackle Mike Dawson out of Arizona.
Dawson lasted nine NFL seasons — seven of which were spent in St. Louis. He appeared in 88 games with the Cardinals, including 84 starts. He tallied 3.5 sacks in 1982, which was the first year the NFL kept track of the statistic.
1999: No. 21 overall
The 1998 season saw the Cardinals rally to earn a Wild Card berth, getting them to the postseason for the first time since the franchise moved to Arizona. They even knocked off the Dallas Cowboys 20-7 in the Wild Card round before losing to the Vikings 41-21 in the divisional round. This earned them the 21st pick in the draft, which they used on Eastern Michigan tackle L.J. Shelton.
Now to be fair, Shelton was not the first player the Cardinals took in 1999. By way of a trade they made the previous draft with the San Diego Chargers, they also held the eighth pick, which was used to take Ohio State receiver David Boston. But that was San Diego’s pick, not Arizona’s.
Shelton was supposed to be Lomas Brown’s replacement, but those plans were delayed when a contract holdout led to him missing the first two games of the regular season. Once with the team, however, Shelton proved to be a pretty solid acquisition.
In all, Shelton spent six seasons with the Cardinals, playing in 82 games with 77 starts. Mostly a left tackle, 2004 saw the lineman move to the right side.
2009: No. 31 overall
No doubt the Cardinals would have rather been picking one stop lower, the second-to-last pick is reserved for the team that loses in the Super Bowl. But alas, that’s where the Cards were in 2009 after falling to the Steelers 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII, using the 31st pick to select Ohio State running back Beanie Wells.
And after a rookie season that saw Wells rush for 793 yards and seven touchdowns, it appeared like the Cardinals may have found something. But injuries slowed his progression and while Wells ran for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011, he failed to establish himself as an every-down NFL back.
Wells rushed for just 234 yards and five touchdowns in eight games in 2012, and was waived the following offseason.
2010: No. 26 overall
The 2009 Cardinals finished with a 10-6 record but lost in the divisional round to the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. This earned them the 26th pick, which they used on Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams.
Williams went on to play five seasons for the Cardinals, developing into a solid run-stopping defensive lineman. With Arizona, he collected 210 total tackles along with 2.5 sacks. He signed a free agent contract with the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2015 campaign.
2014: No. 27 overall
Going into the draft the Cardinals held the 20th overall selection, but as some of their targets flew off the board in front of them they decided to swing a trade with the New Orleans Saints that moved them back in the first-round while giving them more choices later in the draft. With their new first-round pick they chose Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, who many thought would not be picked until the second round.
Though a safety by trade, the Cardinals’ roster makeup forced Bucannon to play linebacker, a position in which he excelled. He started nine of 16 games as a rookie, finishing with 75 tackles, two sacks, two passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. There was no sophomore slump for him in 2015, either, as he led the team with 127 total tackles to go along with three sacks, one interception, four passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
2015: No. 24 overall
Having finished the previous season 11-5, the Cardinals once again found themselves picking late in the draft. When they were finally on the clock, they made a bit of a surprise pick of Florida tackle D.J. Humphries.
A left tackle in college, the team asked Humphries to transition to right tackle as a pro and to say he struggled early would be a bit of an understatement. He was nicknamed “Knee Deep” in training camp due to his motivation level and was inactive for the team’s 16 regular season games and both playoff matchups. However, as the season progressed the coaching staff praised his work ethic and development, and as of now he is expected to be the team’s right tackle in 2016.
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