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The History Of The Cardinals And The No. 3 Pick

The last time the team was third on the board, they took an icon


The first pick was going to be a quarterback, and while that came with some drama of its own – Eli Manning, did not, in fact, ever play for the San Diego Chargers – it wasn't what was going to change Cardinals' history.

That came with the No. 2 pick. And once the Oakland Raiders took offensive lineman Robert Gallery, the Cardinals were free to take the guy everyone thought they would take at No. 3 under new coach Dennis Green: wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

"Anquan (Boldin) has definitely set the bar high for Arizona receivers," Fitzgerald said that night about his new teammate. "I just want to come in and help contribute to the productivity of the offense."

That was 2004, the last time the Cardinals held the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft. They again sit at 3 for Thursday's draft – barring a trade down, which remains possible – waiting to see who will be their newest first-round pick. Edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. has been the popular speculation, but now it's becoming popular to suggest other names – tackle Paris Johnson, edge Tyree Wilson – although that'll be determined Thursday.

For now, here's a look at the seven previous times the Cardinals held the third overall pick in the NFL draft, who they took and how it turned out. (OK, the list will only have six, since the first, running back Glenn Dobbs in 1943, chose to enlist in the Army rather than play in the NFL after he was drafted.)

Arizona Cardinals first-round draft pick Larry Fitzgerald, Jr., makes a reception during mini camp Saturday, May 1, 2004, in Tempe, Ariz.(AP Photo/Paul Connors)


There isn't much to be said here. Then-coach Dennis Green was likely going to push for Fitzgerald no matter where the Cardinals were picking, even with QBs Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger on the board. Green said he was good with Josh McCown in order to justify the Fitz pick, and that was OK once the Cardinals signed Kurt Warner as a free agent a year later. (OK, it took a couple years and a new coach to help make it all work.) Fitzgerald played 17 seasons, with 1,432 receptions, 17,492 yards, 121 touchdowns and one sure induction into the Hall of Fame upcoming.



The Cardinals were supposed to pick No. 2 in 1998. But they didn't need a QB now that they had Jake Plummer in his second year, and while the Colts were taking Peyton Manning No. 1, the Chargers at No. 3 wanted to make sure they could get Ryan Leaf. So they gave the Cardinals a 1998 second-round pick (cornerback Corey Chavous), a 1999 first-round pick (wide receiver David Boston), star kick returner Eric Metcalf and linebacker Patrick Sapp to swap places, and the Cardinals nabbed Wadsworth to team with Simeon Rice and Eric Swann on the defensive line. It was a good pick. Wadsworth washed out, but it was because of bad knees, not because of bad talent. He ended up playing only 36 games in three seasons, with eight sacks.

Simeon Rice


A really good pick, even if the Cardinals-Rice relationship devolved into ugly franchise tag arguments and “deodorant” quotes. Rice had 51½ sacks in five Arizona seasons before leaving as a free agent and winning a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. He had 16½ sacks in 1999 for the Cardinals and was a key part of the 1998 playoff team.

Arizona Cardinals running back Garrison Hearst (23) carries the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals in Tempe, AZ, Dec. 18, 1994. The Cardinals defeated the Bengals 28-7. (Paul Spinelli via AP)


Back in the day when it made more sense to draft a running back really high, the Cardinals did. It didn't work the way anyone hoped. Hearst only played 14 games his first two seasons, a combination of nagging injuries and an oil-and-water relationship with then-coach Buddy Ryan. He played a full season in 1995, gained 1,070 yards, but fumbled 12 times for a bad offense and the Cardinals put him out of his misery with a trade to the Bengals. In 1997 he ended up with the 49ers and had three 1,000-yard seasons in the Bay.

FILE - In this Oct. 15, 1962, file photo, Bobby Mitchell, of the Washington Redskins, jumps to haul in a pass from quarterback Norman Snead in the second period of their NFL football game against the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis. Mitchell, the speedy late 1950s and ’60s NFL offensive star the Cleveland Browns and the Redskins, has died. He was 84. The Pro Football Hall of Fame said Sunday night, April 5, 2020, that Mitchell’s family said he died in the afternoon. (AP Photo/Fred Waters, File)


Before Hearst, the Cardinals had to go back to the 50s to have a No. 3 pick. In 1959 it was Mississippi State safety Billy Stacy, whose NFL career spanned five seasons with the Chicago and then St. Louis Cardinals. He made a Pro Bowl, and was the last played in the NFL to have a touchdown catch, a touchdown on an interception return and a touchdown on a fumble return in the same season until Houston's J.J. Watt did it in 2014.

Ollie Matson, Chicago Cardinals left halfback poses, Dec. 1954.  (AP Photo)


Until Fitz gets in, Matson is the lone Hall of Famer on this list. Matson was an Olympic medalist for the U.S. in track and field before the Cardinals got him on the field, and then he was lost for the 1953 season when Matson was in the Army. He was first-team All-Pro in each of his first five seasons, and made the Pro Bowl all six season he played for the Cardinals before he was traded to the Rams. He had three seasons of 1,000 yards from scrimmage in years of only 12 games, when offenses weren't as prolific and when defenses did whatever they could to slow Matson down.