The Cardinals’ worst running back ever drafted

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Thursday is upon us once again, and that means it’s time for the next part in our series of the worst players drafted by position in the history of the Cardinals franchise. This week we will search the annals of Cardinals history once again and open the book of horrors that has been the running back position for the Arizona Cardinals.

Although the Cardinals were actually pretty effective in the running game throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s and were led by accomplished runners such as Ottis Anderson (the franchise’s leading career rusher), Stump Mitchell, Jim Otis and Terry Metcalf, ever since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988 the position has been marked by ineffectiveness, injuries, poor personnel decisions, and a few backs who were past their better days (Emmitt Smith and Edgerrin James ring a bell?).

The Cardinals lack of production in the running game has been staggering in the past 25 years. They have finished in the bottom third in the NFL in total rushing yards 20 of the 25 past seasons and have never finished in the top 10 in rushing yards during that span. They also have been dead last in total rushing yards five times during that time and four times in the past decade.

They have predominately relied upon signing re-tread veteran running backs to fill the position on a yearly basis, and gave up on their two highest draft picks at the position before they hit their prime. This includes Garrison Hearst (Round 1: Pick 3, 1993), and Thomas Jones (Round 1: Pick 7, 2000). Both of which went on to have long and successful careers with other franchises including the 49ers, Bears, Chiefs, and Jets, and would combine for 15,790 rushing yards for their careers after leaving the Cardinals (which combined would rank them as the 3rd leading rusher in NFL history, just in case you were wondering).

The Cardinals have taken a running back in the first or second round of the draft nine times since moving to Arizona in 1988. These backs have combined to produce a meager 6,611 rushing yards in their combined seasons on the team. Only two of which have had a 1,000 yard rushing season as a member of the Cardinals, including Beanie Wells and Garrison Hearst, who each had one respectively. So needless to say there is definitely some competition for the honor of worst running back ever drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Out of the crop of names to choose from I have narrowed the list down to two.

Ryan Williams (Round 2: Pick 38, 2011)

Career Stats: 3 seasons, zero starts, 164 yards rushing, a 2.8 yards per attempt average and zero TD’s

Tony Jeffery (Round 2: Pick 38, 1988)

Career Stats: 1 season, zero starts, zero touchdowns, and 3 total carries for 8 yards

And he winner is…. Tony Jeffery (Round 2: Pick 38, 1988)

As much of a bust as Ryan Williams has been thus far in his NFL career as an Arizona Cardinal (I have a feeling his days are very numbered), a large part of his struggle can be attributed to devastating injuries which have caused him to get lost in the shuffle at running back for the team.

His unwillingness to play special teams as per the request of Head Coach Bruce Arians this past season was more than likely the final nail in the coffin for his short and tumultuous tenure as an Arizona Cardinal. As bad as Ryan Williams has been there is no way I can choose him over the running back the Cardinals selected with the 38th pick of the draft 23 years before him (memo to current and future Cardinals GM’s stay away from a running back with the 38th pick), the one and only Tony Jeffery.

Jeffery, the TCU product, was the Cardinals second pick of the 1988 draft and only survived one season on the Cardinals roster only mustering a measly three carries for eight yards. A classic example of a wasted draft pick, and the possible beginning of the curse which has haunted the Cardinals rushing attack since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988, being as he was the first running back the Cardinals ever drafted after moving to the valley. Thereby giving Tony two dubious honors, the worst running back drafted in Arizona Cardinals history and the man who started the running back curse in Arizona.

Let’s hope Andre Ellington is the man to end the curse.


See the worst quarterback ever drafted here.


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