As we wind down our series on the history of Cardinals draft picks, this week we will take a look at the safeties. The Cardinals have drafted quite a few solid safeties over the past few decades and Cardinals fans hope they can continue that trend, especially since I have safety as the team’s biggest need in May’s draft.
It’s timely that this week is the week we focus on Cardinals safeties, since much of the media is taking time to remember the most famous Cardinals safety in their history this week. This week marks the tenth anniversary of the death of former Cardinals seventh-round pick Pat Tillman. While Tillman may not make the list of top Cardinals safeties drafted for his on the field performance, he certainly tops the list for what he stood for off the field.
The word hero is thrown around a little too loosely in my opinion these days, but in Tillman’s case I think it’s justified. Not too many people walk away from a life in professional sports to do what they think is right. If anything it seems half of today’s athletes couldn’t find the right thing to with a pre-programmed GPS. Tillman is a symbol for the sacrifice of all of our men and women in the Armed Forces.
There have been many articles written and revisited about Tillman this week. Many media members talking about his memory. I especially enjoyed listening to Fox Sports 910’s Mike Jurecki tell his personal stories about his relationship with Tillman and the kind of guy he was. Cardinals fans will certainly never forget him.
Back to the topic at hand. The best safety the Cardinals have ever drafted. Going back to the first round of the 1983 draft, the Cardinals used their first-round pick on Leonard Smith. Smith played about half of his career with the Cardinals accruing 14 interceptions and 14 sacks. In 1984 they drafted Martin Bayless in the fourth round. Bayless ended his career with 776 tackles, 12 interceptions and 11.5 sacks.
In more recent history, the Cardinals selected Corey Chavous with the 33rd overall pick in 1998. Chavous made one Pro Bowl and retired with 592 tackles, 20 interceptions and 5.5 sacks. In 2005 the Cardinals used their first-round pick on a Antrel Rolle. Rolle was a fan favorite before signing with the Giants as a free agent. Rolle has been elected to three Pro Bowls and currently has 607 tackles, 23 interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
All of those players had very good NFL careers, but when it comes to the top safeties drafted by the Cardinals, two names stand above the rest. In 2001 the Cardinals drafted Adrian Wilson in the third round. The player that was affectionately referred to as A-dub has had a pretty fantastic career. That career includes one 1st team All-Pro selection and 5 Pro Bowl teams as well as 721 tackles, 27 interceptions, 25.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles. Wilson was the kind of big-hitting safety that has gradually been phased out of the NFL game. He’s laying the lumber on Mikel Leshoure of the Detroit Lions in the picture above from 2012.
Adrian Wilson was a great player, but the number one spot on this list goes to another Cardinals draft pick by the slimmest of margins. In 1987 the Cardinals used their second-round pick on a player from USC named Tim McDonald. McDonald played on six Pro Bowl squads and finished his career with an impressive 1063 tackles, 40 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 9.5 sacks. McDonald has two sons that have followed in his safety footsteps too. His son TJ played safety for USC and was drafted in the third round by the Rams and Tevin played safety for UCLA for two seasons before transferring.
The Cardinals head into the 2014 NFL draft hoping they can add yet another name to this distinguished list.