When looking back at the history of the Arizona Cardinals, well, it’s not exactly a pretty one. In a history filled with losing seasons and disappointment it’s hard to see the positives. However, through all the losing, there has been plenty of great talent to wear the red and white of the Arizona Cardinals, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Here is my list of the 5 greatest Arizona Cardinals defensive players of all time.
(NOTE: This list is ARIZONA Cardinals only, therefore guys like Larry Wilson and Rodger Wherli were left off. If on they would both have been in the top 3)
5. Simeon Rice DE 1996-2000- The only reason Simeon Rice is not higher on this list is because he only played with the Cardinals for five seasons. While Rice did not leave on good terms and became a fan enemy with the fans for his comment of calling Arizona the “armpit of the NFL”, Rice’s on field impact cannot be denied. If this list was based off of production and talent alone, Rice would easily be in the top three.
But a poor attitude and leaving on bad terms caused him to slide. Rice was drafted third overall by the Cardinals in ’96 out of Illinois to be the pass rusher the Cardinals never had. After a huge rookie year with 12.5 sacks, it looked like he was going to become just that.
Rice was productive in every season in Arizona, including a league leading 16.5 in 1999. However, Rice labeled Arizona the “arm-pit of the NFL” after the 2000 season and left for Tampa Bay in free agency. Had it not been for a poor attitude and those comments, Rice in my opinion would have to be considered one of the top 3 Cardinal defensive players of all time.
4. Ronald Mckinnon MLB 1996-2004- Mckinnon was never the sexy player who got on highlight reels, but Mckinnnon was, in my opinion, one of the most solid players the Cardinals have ever had. Mckinnon was a smart, solid linebacker who showed up and played hard every single game.
In his eight years with the Cardinals, Mckinnon missed a total of three games while playing on some terrible teams in the late ‘90s to early 2000’s. His best year came in 2000 when he accumulated 155 total tackles including four sacks, and also had an interception returned for a touchdown.
3. Darnell Dockett DE/DT 2004- present- Dockett has become a favorite in Arizona from the moment he put on the Cardinal uniform. Dockett was drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2004 NFL draft from Florida State. Dockett was named a starter after his first game, and showed an impact in stopping the run.
Dockett’s best year came in 2007 when he piled up 43 tackles including nine sacks while forcing two fumbles.
While Dockett has proven to be a great player on the field, he may be best known for his approachability and willingness to interact with fans, as well as his fun loving, and slightly off the wall humor (shower video, pet alligator, Katherine Webb drama).
Dockett’s career with the Cardinals is not yet complete, and while his production has declined over the last three years, he has promised excitement and a return to form in new coordinator Todd Bowles system. We will see if his form actually does return.
2. Adrian Wilson SS 2001-2012- Adrian Wilson has been and remains to this day a Cardinal fan favorite for the last 12 years. Wilson was drafted in the third round by the Cardinals in 2001 and started primarily as a special teams player. When he became the teams starting strong safety in 2002, Wilson made an instant impact with four interceptions.
Wilson quickly gained a reputation around the league as one of the most versatile safeties in the league, as he could make plays in coverage as well as come up to the line of scrimmage and play the run and rush the passer.
What Wilson really became known and loved for, was for being one of the hardest hitters the NFL has ever seen, with the ability to strike fear into opponents and level players with bone crunching hits who came over the middle.
Even though Wilson’s play declined over the last year that he was in Arizona, he will still be remembered and loved by Cardinal fans everywhere.
1. Aeneas Williams DB 1991-2000- The four names above were great players, but no one can match the level of play of Aeneas Williams. Williams played for some really bad teams during his time, only reaching the playoffs once, but always played at a hall of fame level.
Williams was one of the original “shutdown corners” along with all of Famer Deion Sanders. Williams best season came in 1994 when he picked off nine passes and consistently shut down the opponents number one receiver. In fact, Dallas Cowboy’s hall of fame wide receiver Michael Irvin recently called Williams one of the two best cornerbacks he ever faced, along with Sanders.
Irvin should know after the performance Williams put on in the 1998 wild card playoff game, shutting Irvin down and picking off Cowboys hall of fame quarterback Troy Aikman twice to help the Cardinals stun the Cowboys in Dallas. Williams is up for hall of fame candidacy, beginning last season, and certainly deserves a nod with his 55 career INT’s, 46 of which came with the Cardinals.
Honorable Mention: Pat Tillman S 1998-2001- No explanation needed.