The Arizona Cardinals best seventh-round draft picks

23 Dec 2001: Wide receiver Reggie Swinton
23 Dec 2001: Wide receiver Reggie Swinton /

The Arizona Cardinals have done surprisingly well with some of their selections in the least-respected round of the NFL Draft

The Arizona Cardinals have made unusually good use of quite a few of their seventh-round draft picks throughout the years. While many final-round prospects could be considered throwaways, the Cardinals management team has found some hidden gems among those who’ve been disregarded. Some that, quite frankly, have gone on to have pretty-productive NFL careers.

The most famous of Arizona’s seventh-round finds was the late Pat Tillman. The former Arizona State Sun Devil garnered much attention from his time in the military, which ultimately resulted in his death. Tillman’s on-field success with the Cards tends to get overlooked now because of the extreme bravery he displayed in defending our country.

The Cardinals had four seventh-round round picks back in 1998, the third of which turned out to be Tillman. The safety played with the club for four campaigns, tallying 238 tackles, three interceptions and two and a half sacks. Tillman’s number “40” has been retired by the organization, and he’s also been inducted into the Cards’ Ring of Honor.

Arizona also got good results from their seventh-rounder in 1997, the year before they landed Tillman. Mark Smith became an integral part of a defensive line that included Eric Swann, Simeon Rice and Andre Wadsworth. The defensive tackle out of Auburn University racked up 191 tackles and 20 sacks in a six-year career that concluded with the Cleveland Browns in 2002.

In 1988, the team’s inaugural season in the desert, the then “Phoenix” Cardinals selected a wide receiver who contributed nicely to their offense. Seventh-rounder Ernie “Indiana” Jones stayed with the squad for five years, before spending his final season (1993) with the Los Angeles Rams. The Indiana University speedster hauled in 215 passes for 3,630 yards and 20 touchdowns during his time in the league.

LaRod Stephens-Howling, 2009’s seventh-round pick, lasted for four campaigns with the Cards. The running back/kick returner was an all-around performer who recorded five rushing touchdowns, three receiving and another three on kick returns. The tiny (5’7″, 185) Stephens-Howling led the NFL in kickoff return yards in 2010.

The Cardinals also got it right with another seventh-round back 19 years earlier. 1990’s offering , Johnny Johnson, made an impact in just three seasons with Big Red. The San Jose State University runner made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in ’90, when he rushed for 926 yards and five scores.

2010 seventh-rounder Jim Dray was a career backup who managed to carve out seven campaigns in the league. The tight end spent four of those with Arizona, before leaving for stints with the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. Dray did re-sign with the Cards last year, only to be cut four days later.

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Other decent seventh-round choices over the years included tight end Derek Ware (1992), cornerback Renaldo Hill (2001) and tight end Ben Patrick (2007).  But while fans of many other teams basically tune out once the seventh round begins, Cardinals’ followers should keep watching. General manager Steve Keim and his henchmen may end up drafting a player who’ll be sticking around for awhile.