As we all project how the most recent draft picks will pan out for the Cardinals, I thought we could look back at some of the late round gems who have starred for the Cardinals in the past. Late round gems are often few and far between but I, like most, love the story of an underdog.
Centers was drafted out of Stephen F Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas but he quickly escaped his humble beginnings. He'd play sparingly in his first two seasons but in his third season he started to shine rushing for 139 yards and pulling down 50 receptions for over 400 yards. Over the next six seasons, Centers would revolutionize the running back/full back position by averaging nearly 78 receptions per season. He'd become the first back to log over 100 receptions in a season in 1995 and he ranks 13th in NFL history in terms of receptions with 827, by far the highest non-receiver on the list. Centers would leave the Arizona Cardinals after the 1998 season and would play for three other teams (WAS, BUF, NE) before ending his career. For his career he was elected to three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team along with winning a Super Bowl in the New England Patriots.
Mitchell would come out of the Citadel to become the Cardinals franchised leader in combined yardage with 11,988 (rushing, receiving, punt/kick returns). Mitchell was used primarily as a returner during his first four seasons but he'd take over as the starting running back after injuries sidelined Ottis Anderson. In Mitchell's first season starting at tailback he totaled just over 1,000 yards on just 183 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and would accumulate almost 2,000 total yards. He'd be the starting running back for the next three seasons and he'd finish his career with a yards per carry of 4.7. He still ranks in the top 40 all-time in combined return yardage and 69th all-time in total combined yardage. Mitchell went into coaching after his career ended and it currently the assistant head coach/running backs coach in Washington.
Casual football fans will remember Jackie Smith for what he didn't do (dropping a pass in Super Bowl XIII as a member of the Cowboys), but Cardinals fans should remember Smith as a Hall of Fame Player. Smith played for the then St. Louis Cardinals for 15 seasons and amazingly also served as the team's primary punter for three seasons. Smith's career numbers don't look all that impressive by today's standards but at the time of his retirement he was the all-time leading receiver among tight ends with 480 receptions, 7,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. He was the team's co-offensive captain and at one point played in 121 straight games and during that stretch went 45 straight games with at least one reception. Smith's best season was in 1967 when he totaled 1,205 receiving yards on just 56 receptions, for an amazing 21.5 yards per reception. He finished his career with an impressive yards per catch average of 16.5 and was known as a punishing blocker and fierce competitor to compliment his explosiveness in the passing game. Smith was a five time Pro Bowler and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
Anyone with fond/not so fond memories of their careers with the Cardinals, how they left, or their careers in general?
To come at a later date: Stan Mauldin, Ernie McMillan, Sonny Randle, Pat Tillman, Lonnie Young among others....