On December 29, 2002 the Arizona Cardinals wrapped up another dismal season by way of a 37-7 vicious beat down by the Denver Broncos. The Cardinals would end the 2002 season at a pathetic 5-11 and seeing very little hope of future success. At the time, the team was wandering behind the running of Marcell Shipp and lead receivers Freddie Jones and Frank Sanders. Neither of these receivers accounted for even 50 receptions during that season. Still, it was time to trudge on and longingly look forward to the 2003 NFL Draft.
Heading into draft day, the Cardinals found themselves in a great position to add some impact players. Thanks to the Cardinals receiving a first round pick from Miami, they held both the 17th and 18th pick in the draft. Finally, draft day came.
"With the sixteenth pick in the NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Troy Polamalu..."
The Cardinals were on the clock. It wasn't difficult for Cardinals fans or coaching staff to figure out that the team needed a big-time wide receiver. So, without wasting any time, the Cardinals used the 17th pick in the draft to select Bryant Johnson. While not everybody was excited about this selection, the Cardinals felt they had the player they needed to make big plays in the receiving game. The next pick would bring defensive end Calvin Pace to the Cardinals.
Luckily for Cardinals fans, the team was not satisfied with just one receiver. After a long wait and another 33 picks, the Cardinals were on the clock again. Though they didn't know it, this time the Cardinals would strike gold. With the 54th pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Florida State wide receiver Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals had found a diamond in the rough.
Boldin, in his rookie year, would far outshine fellow rookie receiver Bryant Johnson. In fact, Anquan Boldin earned the honor of being the 2003 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year to the tune of over 100 receptions and 1,377 yards receiving. Boldin was precisely the gem for whom Arizona fans had been salivating. Little did they know, there was much more to come.
Fast forward to April 24, 2004. With excitement and much anticipation, the Arizona Cardinals found themselves in another incredible position to add a player with immediate impact by way of the third pick in the draft. However, what was the most pressing need? There were glaring holes in the defense and many thought a defensive player should be drafted first. The offensive line had struggled so others felt a lineman was the obvious choice.
Yet, perhaps in a stroke of genius, the Cardinals made a selection that would change the course of the team and take it towards a path of greatness.
With the 3rd pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected Pittsburgh wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals had found yet another diamond.
The impact was not immediate though. In his rookie year, Fitzgerald and Bolden would combine for only 114 receptions and around 1,400 yards. Of course, the arm behind these passes belonged to starting quarterback Josh McCown. Still, these two receivers showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season and fans could tell that something amazing was on laying on the horizon.
Finally, it happened. The Cardinals brought in an aging quarterback that many felt had nothing left to contribute. Still, Kurt Warner had found success in St. Louis and the Cardinals were desperate for a strong arm and an accurate leader. Warner would prove to be both.
In 2005, behind the arm of Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin accumulated over 100 receptions and 1,400 yards receiving...each. The NFL world awoke and realized they were under attack from arguably one of the greatest receiver tandems in the history of the game. That attack would not cease in the coming years as Warner and his diamond duo pushed their way towards winning seasons and a trip to the Superbowl.
In 2003 and 2004, the Cardinals hit the draft jackpot by way of one of the greatest receiving tandems of all time. Several other soon-to-be Cardinals greats emerged from these drafts as well such as Gerald Hayes, Karlos Dansby, and Darnell Dockett.
Still, it was the tandem of Boldin and Fitzgerald that would bring nightmares and sleepless nights to defensive coordinators for years to come.