The NFL Draft was months ago, but with the NFL lockout continuing, we can find all sorts of lists and rankings. In an Insider article, ESPN ranked players that were seen as draft steals the day of the draft that turned out to be disappointments. In some cases, they are also some of the biggest busts overall.
In the case of the Arizona Cardinals, they have been bitten a few times by the seemingly great value of a pick that fell further than they should have. In fact, of the 10 that are mentioned, the Cardinals have three, and they all fall within the top five.
Number five on the list was running back Leeland McElroy. Oddly enough, he made our own list of top 10 draft busts at number eight.
The ESPN article said this about the 32nd pick of the 1996 draft:
Until recently, McElroy held the distinction of being the lowest ever selection invited to the draft by the league, having to wait until the second round to hear his name called. After an All-American year for Texas A&M, one in which he showed off his skills as a rusher (1,112 yards) and a kick returner (at the time, he held the record for most return touchdowns in a season), he declared for the draft fully expecting to be a first-round pick. Injuries that caused him to miss two games and parts of others dropped his stock, and once he was drafted by the Cardinals, his career was largely forgettable. He lost his starting job in both his rookie and sophomore years, and was eventually pushed out of the league entirely by 1999.
Number two on the list was Andre Wadsworth, the third pick in the 1998 draft. He was the third biggest bust in our list before the draft:
Wadsworth was seen by more than a few personnel evaluators as the best overall player in 1998 after accumulating 16 sacks in his final season at Florida State, but because he happened to be involved in the same draft as Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, he fell all the way to the third pick. The Cardinals happily traded back with the Chargers as they were content with Jake Plummer at quarterback, picking up a second-rounder (Corey Chavous), a 1999 first-rounder (David Boston), Eric Metcalf and Patrick Sapp. Wadsworth held out until the day before the season started, had a solid rookie year and then proceeded to have knee surgery in three consecutive offseasons, sapping him of all his burst. He wound up playing only three NFL seasons, the last in 2000, after a comeback attempt with the Jets ended on the day of final cuts in 2007.
The top of the list is also the biggest bust in Cardinals draft history. It is Matt Leinart, the 10th pick in the 2006 draft, the "gift from heaven," in the words of Dennis Green.
Leinart famously spurned being the favorite for the No. 1 pick in 2005, going back for his senior year at USC to take ballroom dancing and try to win back-to-back championships after 2004's romp of Oklahoma that the NCAA is now informing me never happened. His intensity and dedication were questioned frequently as Kurt Warner's understudy, and after Warner left, he embarrassingly lost a quarterback competition to Derek Anderson and was released. You hate to write off a player who admittedly hasn't looked completely clueless on the field, but it sure looks like Leinart is nothing more than a backup quarterback at this point.
In the most recent draft, the Cards also had a potential steal in Patrick Peterson. Likewise, just two seaons ago, Beanie Wells fell quite far. We will have to wait and see, but here's to hoping they do not end up like these three players. Unfortunately for us as fans, it is something we have had to deal with far more often than should be allowed.
If for some reason history finds a way to repeat itself, it may be time to start paying attention to why these players are being passed on by other teams and pass on them too.