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2015 NFL Draft: Should the Arizona Cardinals draft a RB early? History says it will be a disappointment

A look at the depressing draft history of the Cardinals and the running back position.

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The site has been dominated over the last week with free agent moves, rumors and rumors about running back Adrian Peterson. Is he going to be traded? What would it take for the Cardinals to get him? All sorts of questions.

And the community is divided by the issue. Some say go after Peterson, as he is a generational back. Others say he costs too much and the Cards should simply draft a guy like Melvin Gordon early in the draft. He will be cheaper and the production can still be high.

This post is for the "just draft a RB" group because it seems as if just drafting a RB means the Cards will find their guy.

The truth is, since coming to Arizona, not a single running back they have drafted in the first or second round has panned out for them. Of course, history doesn't mean the trend will continue, but it is worth noting how comically bad the Cardinals have been at drafting a running back.

Nine times the Cardinals have gone to the well in the first two rounds for a RB. Nine times they have failed.

Here is the depressing history.

1988, Round 2: Tony Jeffery

This predates my watching the Cardinals. Jeffery played in a total of three games in his NFL career, running the back a total of three times for eight yards.

1990, Round 2: Anthony Thompson

Arizona had no first rounder that year after using a supplemental draft pick on quarterback Timm Rosenbach. Thompson was a highly touted back out of Indiana, who had broken records. At the time, he held the single game rushing record.

He was ineffective in Arizona. He couldn't crack the lineup and was beaten out by seventh rounder Johnny Johnson his rookie year. in just over two seasons, he played in 30 games, starting seven, and managed to rush for a total of 774 yards on 3.2 yards per carry. he did have three good games. He rushed for 136 yards in his first career start and for more than 90 in two other games. But that was it. He was out of the league after 1992.

1993, Round 1: Garrison Hearst

Arizona took him with the third pick overall in the draft. They traded up to get him. Then nagging injuries kept him off the field. He played in only 14 games in his first two seasons. In Year 3, he did rush for just over 1000 yards, but for only one TD and his YPC was only 3.8.

Arizona cut ties with him after that third year, mainly because of his contract.

He ended up having a pretty good NFL career with the 49ers, but injuries were an issue. He suffered a gruesome leg injury after rushing for nearly 1600 yards in 1998 and it took him until 2001 to come back, but managed to play four seasons after that.

1994, Round 2: Chuck Levy

Levy was a playmaker at the Unversity of Arizona. The Cardinals took him the second round of the draft, hoping to add depth to the position and to get a dynamic returner. Neither happened.

Drugs were a problem.

He played only 11 games for the Cardinals. He carried the ball three times and returned 26 kicks, averaging less than 20 yards per return.

He was out of the league in three seasons.

1996, Round 2: Leeland McElroy

The Cardinals nabbed McElroy with the second pick in the second round. He was expected to be drafted much higher, but fell to the Cards. He had an electric season at Texas A&M and earned the nickname 'Lectric Leeland.

How did 'Lectric Leeland do? He got benched by the Cardinals' fifth game and finished the year with only 305 yards rushing, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. 1997 wasn't any better, although he led the team in rushing yards. He rushed for 424 yards and two touchdowns. His longest run from scrimmage was 18 yards that year.

In the return game, where he was also expected to make an impact, he did break off a 92-yard kick return that was not a touchdown in 1996, but he averaged only 21.3 yards per return. He did not return kicks in 1997.

he was done in the NFL after 1997.

2000, Round 1: Thomas Jones

Jones ended up having quite a nice NFL career, rushing for over 10,000 yards, but he was a Cardinals bust.

Drafted seventh overall, he couldn't beat out 1998 fourth round pick Michael Pittman. He had nagging injuries and was just ineffective. He rushed for over 1200 yards total in three seasons, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry.

He was not well liked in the locker room and mysteriously broke his hand answering the phone.

2005, Round 2: J.J. Arrington

Fans might remember his being a decent third down back in 2008 for the Super Bowl year, but Arrington was one of the bigger running back disappointments.

He was a 2000+ yard rusher coming out of Cal, and he was amazing in college (I remember his going up against ASU).

He quickly earned the reputation of not wanting to get hit. His rookie year was his most productive, when he rushed for 370 yards on 3.3 yards per carry. In four seasons, he rushed for a little more than 650 yards total. As a kick returner, he was pretty good, returning two for touchdowns and he did fill a nice role in 2008.

But he never was an impact back and, after signing a pretty good contract after 2008 with the Broncos, he got hurt and never played again.

2009, Round 1: Beanie Wells

Beanie somehow fell to the Cardinals. He was very good and was as talented a back as the Cardinals had ever brought in, but there were questions about his toughness and about his durability.

He was very effective his rookie year, rushing for almost 800 yards, splitting time with Tim Hightower. But 2010 he was banged up and gained less than 400 yards on 3.4 yards per carry.

In 2011, he played through many injuries, busting the "soft" label and rushed for over 1000 yards, but he only gained 90 yards or more only four times. He did set a single game record for the team with 228 yards against the Rams.

2012 was a year of injuries again. He missed the offseason, then started the season and got hurt. The season was summed up in one play late in the year, when he fumbled without getting hit in his own end zone.

The talent was there, but he never had the impact he should have had and never played in the league again, as he blew out his Achilles in a tryout the next year.

2011, Round 2: Ryan Williams

This is recent history. He was a surprise pick in the second round, as the team already had Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. He looked special in training camp.

But he tore his patella tendon in his first preseason game and lost his first year.

He came back in 2012, played five games and his season ended with a shoulder injury. He admitted to not being ready and played a little scared he would re-injure his knee.

He started the 2013 offseason healthy and ready to go and then had knee soreness in training camp and missed a couple of weeks. That landed him in Bruce Arians' doghouse and, while he managed to make the roster, he was inactive for all 16 games.

he was cut after the 2013 season and now is a Dallas Cowboy.

He looked like he could have been something special, but just could get on the field, like so many backs.


Literally every single back the Cardinals have drafted in the first or second round since 1988 has been a failure. Only two rushed for 1000 yards in a season for the Cardinals and those two only did it once.

So while it seems like "just drafting a running back" is an easy answer or alternative to going after perhaps the best back we have seen in the last decade, you can see how it has worked out for the Cardinals.

It is a depressing history.