The NFL draft process is the result of months and months of film, interviews, filling out scouting reports, navigating the trades and fake interest, all for the point of hearing the names called out from behind the podium of the newest members of the Arizona Cardinals.
But the draft isn't just the end of the line for NFL teams; it is the beginning. The beginning of a long-wrought, pain-staking process that seeks to take these raw collegiate talents and turn them into professional war machines between the lines of the gridiron every Sunday. Some rise to the occasion from a lowly draft status, some fall short of the lofty expectations. But ultimately, what captivates fans is the thrill of the pick and the endless possibilities.
Over the next several weeks here at Revenge Of The Birds we will be taking a look at and ranking the best players drafted by the Cardinals organization in each individual round and ranking them accordingly.
For starters, let's take a look at a vitally important group that often gets overlooked when it comes to draft conversations: the undrafted free agents. While the drafted players in any given class may be given the bulk of the publicity, it's often the undrafted free agents, or UDFAs, who make a true impact on a team.
So who are the best of the best when it comes to undrafted free agents who were Arizona Cardinals? Here we go:
5. Ben Graham, P, Australia
Ben Graham, the legend from "Down Under". The ex-Professional rugby player was signed by the New York Jets in 2004 as a 31 year old rookie, and went on to tie Andy Lee's record of 42 punts downed within the 20-yard line in a single season.
Graham ended up with the Cardinals, and was the first Australian to ever play in a Super Bowl, getting a great deal of international publicity as a result. Graham stayed with the team until 2011 before moving to the Lions and then retiring, but he remains a record-setter with the Cardinals.
4. Lyle Sendlein, C, Texas
Compared to the other players on this list, Lyle might not seem at first like someone who stands out as an "all-time great", but what he accomplished over his nine-year career with the team was remarkable, solidifying the center position for the team for nearly a decade. The home-town kid, who attended Scottsdale Chaparral as a prep student, locked down the starting position in his second year and even had a three-year stretch from 2008 to 2010 where he did not miss a game.
As he now walks off to his likely (and well-earned) retirement, Sendlein's impact remains as a true testament to hard work, as it is incredibly difficult to find a starting center who can show the consistency he did, much less do it for such a length of time as an undrafted player.
3. Dick "Night Train" Lane, CB, Scottsbluf Junior College.
Lane's backstory was that of an aircraft factory worker who disliked his job and showed up at the opening day of Rams camp. He went on to set an NFL record 14 interceptions that year as a rookie, a record which still stands to this day, and was an impact cornerback with the Rams and the Cardinals for many years. A seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro selection, his dominance on the game as a corner can not be overstated.
Lane's backstory is even more impressive, coming from the lowliest of beginnings. An aircraft factory worker who disliked his job, Dick showed up at the opening day of Rams camp. He went on to set an NFL record 14 interceptions that year as a rookie, a record which still stands to this day, and was an impact cornerback with the Rams and the Cardinals for numerous years. As a seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro selection, his dominance on the game as a corner can not be overstated.
He was appointed to the Cardinals' Ring of Honor on August 12th, 2006. Fun fact: the "Night Train" nickname came from Lane's fear of planes, so he would always take the night train when traveling to games.
So who will take the crown? Well, it won't be....
2. Kurt Warner, QB, Northern Illinois
It seems that no conversation about superstars that went undrafted could be complete without a mention of Kurt Warner. And for good reason. Warner's infamous story of going from college backup a stock boy to NFL Europe to a record-setting season, to the Super Bowl, twice, is well-renowned.
What's even more impressive? He did it twice.
His second, of course, as being the first QB to take the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl. Warner elevated the franchise to heights it had never seen before during his two-year stretch. In fact, both Kurt Warner and "Night Train" Lane have much in common: both started their careers as Rams free agents, walking off the street and into superstardom before later coming to the Cardinals and earning a place in their Ring of Honor. For Lane, the NFL Hall of Fame (Though you can bet Kurt Warner will be joining him soon).
So if Warner ranks #2, who could possibly be the top option for the Best Cardinal Undrafted Free Agent?
1. Jim Hart, QB, Southern Illinois
Ever wonder what it'd be like for the Cardinals to find a franchise QB for 16 years? How about if it was as an undrafted free agent? That's what happened with Jim Hart, who was invited to dinner by his former coach Don Shroyer and ended up getting signed by the team, and starting that next season after the current quarterback Charley Johnson left to fulfill a ROTC commitment (it was a different time in America) and thrived, particularly during Don Coryell's "Air Raid" years from 1973-1976.
Hart eventually was overtaken by Neil Lomax in 1983, but left the Cardinals as their all-time passing leader in yards and touchdowns, going to the Pro Bowl four different times.
While the impact Warner and "Night Train" Lane had on the NFL itself is remarkable, Hart's lengthy time and impact on the Cardinals makes him our #1 choice.
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