The 5 BEST draft picks in AZ Cardinals history

Posted at 12:26 PM, Apr 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-26 15:14:07-04

The Arizona Cardinals have already received quite a return on investment with some of their more recent NFL Draft picks. Safety Tyrann Mathieu, wide receiver John Brown and, most recently, running back David Johnson, have all demonstrated potential for stardom.

But even when they were among the NFL's worst teams, the Cardinals often drafted well. Here's a look at the Cardinals' five best NFL Draft picks since they moved to Tempe (and later Glendale) from St. Louis before the 1988 season. 

RELATED: The 5 biggest draft BUSTS in Arizona Cardinals history

Note that these rankings are based solely on their performance in a Cardinals uniform, as well as where they were selected in the draft.

5. Patrick Peterson -- first round (No. 5 overall), 2011

Some may believe it's too early to add Peterson to this list, and they might be right. But few men in the history of the franchise have made a more significant impact on the Cardinals in just five seasons of work.

The 25-year-old cornerback has made the Pro Bowl in all five of his NFL seasons, and he's a three-time All-Pro. Since 2011, only three NFL players have more interceptions than Peterson's 17. Just as important to the Cards' current and future success, he's taken another superstar in the making, former LSU teammate Tyrann Mathieu, under his wing.

When all is said and done, Peterson could easily end up No. 2 on this list, and possibly even make a case for the top spot.

4. Larry Centers -- fifth round (No. 115 overall), 1990

Not only does Centers have the most receptions and receiving yards among all running backs in NFL history, but he was instrumental in leading the Cardinals to their first-ever playoff berth in the Valley.

Centers recorded 200 catches over a two-year span from 1995-96, racking up over 1,700 yards and nine touchdowns during that span. Playing alongside QB Jake Plummer, he had 69 catches for 559 yards in 1998 when the Cardinals made the playoffs, and he scored a crucial TD in the Cards' Wild Card playoff victory at the Dallas Cowboys.

Centers was a three-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro selection in 1996. He remains third on the Cards' all-time receptions list, behind only Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

3. Aeneas Williams -- third round (No. 59 overall), 1991

As it stands, the former cornerback is the only Arizona Cardinal to have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Williams, a 2014 inductee, was a Pro Bowl selection in six straight seasons in Arizona from 1994-99 and was an All-Pro pick in three straight years from 1995-97.

During his time as a Cardinal from 1991-2000, no NFL player recorded more interceptions than Williams' 46. (He returned six of them for touchdowns.) He also recovered 14 fumbles during that span. 

Like Centers, Williams was an important piece to the Cardinals' 1998 playoff puzzle. He had three interceptions in two playoff games, including two picks in the Cards' playoff win at Dallas.

2. Adrian Wilson -- third round (No. 64 overall), 2001

Honestly, Williams and Wilson are pretty much interchangeable at No. 2 and 3. Both had tremendous careers and were integral to the Cardinals' success in their respective eras. But the safety gets the nod at No. 2 because he spent three more seasons in Arizona and he helped lead the Cards to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.

One of the most dynamic safeties in recent memory, Wilson is one of only six players in NFL history to notch at least 25 interceptions and 25 sacks. He also had 14 forced fumbles and three blocked kicks in his career.

Wilson had two sacks and two forced fumbles during the Cardinals' 2008 playoff run, and he was a five-time Pro Bowler and 2009 First-team All-Pro selection. He was hired by the Cardinals as a scout in early April.

1. Larry Fitzgerald -- first round (No. 3 overall), 2004

In terms of where they were selected in the draft, you can make an argument that the Cardinals received a greater return on investment with some of the other players on this list. But you can't argue that any of those players have been more instrumental to the team's emergence (and reemergence) as an elite NFL team.

The nine-time Pro Bowl wide receiver has already shattered Cardinals franchise records in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. No receiver has more catches or receiving yards since he arrived in the league in 2004. But Fitzgerald's most important mark on the Cardinals has come during the postseason.

The 32-year-old was the Cards' MVP during their Super Bowl run when he scored seven touchdowns in four games. Fitz's heroics in last season's playoff win over the Green Bay Packers ended a six-year playoff victory drought, and it cemented his status as the most important Cardinals player since the franchise relocated from St. Louis. He is the face of the franchise and the most important draft pick the Cardinals have ever made.

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order):

Anquan Boldin -- second round (No. 54 overall), 2003: Boldin has the second-most receptions in Cardinals history, but he's spent his last six seasons with the Ravens and 49ers.

Calais Campbell -- second round (No. 50 overall), 2008: If you'd like to place Campbell ahead of Peterson at No. 5, feel free. He's fourth on the team's all-time sacks list (48.5), and he's made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

Karlos Dansby -- second round (No. 33 overall), 2004: Dansby recorded 32 sacks and 10 fumble recoveries during two separate stints with the Cards.

Darnell Dockett -- third round (No. 64 overall), 2004: A three-time Pro Bowler. Dockett is seventh on the Cardinals' all-time sacks list (40.5) and tied for ninth on the team's all-time fumble recoveries list (14).

Ken Harvey -- first round (No. 12 overall), 1988: The first man the Cardinals drafted when they moved to the Valley remains fifth in franchise history in sacks (47.5), although he only played six seasons in Arizona.

Eric Hill -- first round (No. 10 overall), 1989: Hill was never a Pro Bowler but he was a consistent performer during his nine seasons in the Valley, and his 785 total tackles are still the most in franchise history.

Jake Plummer -- second round (No. 42 overall), 1997: He threw more interceptions (114) than touchdowns (90) during his six seasons in Arizona, but the former ASU star guided the Cardinals to their first playoff berth in the Valley.

Simeon Rice -- first round (No. 3 overall), 1996: Rice only spent five seasons in Arizona, but he's still second on the team's all-time sacks list (51.5) and tied for fifth in forced fumbles (nine).

Frank Sanders -- second round (No. 47 overall), 1995: The eight-year Cardinal is fifth in franchise history in receptions (493), seventh in receiving yards (6,579) and 12th in receiving touchdowns (24).

Eric Swann -- first round (No. 6 overall), 1991: Swann was a two-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection during his 10 seasons in AZ. He is sixth in franchise history in sacks (45.5) and 10th in tackles (376).

Pat Tillman -- seventh round (No. 226 overall), 1998: He only played in four NFL seasons before joining the U.S. Army to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the former Sun Devil star made his mark on the field, especially in 2000 when he led the Cardinals (and was sixth among all NFL players) with 109 tackles.