Most people are aware of the historic struggles the St. Louis Cardinals had when it came to the NFL draft. There were some very good drafts over the years (1979-1983 for example), but more times than not, the Big Red left their fans scratching their heads (“They drafted a girl!”).
I thought it would be fun to go back and rank the all-time Big Red draft picks by round. Many on this list were no-brainers, but there were a few very competitive rounds. I’m sure everyone will agree that some of the greatest names in Cardinals history are on this list, including four Cardiac Cards offensive lineman, and all four Hall of Famers. But I also learned something about the Cards top 16th and 20th round picks, Jimmy Lee Hunt and Tom Day. Both were released by the Cardinals and both went on to become stars in the AFL. Hope you enjoy!
ALL-TIME ST. LOUIS CARDINAL DRAFT PICKS BY ROUND
ROUND 1 – ROGER WEHRLI (1969)
Wehrli was a consensus All-American at Missouri when the Cards selected him with the 19th pick in the draft. He went on to a 14 year career in St. Louis that included 3 All-Pro and 7 Pro Bowl selections. He had 40 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries and was the longtime holder for Big Red kickers. He returned a fake FG for a TD in his final NFL game in 1982. Roger Staubach called him the best cornerback he ever played against. Wehrli was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the 1970s NFL All-Decade Team.
ROUND 2 – DAN DIERDORF (1971)
Dan Dierdorf was the Cards second round pick (43rd overall) in the 1971 draft out of Michigan where he was a consensus All-American. He became a 6-time Pro Bowl right tackle, 3-time All-Pro, a 1970s second team NFL All-Decade performer, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He started six games his rookie year and then did not miss a game until breaking his jaw in 1977. Dierdorf was the NFLPA Offensive Lineman of the Year from 1976-1978. He played on an offensive line which allowed a then record 8 sacks in 1975. After missing most of the ’79 season with a knee injury, Dierdorf came back and started all 16 games in ’80 and ’81. He was moved to center in 1982 which allowed rookie Tootie Robbins to play RT. Dierdorf retired after the 1983 season and went on to a long successful broadcasting career at ABC and CBS. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996 and is currently the color analyst on Michigan Wolverines football radio broadcasts.
ROUND 3 – TERRY METCALF (1973)
Terry Metcalf was the Cards third round pick (63rd overall) in 1973 out of Long Beach State where he set a collegiate record with 28 TDs his junior year. Metcalf became a 3x Pro Bowler in five seasons with the Big Red and became one of only four NFL players to account for TDs five different ways (rushing, receiving, KO return, Punt Return, and Passing) in a season (’75). He also became the first player to average 30 yards per kick return and 10 yards per punt return in the same season. Metcalf set an NFL record with 2462 combined yards in 1975 and finished 2nd in the MVP vote. He left the NFL after the 1977 season and signed a lifetime contract with the Toronto Argonauts. He spent three disappointing years in the CFL before returning to the Redskins in 1981 for his final season.
ROUND 4 – ROY GREEN (1979)
Roy “Jet Stream” Green was drafted as a defensive back in the 4th round (89th overall) in 1979 out of Henderson State. He played 9 seasons in St. Louis earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 1983 and 1984 as a wide receiver. Green was a standout return man his first couple of seasons with the Cardinals and tied an NFL record his rookie season when he returned a kickoff 106 yards against the Dallas Cowboys. The speedy Green became a two-way dual threat in 1981 when he caught 33 passes and scored four TDs at WR and also picked off three passes playing DB. Jetstream really came into his own in 1983 when he caught 78 passes and led the NFL with 14 TDs. His best season came in 1984 when he led the league with 1555 yards and scored 12 TDs for the 9-7 Cardinals. Green finished his St. Louis Cardinals career with 357 receptions, 5900 yards, and 48 TDs. He was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
ROUND 5 – CONRAD DOBLER (1972)
Conrad Dobler was the Cards 5th round pick (110th overall) in the 1972 draft out of Wyoming. He played in 3 Pro Bowls during his 6 years in St. Louis and was labeled by Sports Illustrated as the dirtiest player in the NFL. Dobler was actually cut by the team in training camp in 1972, but was called back after an injury on the offensive line. He would end up starting 9 games as a rookie and took over full time in 1973. Dobler didn’t miss a start his last four seasons with the Cardinals and was part of the record breaking offensive line that allowed only 8 sacks in 1975. Dobler was traded to New Orleans in 1978 and finished his career with Buffalo.
ROUND 6 – MEL GRAY (1971)
Mel Gray was the Cards sixth round draft pick (147th overall) in 1971 out of Mizzou where he not only played football, but was an All-American Track and Field star. Gray scored 46 TDs and averaged almost 19 yards per catch in his 12 year NFL career, all in St. Louis. He was named to the Pro Bowl four times (1974-1977) and earned All Pro honors in 1975 when he caught 48 passes for 926 yards and league leading 11 TDs. Gray was the Big Red’s long distance man. His first two NFL receptions were 60 and 64 yard TD bombs against the NY Giants his rookie year. He scored seven touchdowns greater than 70 yards in his career and his 18.9 yard per catch average ranks 13th in NFL history. He also set a club record when he caught a pass in 121 straight games from 1973 to 1982.
ROUND 7 – LARRY WILSON (1960)
Mr. Cardinal, Larry Wilson was the Cards 7th round pick (74th overall) out of Utah in 1960. He was drafted as an offensive half back, but defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis converted Wilson to defense in training camp and the rest is history. Wilson became an 8-time Pro Bowl safety, 5-time All-Pro, member of the 1960s NFL All-Decade Team, member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He went on to a 13 year career with the Cardinals, became the team’s all-time interception leader with 52, and was the first NFL player to master the safety blitz. “Wildcat” Wilson led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 1966 and was named Defensive Player of the Year. He retired in 1972, was an interim coach for the Big Red in three games in 1979, and was a long time executive for the club before retiring in 2003. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978 and was recently named as one of the NFL’s Top 100 players of all-time. Wilson passed away in 2020 at the age of 82.
ROUND 8 – TOM BANKS (1970)
Tom Banks was the Cards eighth round selection (189th overall) out of Auburn in 1970. Banks became an All-Pro center who played in four Pro Bowls during his 10 year career in St. Louis. The rugged, versatile Banks was a fan favorite, not only for his aggressive play, but for his ability to get under the skin of Big Red management. He was part of the great Cardiac Cards offensive line that allowed only 8 sacks in 1975. After suffering a season ending injury in the first game of 1974, Banks didn’t miss another game until 1980 when he was unceremoniously released midseason. He would later play and coach with the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL.
ROUND 9 – STUMP MITCHELL (1981)
Stump Mitchell is still the Cardinals second all time leading rusher with 4649 yards and second with a yards-per-carry average of 4.7. He retired as the Cardinals all-time combined yardage leader with almost 12,000 yards. The 5’9 fan-favorite was a 9th round draft pick (226th overall) out of The Citadel in 1981. As a rookie kick/punter returner, Mitchell broke or tied eight team records and four NFL marks and led the Cards in total offense. He gained 145 yards rushing in his first start in 1983 against the Eagles subbing for the injured O.J. Anderson. His best season came in 1985 when he totaled over 1500 yards from scrimmage and 10 TDs in only 8 starts. He led the team in rushing his last three seasons in St. Louis. Mitchell retired after the 1989 season.
ROUND 10 – JACKIE SMITH (1963)
Jackie Smith was drafted in the 10th round (129th overall) out of Northwest Louisiana State in 1963. He became a 5-time Pro Bowl tight end and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Smith was one of the most prolific receivers in Big Red history over his 15 year career and retired as the league’s all-time leading receiver among tight ends with 480 receptions, 7,918 yards and 40 touchdowns. He ranks only behind Larry Fitzgerald and Roy Green in all-time franchise receiving yards and 6th in receptions and TDs. Smith could run like a wide receiver and block like a Mack truck. His best season came in 1967 when he caught 56 passes for 1205 yards and 9 TDs. Smith was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
ROUND 11 – JIMMY BURSON (1963)
Jimmy Burson was the Big Red’s 11th round draft choice (142nd overall) out of Auburn in the 1963 draft. The fleet CB was a solid tackler and became a starter in 1964 after Jimmy Hill’s injury. He had his best season in ’65 when he picked off 5 passes with 113 return yards. Burson also returned punts for the Cardinals and had a 68 yard TD return against the 49ers in 1964. He finished his Cardinals career with 12 interceptions. Burson was traded to the Redskins after the 1967 season.
ROUND 12 – CHUCK WALKER (1963)
Chuck Walker was the Big Red’s 12th round draft choice (157th overall) in 1963 out of Duke. Chuck became a stalwart on the defensive line for eight seasons earning Pro Bowl honors in 1966 and named All-Pro in 1969. He finished his Big Red career with 15 fumble recoveries. Walker was traded to Atlanta in 1972 and helped them to their first winning season in 1973.
ROUND 13 – ERNIE MCMILLAN (1961)
Ernie McMillan was a four-time Pro Bowl right tackle who played 14 seasons in St. Louis. He was the Cards 13th round draft choice (176th overall) in 1961 out of the University of Illinois and was a key member on an outstanding offensive line in the 1960s. McMillan started a remarkable 162 consecutive games during his Cardinals career and was very active in the St. Louis community. Ernie was president of Proud Magazine which was long-time monthly publication oriented toward the St. Louis black urban population. McMillan is the father of former NFL safety Erik McMillan and uncle of former Mizzou star and Cowboys first round pick Howard Richards.
ROUND 14 – BOB DEMARCO (1960)
Bob DeMarco was the Cards 14th round draft choice (157th overall) in 1960 out of Dayton. He played guard his rookie year, but became a two time All-Pro and four time Pro Bowler after being moved to center in ’61. DeMarco was the hub of a great Big Red offensive line in the 1960s. He was awarded a game ball in 1967 after playing with a broken wrist and torn rib cartilage. DeMarco had a falling out with head coach Charley Winner and was released after an All-Pro season in 1969. He later played for Miami, Cleveland, and the Rams before retiring in 1976. He and Tom Banks are considered the top two centers in Cardinals history.
ROUND 15 – LEE NELSON (1976)
Lee Nelson was the Cards 15th round draft choice (420th overall) out of Florida State in 1976. During Nelson’s ten year career, the Cardinals drafted 18 defensive backs, yet Nelson continued to make the team year after year. He started 7 games in 1977 and had a career high 4 interceptions. His best season came in 1983 when he led the defense with 89 tackles and four fumble recoveries. Nelson was an excellent run defender and finished his career with 7 interceptions and 9 fumble recoveries.
ROUND 16 – JIM LEE HUNT (1960)
Jim Lee Hunt was the Cards 16th round draft choice (181st overall) in 1960 out of Prairie View A&M. He injured his foot in training camp and was parked on the taxi squad for half the season. After being released by the Cards on November 10, 1960, Hunt quickly signed with the AFL Boston Patriots, and was in action the following night in a 38-21 win over the New York Titans. Hunt was given the nickname “Earthquake” and went on to an eleven year Pro Bowl career with the Patriots. He became one of the greatest pass rushers in AFL history and one of only 20 players to have played in all ten AFL seasons. Jim tragically died of a heart attack in 1975 at the young age of 37.
ROUND 17 – PAT FISCHER (1961)
Pat Fischer was the Cards 17th round draft pick (232nd overall) in 1961 out of Nebraska. The 5’9″ cornerback was given little chance to make the team, however he impressed coaches with his desire and played special teams for a couple of years before getting his chance to start full time. In 1963, Fisher had 8 interceptions and then followed that up with his best season of his career in ’64 when he picked off 10 passes and scored three TDs He was named to the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro honors in ’64. He left the Big Red over a salary dispute in 1967 and signed with the Redskins where he played 11 more seasons. Fischer finished his seven year St. Louis career with 29 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries and 4 touchdowns.
ROUND 18 – LARRY STALLINGS (1963)
Drafted in the 18th round (241st overall) out of Georgia Tech in 1963, Larry Stallings defied all odds by not only making the team, but going on to a 14 year Pro Bowl career in St. Louis. Stallings started 175 out of the 181 games played for the Cards. He was named the team MVP in 1969 and made the Pro Bowl in 1970. He missed only two games his last eleven years in the league. Stallings finished his career with 9 interceptions, 13 fumble recoveries, and 3 TDs.
ROUND 19 – BOB YOUNG (1964)
Bob Young was drafted by the Cardinals in the 19th round (261st overall) in 1964 out of Howard Payne, but signed with Kansas City of the AFL. The Cards signed him in 1972 after he was waived by Houston and he really came into his own under Big Red offensive line coach Jim Hanifan. The former World’s Strongest Man competitor was part of the Big Red offensive line that set an NFL record by allowing only 8 sacks in 1975. Overshadowed by his fellow linemen, Young finally earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors in 1978 and 1979. He was released by the Cardinals in 1980 after failing his physical, but miraculously passed a physical with Houston and started 12 games helping them to the playoffs. Young passed away in 1995 at the age of 52.
ROUND 20 – TOM DAY (1960)
Tom Day was the Cards last pick of the 1960 draft out of North Carolina A&T. He played 10 games in 1960 and started two at left guard in place of an injured Ken Gray. However, Day was cut the following September and was signed by the AFL Buffalo Bills. He was converted to defensive end in 1964, earned a Pro Bowl appearance in 1965, and helped the Bills win two AFL Championships. He played played seven seasons with Buffalo and one with San Diego.
ALL-TIME ST. LOUIS CARDINAL DRAFT PICKS BY ROUND
|3||Terry Metcalf||Long Beach State||1973|
|4||Roy Green||Henderson State||1979|
|9||Stump Mitchell||The Citadel||1981|
|10||Jackie Smith||NW Louisiana St.||1963|
|12||Chuck Walker||North Carolina||1963|
|15||Lee Nelson||Florida State||1976|
|16||Jimmy Lee Hunt||Prairie View A&M||1960|
|18||Larry Stallings||Georgia Tech||1963|
|19||Bob Young||Howard Payne||1964|
|20||Tom Day||North Carolina A&T||1960|
For a ranking of all 32 Cardinals first round draft picks, revisit this post from 2019: NFL DRAFT: Ranking the Big Red First Round Picks.