Big Red Draft History: 1976 NFL Draft

As we move closer to the 2023 NFL Draft (April 27-29), The Big Red Zone is looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1976 Draft, which was held April 8-9 in New York.

If we’re going to lob tomatoes at George Boone for his failed drafts, we need to acknowledge—with golf applause, at least—his successful ones.

And by most measures, the Big Red’s 1976 draft was a hit—even though the Cardinals had picks in only 13 of the 17 rounds.

With three of their first four picks, the Big Red selected a rock-solid defensive lineman (Mike Dawson), a highly productive wide receiver (Pat Tilley) and a first-class running back (Wayne Morris)—all of whom would become starters and major contributors.

Much later in the draft, the Big Red chose a defensive back (Lee Nelson) who would help them for 10 seasons.  

1976 St. Louis Cardinals Draft

1-22Mike DawsonDTArizona
3-83Brad OatesTBYU
4-114Pat TilleyWRLouisiana Tech
5-141Wayne MorrisRBSMU
7-203Phil RogersRBVirginia Tech
8-233Randy BurksWROklahoma St.
10-285Randy WalkerRBBethune-Cookman
11-315Marty AkinsDBTexas
13-369Greg BrewtonDTMichigan St.
14-399Raymond CrosierDEAbilene Christian
15-420Lee NelsonDBFlorida St.
16-453Cecil BeairdWRFisk
17-483Dan MyersDBGeorgia Tech

*One Big Red administrator said of Mike Dawson: “He’s not the type of guy who’s going to come in and set the world on fire. But …” But, Dawson was a  starting defensive lineman for most of his seven years (1976-82) in St. Louis. He was versatile enough to play tackle in the 4-3 defense, and end and nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment. Dawson played 88 games for the Big Red, starting 83. He was credited with 31 sacks, including eight in ’77 and nine in ’78; recovered four fumbles; and intercepted one pass. After leaving the Cardinals, he played for Detroit (’83) and Kansas City (’84).

*Pat Tilley wasn’t the fastest or biggest receiver, but he was a reliable passing target who, in 147 games for the Cardinals, caught 468 passes for 7,005 yards (15.0-yard average) and 37 touchdowns. From 1978-85, Tilley started every game but four. His best seasons were 1978-81, when he caught 62, 57, 68 and 66 passes for 900, 938, 966 and 1,040 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1980. And who doesn’t remember his spectacular one-handed, back-handed reception for a touchdown in a 1980 victory over the Colts in Baltimore (OK, there may have been a sticky substance involved). “I remember at nut-cutting time, where we needed a first down or needed a score, the guy I would go to was Patty,” former Big Red coach Jim Hanifan said.

*Although Wayne Morris played behind Terry Metcalf first and O.J. Anderson later, he put up some prodigious career numbers in his eight seasons (1976-83) with the Big Red. How about 894 carries for 3,375 yards and 37 touchdowns (a total that still ranks second on the team’s all-time list). Or 151 catches for 1,170 yards and five TDs. In a 1977 game against New Orleans, Morris rushed for 95 yards and four touchdowns. Two weeks later against Minnesota, he rushed for 182 yards and two TDs. In 1978, he started for an injured Jim Otis and rushed a club-record 36 times for 123 yards. Morris went two seasons (1980-81) where he carried the ball a combined 226 times and didn’t fumble once. A quiet, humble player who was a willing blocker and special teams player, Morris’ teammates voted him the team MVP in 1982. “I don’t think he’s ever played a bad football game in his life,” Hanifan once said.

*Lee Nelson played both cornerback and strong safety (1976-85) with the Big Red. He also returned kicks on occasion. Nelson played 135 games (64 starts), had seven interceptions (including four in ’77), nine sacks and nine fumble recoveries—one of which he returned for a touchdown. 

*Brad Oates was primarily a backup offensive lineman who played in 44 games (eight starts) with St. Louis (’76-77, ’79-80). He also played briefly for Detroit, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Green Bay.

1 thought on “Big Red Draft History: 1976 NFL Draft

  1. Considering we’re talking about the Big Red, this was a good draft. Still though, the team overlooked two future HOF’s in Jackie Slater and Steve Largent.


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