With the NFL kicking off its three-day 2023 Draft, the Big Red Zone continues its series looking back on each of the 28 St. Louis Cardinals drafts (1960-87). This installment focuses on the 1979 Draft, which was held May 3-4 in New York.
The Cardinals struck gold—twice—in the 1979 Draft when they selected running back Ottis Anderson of Miami (Fla.) and defensive back Roy Green of Henderson State, who would become two of the most prodigiously productive offensive players in team history.
The team’s top priority was a running back who had the speed and skills to run outside. In 1978, their top three backs were Jim Otis, Wayne Morris and Steve Jones—all inside power runners who accounted for 1,687 of the team’s 1,954 rushing yards (86 percent). Coach Bud Wilkinson wanted someone with breakaway speed.
In the weeks leading up to the Draft, the Big Red brass debated who to target with the team’s first-round pick (eighth overall): Anderson, who rushed for 3,333 yards at Miami, or Charles Alexander, who ran for 4,035 yards at LSU. Their choice of Anderson proved to be the right one.
“We feel that he has the great moves that we’ve been hunting for,” Cardinals personnel director George Boone said. “We haven’t had those in quite a while.” At least since 1977, Terry Metcalf’s last season as a Cardinal.
Anderson burst upon the NFL scene when, in the opening game of the 1979 season, he rushed for 193 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown, in a 22-21 loss to Dallas. He finished his rookie season with 1,605 rushing yards — just five yards shy of Walter Payton’s league-leading 1610. In seven-plus seasons with St. Louis, Anderson would rush for 7,999 yards and 46 touchdowns.
By contrast, “Alexander The Great,” who was drafted four spots after Anderson by Cincinnati, would produce 2,645 yards and 13 TDs in seven NFL seasons.
Then there was Green, the Big Red’s fifth-round pick, who arrived as a defensive back but took off as a wide receiver. In his first three seasons, he was primarily a safety and kick returner; as a rookie, he tied an NFL record when he returned a kickoff 106 yards against Dallas.
Because of Green’s speed and ball skills, head coach Jim Hanifan and wide receivers coach Emmitt Thomas hatched a plan early in the 1981 season to turn Green into a two-way player—the first in the NFL in more than 20 years. A fledgling receiver who had to learn the offensive playbook, Green caught 33 passes for 708 yards—a 21.8-yard average—and four touchdowns in ‘81. As a defensive back, he intercepted three passes.
In 1982, Green became a full-time wideout (his jersey number was switched from 25 to 81) and “Jet Stream” Green was born. He turned into such a weapon that John Madden called Green the best player—not just receiver—in the NFL. Not bad for a guy who played for tiny Henderson State (Arkadelphia, AR) in the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.
1979 St. Louis Cardinals Draft
|1-8||Ottis Anderson||RB||Miami (Fla.)|
|2-46||Calvin Favron||LB||Southeastern Louisiana|
|4-89||Roy Green||DB||Henderson St.|
|5-118||Steve Henry||DB||Emporia St.|
|5-130||Mark Bell||WR||Colorado St.|
|7-173||Kirk Gibson||WR||Michigan St.|
|10-255||Jerry Holloway||TE||Western Illinois|
|11-283||Nate Henderson||T||Florida St.|
*In his first three seasons, Ottis Anderson rushed for 1,605, 1,352 and 1,376 yards, respectively, and 26 touchdowns. He was selected first-team All-Pro as a rookie—he lost out to Walter Payton by only five yards for the league rushing title—and was picked to the Pro Bowl in both 1979 and 1980. Anderson eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in five of his first six seasons, the exception being the ’82 strike season. He still ranks as the Cardinals’ all-time leader in career rushing yards (7,999) and rushing touchdowns (46). When it appeared that age and injuries might have caught up to Anderson in 1986, head coach Gene Stallings traded him to the Giants. Although he had a reduced role in New York, often as a short-yardage/goal-line runner, Anderson rushed for 2,274 yards and 35 TDs in six-plus seasons. He played on two Super Bowl-winning teams and was the MVP in Super Bowl XV.
*The Cardinals’ next draft pick after Anderson, Theotis Brown always seemed to be in Anderson’s shadow in St. Louis. Brown mostly played fullback—where he may have been miscast—where he was counted on for his blocking and inside running. He scored seven touchdowns as a rookie: five from 1 yard, one from 2 yards and one from 30 yards. In 36 overall games with the Cardinals, Brown rushed 128 times for 566 yards and 10 TDs, and caught 50 passes for 541 yards and one score. After four games in 1981, three as a starter, he was traded to Seattle. Brown also played for Kansas City before he was forced to retire after suffering a heart attack following an offseason workout in February 1985.
*Calvin Favron played in 50 games and made 21 starts in four seasons (1979-82) for St. Louis. He had one interception (returned for 42 yards), two fumble recoveries and one sack. He died in 1999 at age 42.
*Joe Bostic was a reliable, durable, versatile lineman who played 132 games and made 115 starts during his 10 seasons with the Cardinals. He was thrust into battle early as a rookie. When Dan Dierdorf suffered torn knee ligaments on an extra-point kick in the second game of the 1979 season, Bostic took over his spot at right tackle and started there the rest of the season. Bostic started six games at left guard in 1980 after Terry Stieve suffered a knee injury late in training camp, then moved to right guard for the final nine games. From then on, right guard was Bostic’s permanent position.
*Like Anderson, Roy Green occupies a prominent spot in the Cardinals’ record book. He ranks second in career receiving yards (8,496) and second in career receiving touchdowns (66). Green made NFL history in his first game as a receiver, Game 2 of the 1981 season against Dallas, when he became the first NFL player since 1957 to both intercept a pass and catch a pass for a touchdown in the same game. He duplicated that feat in two more games that season. In 12 season with the Big Red, including two in Arizona, Green played 168 games (127 starts) and caught 522 passes for 8,496 yards and 66 touchdowns. He led the Cardinals in receiving yards in 1983, ’84 and ’88. Green played his final two NFL seasons with Philadelphia. His career NFL numbers include 559 receptions for 8,965 yards and 66 touchdowns; 140 rushing yards; four interceptions; four fumble recoveries; 2,002 yards and one touchdown on kick returns; and 230 yards and one touchdown on punt returns.
One of their better drafts.
Well Ottis certainly knew the Big Red’s history when it came to paying players!