Big Red Draft History: 1971 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 1971 Draft, which was held January 28-29, 1971 in New York.

This was a bountiful draft for the Cardinals even though 10 of the 17 players they selected never played in the NFL. Cornerback Norm Thompson (1st round), offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf (2nd), wide receiver Mel Gray (6th) and defensive end Ron Yankowski (8th) all had long, productive careers for St. Louis.

Consider their combined numbers: 42 seasons, 509 games, 10 Pro Bowls, four All-Pro teams, and one Hall of Fame enshrinement.

1971 Big Red Draftees (L-R): Mel Gray, Dan Dierdorf, Norm Thompson, Rocky Wallace, Mike Savoy

Thompson set a major college record in 1969 with 259 interception returns on five picks for Utah. He added seven more interceptions for 73 yards in 1970. Still, he figured he would be a second- or third-round pick. Imagine his surprise when the Cardinals took him 17th overall.

“He walked around the house scratching his head … he couldn’t believe it,” Thompson’s wife, Gwen, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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