Until the Arizona Cardinals' 2004 draft class came into its own, the idea of the Cardinals and the Super Bowl went together about as well as oil and water. But then Arizona drafted wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, and everything changed. Four years later, they were part of the nucleus of young players (and quarterback Kurt Warner) that led Arizona to its only Super Bowl appearance and helped changed the culture in Arizona to one of winning, and winning consistently. Here’s a closer look at the key players from that class:
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh, first round, third overall: What else is there to say about Larry Fitzgerald? He’ll go down as the best player in Cardinals history whenever he decides to hang up his cleats and is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. He gave the Cardinals every bit of what they wanted as a top-3 draft pick and has stuck with the team through losing, mediocrity and winning.
Karlos Dansby, linebacker, Auburn, second round, 33rd overall: Even though he has come and gone from the Cardinals twice, Dansby was a key component of their Super Bowl run in 2008. He took the money from Miami and ran, but came back in 2013 for a prove-it year and took more money from the Cleveland Browns in 2014. He’ll still go down as the second- or third-best pick in the Cardinals’ 2004 class.
Darnell Dockett, defensive tackle, Florida State, third round, 64th overall: Love him or hate him, Dockett was a monster up front for the Cardinals throughout his time in Arizona. Even though his career in Arizona ended on a serious knee injury, his impact on the defense throughout his 10 seasons on the field was consistent.
Antonio Smith, defensive end, Oklahoma State, fifth round, 135th overall: A talented edge rusher, Smith was consistent during his time in Arizona. He was part of a defensive line that was fierce and included Dockett. He was one of two players from this draft class to start on the line for Arizona in the Super Bowl.
Next-best Cardinals draft class: There are pieces of other draft classes that could be considered the next-best class, but the 2013 class should be considered Arizona’s next best. Even though guard and first-round pick Jonathan Cooper was a bust, LB Kevin Minter, S Tyrann Mathieu, LB Alex Okafor, G Earl Watford, RB Stepfan Taylor and RB Andre Ellington are still on the roster and helped change Arizona’s culture. The '13 class was the first under coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim.