5. Pat Tillman
Every NFL follower knows the heroic story of Pat Tillman. A local star from Arizona State University, Tillman was selected by the Cardinals in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL draft. Tillman worked his way into the starting lineup and immediately became a favorite with Cardinals fans due to his all-out style of play. Tillman’s best season came in 2000 when he finished with 155 tackles (120 solo), 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, nine pass deflections and one interception, earning him All-Pro honors.
Eight months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Cardinals to enlist in the United States Army. On a deployment to Afghanistan with his Ranger unit on Apr. 22, 2004, Pat Tillman paid the ultimate sacrifice in a firefight with insurgents. Number 40 was retired by the Arizona Cardinals and Pat Tillman will always have a place in our hearts. A true hero, this is the kind of athlete NFL fans and sports fans alike should be idolizing. Rest in peace Pat. You will never be forgotten.
4. Simeon Rice
Simeon Rice was drafted third overall in the 1996 NFL draft. In his five seasons with the Cardinals, Rice dominated opposing offensive lines, garnering him AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, one Pro Bowl appearance and two All-Pro selections. He tallied 51 sacks while in Arizona, including 16.5 in 1999. Unfortunately, Arizona could not afford to keep him and Rice would move on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he would eventually win a Super Bowl and join the 100 Sack Club. He is one of the greatest DE of the past two decades and might be known more for his time in Tampa, but he was quite the talent in his first years in the NFL with Arizona and deserve this ranking without question.
3. Night Train Lane
Night Train Lane had an eye popping 68 interceptions in his 14-year career including an NFL record 14 INT’s for the Rams in his rookie season in 1952 (it was a 12-game season then). He played six seasons as a Chicago Cardinal from 1954 through 1959 with 30 INT’s, 4 Pro Bowl appearances and twice was First-Team All-Pro. Although he played in the 50’s, it’s not hard to remember his impact in the NFL and for the Cardinals during his 6 seasons with the team. Dick Night Train Lane is easily a top 5 Cardinal in the franchises history and, in my opinion, a top 3 defender in team history as well.
2. Adrian Wilson
A second-round pick in 2001 by Arizona, Adrian Wilson is arguably one of the best defensive players ever to play for the franchise. During his time in Arizona, he recorded 894 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 27 interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and 101 passes defended. His forced fumbles and and fumble recoveries are in fact both franchise records. Wilson also holds the NFL record for most sacks by a defensive back with eight in 2005. He was released by Arizona in March of 2013, which will always be seen as a very sad day for Cardinals fans as he was a fan favorite.
1. Aeneas Williams
A third round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 1991, Aeneas Williams was a bright spot on the defensive side during a decade of below average teams in the desert. Williams started as rookie and never looked back, becoming an elite NFL shutdown corner. He tied for the league lead in interceptions during his rookie campaign and would finish with 46 total interceptions before being traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2001. Williams was named to six Pro Bowls and was selected as an All-Pro three times.
Cardinals and 49ers fans alike will always remember Williams as the player who ended quarterback Steve Young’s career. In week three of the 1999 season in front of a Monday Night Football audience, Williams cleanly hit Young’s blindside off a cornerback blitz by Williams. The hit left Young unconscious for several minutes. The resulting concussion would ultimately cause Young to walk away from the game. Williams is easily the greatest defensive players the Cardinals have ever had and is forever enshrined in the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor.