As the 2010 draft approaches, we have been focused on bringing you Mock Drafts, various Cowboys’ Potential Draft Picks, and articles on draft strategy. Sometimes, though, the most effective way to predict the future is to study the past. In determining which path the Cowboys may take come April, we have provided you with a “blast from the past”– the top ten Cowboys’ draft classes of all-time.
Best Pick: Mike Jenkins, CB, USF (First Round)
We admit that we are a bit “new school” (although we would argue more of a mix of old and new), and so we begin this list with one of the Cowboys’ most recent drafts. Five of the six selections have already made significant contributions to the team. We chose Jenkins as the best pick of the draft, but that title could also go to RB Felix Jones as well.
The importance of the 2008 draft was not due only to first-rounders Jenkins and Jones, but also to mid-rounders Tashard Choice (fourth) and Orlando Scandrick (fifth). Martellus Bennett rounds out the 2008 class, and collectively they have provided a talented young base upon which the Cowboys will be able to build for years to come.
Best Pick: Bob Lilly, DT, TCU (First Round)
The 1961 Cowboys’ draft class is the oldest on our list and one of only two draft classes in team history to contain two Hall of Famers (you will see the other class later). Bob Lilly was selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and was amazingly a part of both the 1960’s and 1970’s All-Decade teams. He was also an 11-time Pro Bowl selection.
Lilly was also joined by guard Billy Shaw, a player who was drafted in both the AFL and NFL drafts. Shaw was elected to the Hall of Fame, but unfortunately not as a member of the Cowboys. He is the only Hall of Famer to never play a snap in the NFL.
Top Pick: Ed “Too Tall” Jones, DE, Tennessee State (First Round)
The 1974 Cowboys’ draft class was headlined by first-rounder defensive end Ed Jones. The rookie out of Tennessee State eventually became a three-time All-Pro, leading the Cowboys to a Super Bowl XII championship.
Jones was joined by third round selection Danny White, an All-Pro player who threw for 155 touchdowns and over 21,000 yards.
Best Pick: Leon Lett, DT, Emporia State (Seventh Round)
The 1991 draft class was headlined by a player whose college would remain an unknown to most had the Cowboys not selected him in the seventh round. Despite his share of bonehead plays and off-field struggles, Leon Lett was a dominant tackle who played an integral role in the Cowboys’ run of 90’s Super Bowl championships (Don Beebe would agree).
The Cowboys also secured a multitude of future impact players in that ’91 draft, including Pro Bowl players Russell Maryland and Erik Williams. In addition, Alvin Harper and Dixon Edwards became starters, and CB Larry Brown, a 12th round selection, was the Super Bowl XXX MVP.
Best Pick: Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh (First Round)
Tony Dorsett, a Heisman trophy winner at Pitt, was the 2nd overall pick in the 1977 draft. He tallied 92 total touchdowns and over 12,000 yards in his career. Dorsett became the first player to win a Super Bowl just one year after winning a college national championship.
Dorsett was joined by Pro Bowl WR Tony Hill and 10th round San Jose State quarterback Steve DeBerg in the ’77 class.
Best Pick: Demarcus Ware, OLB, Troy (First Round)
Selecting the best pick from the 2005 draft class was also a difficult task, as the Cowboys were able to obtain incredible value in the seventh round with the selection of DT Jay Ratliff. Ware, though, has been so dominant that he became the choice. Although it is too early to tell (and we don’t want to jinx him), there is an excellent shot that we are watching a future Hall of Famer in Ware.
The Cowboys had two first round selections in 2005, and the second was used on Marcus Spears. In addition, the team was able to acquire Pro Bowler Marion Barber and now ex-Cowboy Chris Canty in the fourth round.
Best Pick: Michael Irvin, WR, “The U” (First Round)
The Cowboys probably could not have hit any better with their first two selections in the 1988 draft, selecting Michael Irvin and LB Ken Norton, Jr. The duo went 1-15 in their rookie season, but Irvin was the first component of “the trio” to be selected, and undoubtedly the heart and soul of the 90’s Cowboys dynasty.
Ken Norton, Jr. was a Pro Bowl linebacker, and Dallas also added impact player DT Chad Hennings in the 11th round.
Best Pick: Randy White, DT, Maryland (First Round)
The 1975 “Dirty Dozen” is frequently thought of as the top Cowboys draft class ever, so perhaps we are short-changing them a bit. In addition to selecting Hall of Famer Randy White in the first round, Dallas obtained eleven other rookies to make the team out of camp, including eight who were regular starters for at least one season.
The class was also headlined by LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, DE Pat Donovan, and G Herbert Scott, all of whom made the Pro Bowl.
Best Pick: Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA (First Overall)
The Cowboys’ 1989 draft will be remembered for the selection of Troy Aikman as the first overall pick. The importance of hitting on this pick cannot be overstated as, had Dallas missed, it is not crazy to believe the team would currently own only two Super Bowl victories. Instead, Aikman was a HOF player sandwiched between two others in the preceding and following drafts, Michael Irvin and Emmitt Smith. With Smith getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this fall, the trio will be immortalized together in Canton forever.
The selection of Aikman alone may have been enough for this ’89 class to make our top ten list, but the Cowboys also obtained four other Pro Bowl players who were a vital part of their ’92, ’93, and ’95 championship seasons: guard Steve Wisniewski, fullback Daryl “Moose” Johnston, center Mark Stepnoski, and defensive end Tony Tolbert.
Best Pick: Roger Staubach, QB, Navy (10th Round)
The #1 ranked Cowboys draft class of all-time is also the second-oldest on this list. Back in 1964, the draft was a ridiculously long 20 rounds. During that season, the Cowboys obtained three Pro Bowl players in round seven or later (Staubach, guard Jake Kupp, and WR “Bullet” Bob Hayes). Of course Staubach became a Hall of Famer, throwing for 153 touchdowns and over 22,000 yards.
Incredibly, Staubach was not the only HOF player from the 1964 draft. In the second round, the Cowboys selected a cornerback out of Oregon named Mel Renfro, perhaps the most underrated player in Cowboys’ history. After 52 career interceptions, Renfro was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.