As we continue our Cowboys on the Clock series, we are reminded of just how random the NFL Draft can be. Scouts can spend days and weeks dissecting every aspect of a player, but yet some first-round selections will never have the career they expected in the NFL thanks to various reasons ranging from off the field issues to scheme fits or coaching.
This is the story of Larry Bethea, a defensive linemen selected 28th overall in the 1978 draft by the Dallas Cowboys, the last time they selected with this pick.
Bethea played his college football at Michigan State University, where he started as a tight end before making the transition to the defensive line.
Starting in his sophomore season as a defensive tackle, Bethea went on to set the MSU record for career sacks that still stands today. His 1977 campaign ended in a Big Ten MVP honor, the first given to a defensive player since 1964, when he recorded 16 sacks (also a school single-season record when he graduated).
Bethea had found a spot where he could dominate on the football field, and things were looking up for him when the reigning Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys called his name at the podium with the 28th overall pick in 1978.
However, off the field issues and drug problems plagued Bethea – who never became a full-time starter in Dallas. In fact, he started just two games in his 5 seasons with the team, and recorded 5 sacks – 3 of which came in 1983, his final season with the team.
Larry Bethea would then transition to the USFL, where his off the field issues sputtered out of control. Suspensions and releases dominated his time in the now-defunct league, rather than sacks and tackles for loss.
The USFL only extended Bethea’s career for two years up until 1985, and two years after that Bethea took his own life following a string of committed robberies. A prospect that once had so much potential was dead at the age of 30.
Larry Bethea is the only player the Cowboys have ever selected with the 28th overall pick. Tomorrow, we will continue the series with their last 27th overall selection.
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