As we count down the final seconds toward the NFL Draft, I’ve taken some retrospective looks at the Dallas Cowboys history in the NFL Draft. The other day I went over the success rate of the Cowboys during the Jason Garrett coaching era.
Today, I’m taking a bit of a lighter look at the top 10 first round picks made by the Dallas Cowboys in their nearly 60 year history.
Before I get into this, let me just say that I don’t have the benefit of some of my elders who’ve been fans of the Dallas Cowboys since the 60s, 70s or even the 90s since I came on board a few years after my family moved to Texas in 1997. So, I don’t have the first-hand knowledge of some of these guys, but I’ve dug deep into the history of America’s Team.
With that said, let’s get into the Top 10 First Round Picks
10. Tyron Smith, OT, University of Southern California
Under Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys had never used a first round pick on an offensive lineman. That was until Jason Garrett became the head coach and was able to convince the Owner and General Manager that protecting their most valuable asset, Tony Romo, was of the highest priority.
The ninth overall pick in 2011 hasn’t disappointed. In seven seasons with the Cowboys he’s become one of the most dominant players in the league at his position. He’s made the Pro Bowl the last five seasons and was awarded first-team All-Pro selections in 2014 and 2016. Coincidentally, those were also the years that Dallas made the playoffs and had the league leader in rushing.
While the Dallas Cowboys have since added other first rounders, it was Smith who started it all, and he remains the veteran leader in the offensive line room.
Slowed by back injuries over the last couple of seasons, if Smith can maintain his Pro Bowl form he’ll find himself enshrined in the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
9. DeMarcus Ware, EDGE, Troy
When Bill Parcells came on board with the Dallas Cowboys in 2005, it marked a switch from the 4-3 defense the Cowboys had been running for-ev-er to the 3-4 Parcells preferred. In the 2005 NFL Draft, they made DeMarcus Ware the 11th overall pick out of small school Troy. He didn’t disappoint.
In nine years with Dallas, Ware made the Pro Bowl six times including four first-team All-Pro seasons. He was a dominant force on a defense that lacked playmakers at other positions for much of his tenure.
When he left for the Denver Broncos, due to age and injury issues, there was an outpouring of criticism from the fans. He was a beloved player, often playing injured and helped keep the Dallas Cowboys afloat when they didn’t have much reason to contend for the playoffs.
The 8-8 seasons at the start of the Jason Garrett tenure, though disappointing, were also a result of Ware’s presence. Like Tony Romo on offense, if Ware hadn’t been around, some of those historically bad defenses under Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin would have been even worse and they wouldn’t have so much as sniffed .500.
Ware went on to two more Pro Bowl appearances with the Denver Broncos and won a Super Bowl in 2016.
He’s back helping the defensive linemen with the Dallas Cowboys and it’s only a matter of time until he receives his Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame inductions.
8. Calvin Hill, RB, Yale
Calvin Hill earned first-team All-Pro honors his first year in the NFL in 1969 and helped the Dallas Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 1971. He made the Pro Bowl four times with the Cowboys and never had less than 1,000 total yards for Dallas.
His career with the Cowboys was short-lived, but had an impact. Though they only won one Super Bowl with Hill on the roster, they made it to the NFC Championship game three other times, winning one.
7. Ed “Too Tall” Jones, DT, Tennessee St.
The first overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft, Ed “Too Tall” Jones was a huge part of the Dallas Cowboys reaching the Super Bowl four times in five years in the mid-70s. Jones played 15 seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and averaged seven sacks a season from 1982 — when sacks became an official stat — to 1989.
Jones is a member of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, made the Pro Bowl three straight seasons from 1981 to 1983 with a first-team All-Pro selection in 1982.
6. Michael Irvin, WR, Miami
Michael Irvin may not have the statistical accomplishments that players like Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, and Cris Carter have, but it can’t be understated how important Michael Irvin was to the success of the Dallas Cowboys in the 90s.
While Troy Aikman might have been seen as the leader of the team, Irvin was the heart of the team. The swagger that came from the Miami Hurricanes teams of the late 80s carried over with Irvin to his role on the Dallas Cowboys.
Selected 11th overall in 1988, Irvin was selected to the Pro Bowl five straight seasons from 1991-1995, earning first-team All-Pro accolades in 1991. That 1991 season was statistically Irvin’s best as he went for more than 1,500-receiving yards and scored eight touchdowns. That season should extinguish any thought that Irvin wasn’t in the same tier as Rice and Brown.
Though he’s only 38th in receptions and 27th in receiving yards, Irvin was the epitome of a “do-it-all” receiver as his run blocking was a key to Emmitt Smith’s success.
Irvin was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and was a member of all three Super Bowl winning teams in the 1990s. Along with the other “Triplets,” he maintains a place in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.
5. Tony Dorsett, RB, Pittsburgh
The second overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft, Tony Dorsett has his name in the Hall of Fame and rushed for more than 12,000 yards in his 11-year career. His career rushing total is ninth most in the history of the NFL. With more than 1,300-rushing yards in the playoffs, he sits 4th All-time.
As a rookie, he helped the Dallas Cowboys win their second Super Bowl in 1977. He was selected to three straight Pro Bowls from 1981-1983 and was a first team All-Pro in 1981. Also a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
4. Randy White, DE, Maryland
Randy White was the second overall pick in the 1975 draft. “The Manster” was and still is a huge part of the Dallas Cowboys community.
White was named to the Pro Bowl nine straight seasons from 1977 to 1985, and in that same time frame was named to the All-Pro’s first team eight times.
Randy White went to three Super Bowls with the franchise in the middle to late 70s, winning one in 1977. White and Harvey Martin were selected as Co-MVPs of Super Bowl XII.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994, White is in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
2. Bob Lilly, DT, Texas Christian University
Bob Lilly, also known as “Mr. Cowboy,” was a part of the Dallas Cowboys teams of the 1960s and 1970s that affectionately became known as America’s Team.
There’s no way to quantify his impact to those teams since tackles and sacks aren’t recorded with Pro Football Reference for the time that he played with the Cowboys. Cowboys historians, however, know the impact the Hall of Famer and Ring of Honor member had on the franchise.
He played 14 seasons with the Cowboys from 1961 to 1974 and was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times, including 10 straight seasons from 1964 to 1973. Lilly was also selected to the All-Pro’s first-team six years in a row and seven overall.
He was a feared member of the “Doomsday Defense” that tormented opposing teams in the 60s and 70s. Lilly helped the Dallas Cowboys win their first Super Bowl in 1971.
2. Emmitt Smith, RB, Florida
Emmitt Smith was drafted as the 17th overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft. The NFL’s All-Time leading Rusher was, like Troy Aikman, a big reason for the Dallas Cowboys’ historic run in the early 90s. Emmitt was a huge part of the identity of those Cowboys teams that former teammate and current Head Coach Jason Garrett is trying to recreate.
He was a physical runner who played hurt and gave up his body for the team. It’s incredible that he had a 14-year career and never suffered any major injuries. His durability is nearly as impressive as his statistics were.
Like Wayne Gretzky in the NHL, Smith’s rushing totals will be nearly impossible to match or break as it has turned into more of a passing league, and given the way the NFL uses running backs in today’s game.
Smith is a Hall of Famer and member of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor and was awarded MVP for Super Bowl XXVIII.
1. Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA
When the Dallas Cowboys made Troy Aikman the number one overall pick in the 1989 draft, they were at a transition point in the history of the franchise. Jerry Jones had purchased the team and Jimmy Johnson was brought in as head coach. A lot of changes were underway, and they got everything they could have hoped for when selecting Aikman first overall.
He was a leader on and off the field, a great player, a three-time Super Bowl winner, and a Hall of Famer. He may not have the statistics of some of his contemporaries like Dan Marino, Joe Montana, or Brett Favre, but that is a result of the symbiotic balance the Dallas Cowboys were able to create with the run and pass game.
While he benefited from being on a great team, he was also a huge part of what made those teams great.
Aikman was selected as Super Bowl XXVII’s MVP in their 52-17 win over the Buffalo Bills. He is a Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor member and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
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The Dallas Cowboys have had tremendous success in the first round of NFL Drafts, more so than they’ve had flops.
Tonight they have a great chance to add to the legacy of those Hall of Fame players who have gone before them.