IRVING, Texas – This list centers on breaking down the Dallas Cowboys top NFL Draft picks in club history, round by round. These aren’t the best groups of draft picks in franchise history, but quite possibly the best in each round.
Now, back in 1961, the first regular draft in which the Dallas Cowboys participated, there were 20 rounds of picks, dropping to 17 from 1967-76 and then down to 12 from 1977-92. In 1993, the draft was eight rounds long, but it went to seven rounds in 1994 and has stayed there ever since.
So the list has been cut to 10 rounds, with honorable mention for Round 11.
11 – Honorable Mention
Jethro Pugh/Chad Hennings/Dennis Thurman – The Dallas Cowboys had some quality players come from the 11th round. Jethro Pugh played 14 seasons, 1965-78, with the Cowboys and was a part of the Doomsday Defense. Thurman had a nickname in the secondary with “Thurman’s Thieves,” as he teamed up with Everson Walls to form a dynamic cornerback duo. And with Hennings, the Cowboys had good foresight, taking a player who had to fulfill his military obligations before coming to the team as a defensive line contributor.
10 – Roger Staubach – Without a doubt, this is the easiest pick on the list. Staubach isn’t just the only superstar or Hall of Fame player in the 10th round for the Cowboys, but he’s the only regular starter. Staubach is arguably the best draft pick in franchise history, especially since the Cowboys knew he wouldn’t be available right away. Obviously, he was worth the wait.
9 – Kenny Gant – Hard to think Staubach is 10 on any list and Gant is 9, but there certainly weren’t many options here in the ninth round. Nicknamed the “Shark,” Gant was one of the best special teams players in Dallas Cowboys history and carved out a nice defensive role for himself in nickel packages.
8 – Kevin Gogan – Another light round of picks from which to choose, Gogan was one of the toughest offensive linemen the Cowboys had on those early 1990 squads. Some of his better days occurred after his time in Dallas, but as far as eighth-rounder’s go, Gogan is the best.
7 – Rayfield Wright/Bob Hayes – Two Hall of Fame players drafted in the seventh round and both were great picks because the Cowboys showed their vision. Wright (pictured above) was actually a tight end before he moved to left tackle, and ‘Bullet” Bob Hayes (below) was an Olympic track star before becoming one of the more game-changing players in NFL history.
Honorable Mentions: Leon Lett (pictured below), Jay Ratliff, Brock Marion.
6 – D.D. Lewis – A staple at linebacker for many years, Lewis helped anchor a Doomsday Defense that was consistently one of the NFL’s best. Lewis narrowly edged out a few other solid contributors.
Honorable Mentions: George Andrie, Eugene Lockhart, Jim Cooper
5 – Herschel Walker – This is one of the best draft picks in Dallas Cowboys history. The club had a hunch the USFL would fold, so taking a chance on the league’s best player proved to be a franchise-altering move. Walker’s trade in 1989 to the Vikings was one of the more influential swaps in sports history. Honorable Mentions: Walt Garrison, Blaine Nye, Ron Springs, Orlando Scandrick
4 – Tom Rafferty – This was another close position, but Rafferty’s 14 years of longevity gave him the ultimate edge. A versatile center who could also deep-snap, Rafferty was one of the more consistent linemen in Cowboys’ history.
Honorable Mentions: Pat Donovan, Marion Barber, Bradie James, Tony Tolbert
3 – Jason Witten – One of the best tight ends in NFL history and arguably the most complete player at his position in the entire league, Witten had a first-round grade back in 2003 but managed to fall to the third. Missing just one game in his 11-year career, Witten is easily categorized as one of the toughest players to wear the star on his helmet. And he’s one of the very few to participate in a single play without one.
Honorable Mentions: Harvey Martin, Erik Williams, Charlie Waters
2 – Larry Allen – The Cowboys took a chance on the quiet, yet strong-as-an-ox kid from tiny Sonoma State in California. It didn’t take long for them to realize Allen wasn’t just a mauling lineman, but a great athlete as well. He played every spot on the line but center, and was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection this past season.
Honorable Mentions: Mel Renfro, Darren Woodson
1 – Emmitt Smith – One year removed from trading Herschel Walker, the Cowboys needed to find a suitable replacement. While many draft experts pegged Smith as too small and not fast enough, the Cowboys traded from No. 21 to 17th overall to grab Smith, who turned out to be the final piece of the “Triplets.” Smith is now the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and it will take an abnormally durable career for another running back to surpass him.
Honorable Mentions: Bob Lilly, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, Michael Irvin, Troy Aikman.