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Top 10: Lilly-White Tough To Separate In Best DT Debate
IRVING, Texas – There aren’t many positions of higher priority this offseason than defensive tackle. It was actually a high need last year, but the Cowboys opted for center help in the first round and likely don’t regret that move, considering how well Travis Frederick played as a rookie.
But the Cowboys didn’t have to take Sharif Floyd, who fell in their laps, because both Jason Hatcher and Jay Ratliff were in the mix. Now, with Ratliff playing for the Bears and Hatcher expected to test the market in free agency, both could be gone.
While all clubs want to enter the NFL Draft with as many needs filled as possible, preventing teams from reaching for certain positions, it might be impossible to do that at defensive tackle. Even if Hatcher is re-signed, he’ll be 32 this season and the Cowboys must get younger inside.
Although Ratliff has played his last snap in Dallas and Hatcher could be right there with him with free agency starting March 11, both make the list as one of the 10 best defensive tackles in Cowboys history.
10. Tony Casillas – He played just five seasons in Dallas but did win two Super Bowl rings in 1992-93. Casillas provided a strong veteran presence when he joined a young team in 1991. In his 12-year career, he never had more than three sacks in a season, but always had at least one. Of his 23 career sacks, 10.5 occurred during his five years in Dallas.
9. Jason Hatcher – While he has only played two full seasons at defensive tackle, he has already accomplished more than half on this list. Hatcher led all NFL defensive tackles in sacks last year with 11, which is the most by a Cowboys DT since Randy White in 1982. His career has been solid since he arrived in 2006, but last season was certainly a breakthrough year for Hatcher, who will likely receive a nice payday come mid-March. Hatcher does have two touchdowns in his career.
8. Larry Cole – If scoring touchdowns was the top criteria, Cole would be the Cowboys’ best defensive tackle ever. He had four touchdowns, including three interception returns. He played 13 seasons in the middle, starting 78 games. As a 16th round pick in 1968, Cole was a core guy in the Doomsday Defense, playing with both Bob Lilly and Randy White.
7. Russell Maryland – He never lived up to the hype of a No. 1 overall pick, but Maryland was a big part in a run-stopping defense that won three Super Bowls in his five seasons. The one-time Pro Bowler was a stop-gap against teams trying to run, but Maryland also got his share of sacks, accumulating 24.5 in his nine-year career, which concluded in Oakland. Oddly enough, Maryland’s best stats occurred in his rookie year when he had a career-best 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles while starting just seven games in 2001.
6. Leon Lett – Some of the previous guys had better and longer careers than Lett, but his prime years were better than most. In fact, during the 1996 season, an argument can be made that Lett was the NFL’s best defensive tackle. But he never could get on track long enough to sustain it. Either injuries or suspensions from the league continually halted his progress. He’ll always be remembered more for his premature Super Bowl celebration and his Thanksgiving Day blunder against Miami in the snow at Texas Stadium, but Lett also made the game-changing play in Super Bowl XXVIII. His forced fumble early in the third quarter led to James Washington’s recovery for a touchdown to turn the tide.
5. Jethro Pugh – Longevity was the name of his game, playing 14 years and starting for 10 of those, mostly alongside Lilly. Pugh was not a Pro Bowler, although he was named a Second Team All-Pro selection in 1968. Sacks were not an official stat during his time, but Pugh was credited with 95.5 sacks by the team, which ranks sixth in club history and second among tackles, only behind White’s 111.
4. Jay Ratliff – Obviously things ended on the sourest of notes. Ratliff was supposed to be in the plans in 2013, but the only Cowboys game he played last year was with the Bears … against Dallas. Still, Ratliff’s production and success story can’t be ignored. A seventh-round pick in 2005, he defied the odds by starting as a 3-4 nose tackle, despite weighing only around 300 pounds. His quick first-step and unwillingness to stay blocked made him a four-time Pro Bowler from 2008-11. Ratliff was a First Team All-Pro pick in 2009.
3. La’Roi Glover – The only player in franchise history to make the Pro Bowl every year during his time in Dallas, Glover was one of the best free agents the Cowboys ever landed. Glover joined the team in 2002 and played on just one playoff team (2003). The Cowboys ran a 4-3 scheme his first three years, but then switched to a 3-4 in 2005 when he made the Pro Bowler as a nose tackle. But he did play in all 64 games of his career in Dallas, starting 61 of them.
2. Randy White – This is more like 1a and 1b. Randy White hasn’t been No. 2 on many lists in his life and this one was close. The “Manster” was one of the more dominating players the NFL has ever seen. And to think he was drafted as a linebacker. But White had 111 sacks, including three years with double-digit takedowns, 1983-85. His Super Bowl XII performance helped him earn Co-MVP honors along with Harvey Martin. White had 14 years of longevity, but backed it up with his dominating play. He was inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
1. Bob Lilly – The first Ring of Honor member and the first Cowboys player in the Hall of Fame, Bob Lilly is simply known as “Mr. Cowboy.” His career is debatably better than White’s, but it’s hard to put anyone else ahead of him, not just at defensive tackle or any defensive position, but really every position. Lilly was the first pick the Cowboys had and he lived up to the billing. The most impressive stat of all is that Lilly started and played all 196 games in his career, never missing one. His sack of Miami quarterback Bob Greise in Super Bowl VI will forever be one of the greatest defensive plays in Super Bowl history.