The most important part of each season may be the daily practice grind in July and August, when a team is truly built. As a countdown to this year's training camp, we celebrate the 53rd year of Cowboys football by constructing the team's all-time 53-man roster, picking one player from each season.
Not so much the 53 best players in club history, DallasCowboys.com has constructed the ultimate team, filling out the depth chart and making room for contributors at every position, including special teams, while at the same time looking ahead to how this year's 53-man roster might shake out.
The series continues today with 1995 and cornerback Deion Sanders.
Name: Deion Sanders
Position: Cornerback/Punt Returner
College: Florida State
Cowboys Tenure: 1995-1999
Why Him? There are a few fans who, despite their appreciation for Deion Sanders' game, never will consider him a true Dallas Cowboys player. He was here five seasons, and helped them win a Super Bowl in 1995, but obviously the longevity of his 14-year career was spread out over five other teams. Then again, Sanders was around for more games with the Cowboys than any other team, including the Falcons, whom he played with the first five years of his career. But plain and simple, Sanders was the best cornerback the Cowboys have ever had and one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, who was inducted just last summer, Sanders might be one of the last true "shut-down" corners. In his day, he could take away half of the field, leaving the rest of the secondary to focus on the other side. Sanders was a playmaker on defense, not just with his interceptions, but also the fear he put into opposing quarterbacks. It's not a coincidence that Larry Brown had six interceptions in Sanders' first year in 1995, and then three more in the postseason, leading to his Super Bowl XXX MVP honor. Sanders made the players around him better, but still was the best player on the field. Sanders made eight Pro Bowls, including four in his five-year stint with the Cowboys. He also became one of the first two-way players since the 1960s when he started eight games at wide receiver and played most of the year on both sides of the ball.
The Role: Absolutely no different than any role he's had in his career, other than maybe his last two years in Baltimore (2004-05) when he was more of a nickel player. But for the majority of his career, and especially here for this Ultimate 53 team, Deion Sanders will be the shut-down cornerback, likely covering the team's best receiver, although there were also times in his career when he would take one side away completely, even if it were the No. 2 guy, allowing the defense to double the top receiver. Either way, Sanders covered as well as anyone and that would be his primary role here. He'll also be the main punt returner, considering how electrifying he was with the ball.
Back To The Future: As deep as they might be with cornerbacks, the Cowboys don't have a Deion Sanders. That statement, however, can likely be said about 31 other teams as well. This Cowboys squad does have some comparisons, though, especially considering Sanders was the high-profile free-agent signing of 1995. Back then, a $35 million contract for a cornerback landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Now, Carr signs a five-year, $50.1 million deal and it's not even the highest contract for a cornerback this year. The Cowboys need Carr to do his thing like Sanders did, although the way they play are different. Now the real comparison for Sanders would be Morris Claiborne, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft (Sanders went fifth to Atlanta back in 1989). The quickness, the ball-hawking approach, and the return ability are what the Cowboys see in Claiborne. In fact, owner Jerry Jones admitted the Cowboys' scouting department rated Claiborne with the highest grade for a cornerback since Deion when he was a free agent.