Top 10: Ranking The Top Draft Classes In Cowboys' History

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IRVING, Texas – The 2013 NFL Draft just commenced, and despite the grades handed out by experts, it's impossible to predict how successful the class is at the moment.

As the last few drafts have demonstrated, with players like Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray and Morris Claiborne now starting, it takes some time to see how draft picks will affect the nucleus of a team.  

With the salary cap in place in the NFL, piling together strong draft classes are crucial for long-term success, as this ranking of the top 10 draft classes in Cowboys history will show. The team's success from the mid-1960s through the 1970s also included a number of hits in the draft.

A few unsuccessful drafts in the early '80s brought the team from 12-4 in 1983 to 7-9 in 1986 to a miserable 1-15 in 1989. Then, a stretch of stunningly strong drafts in the late 1980s led to the 1990s dynasty. Up until the last couple years, as the number of playoff victories would show, most drafts have been hit and miss since then.

A range of statistics were considered while ranking these draft classes, including Hall of Fame selections, Pro Bowl berths, All-Pro nods and how the players contributed to winning clubs. Standout players could be chosen from a number of drafts, including the team's first ever college draft in 1961, which yielded Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly.

The draft class of 1974 included Ed "Too Tall" Jones and quarterback Danny White, while the class of 2002 brought standout contributors in safety Roy Williams, center Andre Gurode and wide receiver Antonio Bryant to Dallas. Prior to that, Harvey Martin, who still holds the Cowboys' sack record, came to the Cowboys in 1973, along with Pro Bowl tight end Billy Joe Dupree.

While a number of classes yielded star players, only a few were strong enough as a whole to make the list.

Honorable Mention – 1992: Each of the first five picks made the active roster, and the secondary was bolstered for years to come, adding Kevin Smith in the first round and Darren Woodson in the second. That's a combined 22 years of experience from those two players alone. Sandwiched between those two picks were linebacker Robert Jones, who played 10 seasons in the NFL and four for the Cowboys, and Jimmy Smith, who'd go on to have a Pro Bowl career elsewhere.

No. 10 – 2010: We won't know exactly how prolific this class will become for another few years, but this class should continually creep up this list for years to come. The Cowboys didn't hesitate when Dez Bryant fell to them with the 24th pick, and he's quickly become one of the best playmakers in the league. Other teams also passed on Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who's already one of the top defensive players and leaders. That class also brought value in the seventh round in Sean Lissemore, who should compete for a starting job on the interior of the defense.

No. 9 – 1990: From a couple classes touted for depth to one of individual superiority, the 1990 class will be remembered for one player. It had some contributors in third-round pick Jimmie Jones and ninth round selection Kenneth Gant, but the first-round pick puts this class on the list. The Cowboys traded one of their first-round picks from Minnesota (via the Herschel Walker trade) to Pittsburgh to move up, and they wound up settling with the 17th pick on Florida running back Emmitt Smith, who'd go on to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

No. 8 – 1988: The last draft overseen by Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt would again give the Cowboys a Hall-of-Famer, this time in wide receiver Michael Irvin.  That pick, which the Cowboys used at No. 11, wouldn't be the only gem. Second-round linebacker Ken Norton Jr. would become a Pro Bowl talent and a pivotal defensive player for two Cowboys Super Bowl teams. They also got an 11th-round steal in Chad Hennings, a six-year starter after fulfilling his Air Force service requirement.

No. 7 – 2003: This class helped turn around three straight 5-11 seasons, helping the team go 10-6 and reach the playoffs. The prize was third-round pick Jason Witten, who in his 10th year would set the tight end record for receptions in a season and become the Cowboys' all-time receptions leader. Top pick Terence Newman made multiple Pro Bowls, and fourth-round LB Bradie James led the team in tackles six straight seasons. Tony Romo wasn't drafted, but it should be noted they grabbed him in free agency that year. If he was a selection, this class would be even higher.

No. 6 – 1977: The Cowboys moved up to land the second overall pick, which they spent on Heisman-winning running back Tony Dorsett. The future Hall of Famer was named Rookie of the Year He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year and propelled the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win. Third-rounder Tony Hill ranks as one of the team's most prolific wide receivers and sixth-round lineman Jim Cooper started for eight seasons.

No. 5 – 1991: The '91 class is also noted for its depth, producing championship contributors in top overall pick  DT Russell Maryland, as well as WR Alvin Harper, LB Dixon Edwards, LB Godfrey Myles, T Erik Williams, DT Leon Lett and CB Larry Brown. For a time, Williams and Lett were considered among the best players in the league at their respective positions, and Brown would go on to become the MVP of Super Bowl XXX.

No. 4 – 2005: Much like 2010, this ranks as one of the deepest Cowboys draft in recent memory. The No. 1 pick, LB DeMarcus Ware, remains one of the top pass rushers in the league and will likely become the team's all-time sacks leader. Five of the seven other choices were starters in the NFL for multiple years in DE Marcus Spears, LB Kevin Burnett, RB Marion Barber, DE Chris Canty and seventh-rounder Jay Ratliff, whom the Cowboys think should prosper in the 4-3.

No. 3 – 1975: Known as "the Dirty Dozen," a whopping 12 players made the active roster from this class and played roles in the Cowboys reaching Super Bowl X. Several would become long-time contributors, most notably No. 2 overall pick Randy White, who would convert from linebacker into one of the premier defensive tackles in league history. White was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.  Among that group, Thomas Henderson, Pat Donovan and Herbert Scott became Pro Bowl players.

No. 2 – 1989: The '90s dynasty wouldn't have existed without the drafting success at the end of the previous decade, most notably landing "The Triplets." The selections of Irvin in '88 and Smith in '90 sandwiched the 1989 choice of QB Troy Aikman with the top overall pick. The quarterback made six Pro Bowls and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and that draft class also brought Pro Bowlers in FB Daryl Johnston, C Mark Stepnoski and DE Tony Tolbert to Dallas in rounds 2-4.

No. 1 – 1964: It's hard to top a class with three future Hall of Famers. Second-round pick DB Mel Renfro made the Pro Bowl each of his first 10 seasons and was a five-time All-Pro before going to the Hall of Fame in 1996. Seventh-round WR Bob Hayes literally changed the game with his speed down the field, earning him a trip to Canton in 2009. Last, but certainly not least, the 10th round brought the biggest steal in club history in QB Roger Staubach. After fulfilling his Navy commitment, he led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories in four appearances and retired as the team's highest-rated passer, becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1985.

Top10_Draft_050713_650.jpg


IRVING, Texas – The 2013 NFL Draft just commenced, and despite the grades handed out by experts, it's impossible to predict how successful the class is at the moment.

As the last few drafts have demonstrated, with players like Dez Bryant, Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray and Morris Claiborne now starting, it takes some time to see how draft picks will affect the nucleus of a team.  

With the salary cap in place in the NFL, piling together strong draft classes are crucial for long-term success, as this ranking of the top 10 draft classes in Cowboys history will show. The team's success from the mid-1960s through the 1970s also included a number of hits in the draft.

A few unsuccessful drafts in the early '80s brought the team from 12-4 in 1983 to 7-9 in 1986 to a miserable 1-15 in 1989. Then, a stretch of stunningly strong drafts in the late 1980s led to the 1990s dynasty. Up until the last couple years, as the number of playoff victories would show, most drafts have been hit and miss since then.

A range of statistics were considered while ranking these draft classes, including Hall of Fame selections, Pro Bowl berths, All-Pro nods and how the players contributed to winning clubs. Standout players could be chosen from a number of drafts, including the team's first ever college draft in 1961, which yielded Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly.

The draft class of 1974 included Ed "Too Tall" Jones and quarterback Danny White, while the class of 2002 brought standout contributors in safety Roy Williams, center Andre Gurode and wide receiver Antonio Bryant to Dallas. Prior to that, Harvey Martin, who still holds the Cowboys' sack record, came to the Cowboys in 1973, along with Pro Bowl tight end Billy Joe Dupree.

While a number of classes yielded star players, only a few were strong enough as a whole to make the list.

Honorable Mention – 1992: Each of the first five picks made the active roster, and the secondary was bolstered for years to come, adding Kevin Smith in the first round and Darren Woodson in the second. That's a combined 22 years of experience from those two players alone. Sandwiched between those two picks were linebacker Robert Jones, who played 10 seasons in the NFL and four for the Cowboys, and Jimmy Smith, who'd go on to have a Pro Bowl career elsewhere.

No. 10 – 2010: We won't know exactly how prolific this class will become for another few years, but this class should continually creep up this list for years to come. The Cowboys didn't hesitate when Dez Bryant fell to them with the 24th pick, and he's quickly become one of the best playmakers in the league. Other teams also passed on Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, who's already one of the top defensive players and leaders. That class also brought value in the seventh round in Sean Lissemore, who should compete for a starting job on the interior of the defense.

No. 9 – 1990: From a couple classes touted for depth to one of individual superiority, the 1990 class will be remembered for one player. It had some contributors in third-round pick Jimmie Jones and ninth round selection Kenneth Gant, but the first-round pick puts this class on the list. The Cowboys traded one of their first-round picks from Minnesota (via the Herschel Walker trade) to Pittsburgh to move up, and they wound up settling with the 17th pick on Florida running back Emmitt Smith, who'd go on to become the NFL's all-time leading rusher.

No. 8 – 1988: The last draft overseen by Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt would again give the Cowboys a Hall-of-Famer, this time in wide receiver Michael Irvin.  That pick, which the Cowboys used at No. 11, wouldn't be the only gem. Second-round linebacker Ken Norton Jr. would become a Pro Bowl talent and a pivotal defensive player for two Cowboys Super Bowl teams. They also got an 11th-round steal in Chad Hennings, a six-year starter after fulfilling his Air Force service requirement.

No. 7 – 2003: This class helped turn around three straight 5-11 seasons, helping the team go 10-6 and reach the playoffs. The prize was third-round pick Jason Witten, who in his 10th year would set the tight end record for receptions in a season and become the Cowboys' all-time receptions leader. Top pick Terence Newman made multiple Pro Bowls, and fourth-round LB Bradie James led the team in tackles six straight seasons. Tony Romo wasn't drafted, but it should be noted they grabbed him in free agency that year. If he was a selection, this class would be even higher.

No. 6 – 1977: The Cowboys moved up to land the second overall pick, which they spent on Heisman-winning running back Tony Dorsett. The future Hall of Famer was named Rookie of the Year He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year and propelled the Cowboys to a Super Bowl win. Third-rounder Tony Hill ranks as one of the team's most prolific wide receivers and sixth-round lineman Jim Cooper started for eight seasons.

No. 5 – 1991: The '91 class is also noted for its depth, producing championship contributors in top overall pick  DT Russell Maryland, as well as WR Alvin Harper, LB Dixon Edwards, LB Godfrey Myles, T Erik Williams, DT Leon Lett and CB Larry Brown. For a time, Williams and Lett were considered among the best players in the league at their respective positions, and Brown would go on to become the MVP of Super Bowl XXX.

No. 4 – 2005: Much like 2010, this ranks as one of the deepest Cowboys draft in recent memory. The No. 1 pick, LB DeMarcus Ware, remains one of the top pass rushers in the league and will likely become the team's all-time sacks leader. Five of the seven other choices were starters in the NFL for multiple years in DE Marcus Spears, LB Kevin Burnett, RB Marion Barber, DE Chris Canty and seventh-rounder Jay Ratliff, whom the Cowboys think should prosper in the 4-3.

No. 3 – 1975: Known as "the Dirty Dozen," a whopping 12 players made the active roster from this class and played roles in the Cowboys reaching Super Bowl X. Several would become long-time contributors, most notably No. 2 overall pick Randy White, who would convert from linebacker into one of the premier defensive tackles in league history. White was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994.  Among that group, Thomas Henderson, Pat Donovan and Herbert Scott became Pro Bowl players.

No. 2 – 1989: The '90s dynasty wouldn't have existed without the drafting success at the end of the previous decade, most notably landing "The Triplets." The selections of Irvin in '88 and Smith in '90 sandwiched the 1989 choice of QB Troy Aikman with the top overall pick. The quarterback made six Pro Bowls and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and that draft class also brought Pro Bowlers in FB Daryl Johnston, C Mark Stepnoski and DE Tony Tolbert to Dallas in rounds 2-4.

No. 1 – 1964: It's hard to top a class with three future Hall of Famers. Second-round pick DB Mel Renfro made the Pro Bowl each of his first 10 seasons and was a five-time All-Pro before going to the Hall of Fame in 1996. Seventh-round WR Bob Hayes literally changed the game with his speed down the field, earning him a trip to Canton in 2009. Last, but certainly not least, the 10th round brought the biggest steal in club history in QB Roger Staubach. After fulfilling his Navy commitment, he led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories in four appearances and retired as the team's highest-rated passer, becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1985.

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