IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys have one of the top offenses in the NFL and are trying to improve a defense that made big strides in 2014.
But what about the return game? The Cowboys lost Dwayne Harris to free agency and will now try to stop the dynamic returner who signed with the Giants.
That leaves quite a hole to fill this offseason with many candidates on the horizon. The Cowboys have veteran players with experience such as Cole Beasley on the punts and running backs Darren McFadden, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle on kickoffs. But a rookie such as Lucky Whitehead could emerge as well.
The question got the guys at DallasCowboys.com thinking about the best returners in Cowboys history. This week's Top 10 list focuses on the best return specialists the Cowboys have ever had.
Honorable Mention – Woody Dantzler –There might be better players that had longer stints as returners including Tyson Thompson or James Jones, but considering Dantzler had one of the best highlights in franchise history, and it happened as a kick returner, he makes the HM list. Dantzler's play against the 49ers in 2002 had all the traits you want in a returner: awareness, toughness, agility, quickness, improvisation and of course, speed at the end.
10. Herschel Walker – Obviously Walker was known for his ability to be a dynamic running back that ended up resulting in a plethora of draft picks that helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls in four years. When that run was over, Walker was back on the team for two years in 1996-97 and became a valuable returner. His 25.3-yard kick return average ranks third best in Cowboys history.
9. Butch Johnson – His famous end zone dance called the "California Quake" was Johnson's trademark, although he never scored from a return. But he's one of two players (Kevin Williams) in Cowboys history to rank in the top seven as both a kickoff and punt returner. Johnson averaged 9.0 yards on returns and 23.2 on kickoffs.
8. Patrick Crayton –The seventh-round pick from tiny Southwestern Oklahoma State, Crayton got the Cowboys' attention for his ability to do everything in college and he translated many of those skills to the NFL. He returned two punts for touchdowns – occurring in consecutive games in 2009 – and ranks fifth in club history with a 9.6-yard average.
- Reggie Swinton – The longshot who came to the Cowboys from Arena2 Football, Swinton ranks fifth in Cowboys history with a 24.0-yard career kick return average, including a 100-yard runback in 2002 vs. Philadelphia. Swinton also returned punts and had a 65-yard touchdown return against Denver on Thanksgiving Day 2001.
6. Kevin Williams– While the 1993 Thanksgiving Ice Bowl vs. Miami is known for the ending, a rookie from Miami, Fla. had both touchdowns for the Cowboys, including a punt return for a score that ended with an impromptu ice-slide into the end zone. Williams ranks fifth with a 9.6-yard punt return average and seventh on kickoffs at 23.7 yards a return. His 239 combined returns rank first in club history. And he's the only player in Cowboys history to score off a kick return and punt return in the same season.
5. Kelvin Martin – His 85-yard return for a touchdown in 1991 sealed a Cowboys' win over the Eagles and clinched their first playoff berth in six years. Martin is the franchise leader in both punt returns (179) and scored three touchdowns in his career, including a 1992 opening-day score to beat the defending-champion Redskins on *Monday Night Football. *
4. Bob Hayes – The "Bullet" was more than a dynamic receiver that changed the game and led to zone defenses. His speed was felt as a punt returner, where he scored three career touchdowns to go along with his 11.1 average, which ranks third in club history. He was the first Cowboys player to have two punt returns for scores in a season.
3. Mel Renfro – For about 37 years, Renfro was the Cowboys' all-time leader in kick returns with a 26.4 career average, which included two scores. He averaged 30.0 yards per return in 1965 and still holds the Cowboys' franchise record with eight kickoff returns and 12 combined returns in a single game against the Packers in 1964.
2. Dwayne Harris – Maybe not as flashy as some of the others below him, but Harris wrapped up his four years with the club as one of the most accomplished return specialists in club history. He edged Renfro for first all-time on kick returns with a 26.5 average and finished tied for second in club history on punt returns with an 11.1 average. His 30.6 yards per return in 2013 is the highest single-season average in club history. In a win over the Redskins that year, Harris was NFC Special Teams Player of the Week with an 86-yard punt return for a score, along with a 90-yard kickoff return.
1. Deion Sanders – Who else? No one provided as much as excitement as a returner than Deion. Or it could be called "fear" from the punter's perspective because every time Sanders got the ball, it had a chance to go all the way. Sanders is the Cowboys' all-time leader with a 13.3 average per return. He's the only player with four punt returns for touchdowns, including two in 1998 when he finished first in the NFL with a 15.1 average and made the Pro Bowl as both a cornerback and return specialist.