Grading the Cowboys' Top 10 Draft Picks

The NFL Draft begins one month from today. As Roger Goodell announces the results of the first round on April 28, the Cowboys, assuming they won't trade down, pick fourth. That's the highest they've stood in the draft in more than 20 years, thanks to 2015's abysmal 4-12 record. Considering Dallas has only picked in the top 10 a dozen times in franchise history, it will be a treat — one hopes —  to hear the Cowboys' selection in the first hour of the draft. There's still plenty of time to jaw over who the Cowboys' pick will be. In the meantime, here are 12 instances of the Cowboys taking a top 10 pick, ranked from worst to best.

12. Mo Claiborne —  Heading into the 2012 draft, Claiborne was considered by many to be the top defensive player available. The Cowboys needed a cornerback, and Claiborne, an LSU product, was apparently as skilled as they come. When he was still on the board with the then-St. Louis Rams set to pick, the Cowboys traded their own 14th pick and their second round selection to the Rams to get Claiborne. In his four years with the Cowboys, he's shown only flashes of the cover and ball-hawking skills that led him to be so highly touted, serving as a constant source of frustration for Cowboys fans. He still has a chance to turn things around, though. In March, he signed a new one-year, $3 million contract with the team.
11. Craig Morton — Morton had the bad fortune of sitting behind Don Meredith at the beginning of his career and then having to compete with Roger Staubach for Meredith's job when Dandy Don finally left the Cowboys. The fifth pick of the 1965 draft started the Cowboys' Super Bowl V loss to the Colts but had to watch Staubach and running back Duane Thomas lead Dallas to its first Super Bowl victory the following year against Miami.
10. Roy Williams — If Williams finished his Cowboys career the way he started it, he would be much higher on this list. Drafted out of the University of Oklahoma with the eighth selection of the 2002 draft, Williams was a big hitter with a nose for the spectacular. He made the Pro Bowl in his second season and the next four after that. Williams was always a liability in coverage, though, and lived on the legacy of his big hits rather than the quality of his play. Williams never won a playoff game and was a dirty player, too. The NFL's horse collar rule was implemented  before the 2005 season after Williams broke four legs with the move — basically pulling a ball carrier straight down by his collar — during 2004.
9. Greg Ellis —
North Carolina defensive end Ellis was picked eighth in 1998. He was fine, but not what one hopes from a top 10 pick. He had his best year in 2007, when he had 12.5 sacks but, like Roy Williams, he never won a playoff game in a Dallas uniform. 
8. Terence Newman — Like Ellis, Newman was a solid player but not the type of franchise-changing addition a team wants to make when it's picking in the top 10. Drafted fifth in 2003 out of Kansas State, Newman made two Pro Bowls for the Cowboys as the team's best cover corner since the departure of Deion Sanders in 2000. To date, his best attribute remains his longevity. In 2015, he started all 16 games for the Vikings at the age of 37, and hopes to do so again in 2016.
7. Lee Roy Jordan — A member of three Cowboys Super Bowl teams — he won once in Super Bowl VI — Jordan might be the best middle linebacker the team has ever had. The sixth pick in the 1963 draft is a member of the Cowboys' Ring of Honor and still holds a piece of the team record for tackles in a game with 21. He was just 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, but they didn't call him killer for nothing.
6. Tyron Smith — Putting Smith this high is a bit speculative, but the ninth pick of the 2011 draft is one of the best offensive tackles in football and the anchor of the best offensive line in the NFL. Add in the fact that he's still just 25 years old, and Smith has a chance to be an all-time Cowboys great. If the team returns to form in 2016, Smith's protection of Tony Romo's blind side, and the holes he and his friends open for Dallas' committee of running backs, will be a big part of it. 
5. Russell Maryland — Maryland's contributions as defensive tackle for the '90s Cowboys that won three Super Bowls aren't easy to quantify. Players at Maryland's position are often anchors, rather than stat-compilers. He made only one Pro Bowl in 1993, despite being the first pick of the 1991 draft, but the spectacular early '90s Cowboys defense wouldn't have been anything close to what it was without Maryland clogging up the middle. To know how truly dominant he could be, it pays to look not at one of his performances for the Cowboys, but at his last college game — the 1991 Cotton Bowl where he spent so much time in the Texas backfield as a member of the Miami Hurricanes that the Longhorns might as well have named him the starting running back.
4. Too Tall Jones — Beyond having one of the best nicknames in the history of professional sports, defensive end Jones was also one of the most physically gifted players to put on a Cowboys uniform. Despite skipping the 1979 season for a six-fight, undefeated career as professional boxer, Jones, drafted with the first pick of the 1974 draft, started 232 games for the Cowboys. He was an All-Pro for three straight seasons after his return from the ring in 1981-1983 and helped the Cowboys win Super Bowl XII.
3. Randy White — The second pick of the 1975 draft went to nine straight Pro Bowls, won the co-MVP with Harvey Martin in Super Bowl XII and got himself inducted into the Hall of Fame. You'd never know it from the barbecue he hawks and the cowboy hats he wears, but the former defensive lineman is from Delaware.
2. Tony Dorsett — A Hall of Famer, Super Bowl winner and holder of the record for the longest run in the Super Bowl (99 yards), Dorsett's second place on this list is a testament to the guy who's the inevitable number one, but Dorsett, picked second in 1977, was amazing. He ran for more than 12,000 yards in just over a decade in Dallas, leaving after the 1987 season.
1. Troy Aikman — Drafted first overall in 1989, Aikman was the perfect, steady hand for a Cowboys team that would win three Super Bowls in four years under his leadership from 1992-1995. Aikman, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, was everything you could possibly want a first overall pick to be.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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