Dallas Cowboys

Top 10 Best Draft Picks of the Jerry Jones Era

Is it time for Jerry Jones to step aside as general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, or do the three Super Bowl wins under his tenure validate his decision to remain in that role? The debate will continue until Jones either hands over the keys to his son Stephen or dies.

While another argument unlikely to end anytime soon is the impact former head coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells had on the draft and player moves, the list of players signed and drafted with Jones as GM is one that every fan should celebrate.

Certainly there have been a bunch of awful draft picks over the years, but there's a list of busts for every team in the league. So, for now, with many fans thoughts on next year's draft, let's look at the 10 best.

10. Jay Ratliff, Auburn University
2005, seventh round, 224th overall

Despite a successful career at a well-known school, Ratliff slipped through the cracks and became one of the top late-round picks in recent memory as the 224th player taken in 2005. His three-consecutive Pro Bowl sections are much more indicative of Ratliff's contributions over the last six seasons than his 25 career sacks and 117 tackles, which could improve dramatically if he's moved to defensive end next year.

He's a player you have to watch closely to appreciate as a dominating presence on the defensive line. Ratliff often ties up multiple blockers, allowing his teammates to make tackles, and the number of times he's forced a quarterback or running back into a place they didn't plan on being is countless.

9. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State University
2010, first round, 24th overall

When Bryant was drafted and later handed the coveted No. 88 jersey once worn by legends Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin, it seemed unlikely that he'd live up to the hype. Fans held their breath as he sat out most of training camp with a high left ankle sprain, but he quickly emerged as one of few bright spots on a team headed nowhere.

Bryant accumulated 1,069 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games this year before breaking his right ankle on a kickoff return, and he averaged 14.3 yards per punt return -- second only to Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears. If he can avoid future injuries, there's no reason why Bryant can't be Irvin-like on offense and Hester-like on special teams, making him one of the game's biggest threats.

8. Daryl "Moose" Johnston, Syracuse University
1989, second round, 39th overall

Let's hope Le'Ron McClain of the Baltimore Ravens and Leonard Weaver of the Philadelphia Eagles sent Johnston thank-you notes after both were named as Pro Bowl starters. Johnston was so instrumental to the Cowboys' success in the early 1990s that the NFL created the position on the ballot in 1993 to acknowledge his significance.

Like Ratliff, Johnston can't be evaluated by his 2,980 career rushing and receiving yards and 22 touchdowns over 11 seasons. He was an integral part of the Cowboys' overpowering offensive attack as a blocker in the 90s, and he has three Super Bowl rings to prove it.

7. Erik Williams, Central State University
1991, third round, 70th overall

The seventh player taken in the 1991 draft by the Cowboys, who had a staggering 18 picks back when the draft was 12 rounds, Williams would play an important role in the three Super Bowls, stabilizing the right tackle position and pancaking dozens of pass rushers along the way.

6. Darren Woodson, Arizona State University 1992, second round, 37th overall

Taken with one of the picks received from the Minnesota Vikings in the infamous Hershel Walker trade, Woodson was selected right after the Cowboys nabbed Jimmy Smith. The team cut Smith because he didn't want to pay for his emergency appendectomy, and Smith eventually was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he would become a five-time Pro Bowler.

Woodson certainly minimized the damage of releasing Smith, becoming the franchise leader with 1,350 tackles as one of the top strong safeties in the league and a fantastic special teams player after playing linebacker at Arizona State. He's among the best defensive players to put on a Cowboys jersey, and he has three Super Bowl wins on his résumé as well.

5. DeMarcus Ware, Troy University
2005, first round, 11th overall

A lot of folks thought the Cowboys reached early when selecting Ware, especially since Dallas also had the 20th overall pick, but he was too hard to resist. It turned out to be a genius move as he's now arguably the top defensive player in the league, racking up 77 career sacks, 25 forced fumbles and five-consecutive Pro Bowl selections. He also hasn't missed a game yet during his six-year career.

Ware's greatness was acknowledged when he was named to the NFL's All Decade Team of the 2000s despite beginning his career halfway into the decade. At just 28 years old, he has plenty of time to rise up the list of all-time sack leaders, although he needs 124 more to break Bruce Smith's record.

4. Jason Witten, University of Tennessee
2003, third round, 69th overall

Also 28 years old, Witten has a while to pass Tony Gonzalez in catches, yards and touchdowns. Unfortunately, Gonzalez is still playing, and his record 1,063 receptions, 12,410 yards and 87 touchdowns for a tight end will be tough to beat. However, Witten's already one of the best tight ends of all time with 613 catches, 6,921 yards and 35 touchdowns of his own, along with seven-straight Pro Bowl selections.

He's Jay Novacek catching the ball and Daryl Johnson as a blocker. What's not to like?

3. Larry Allen, Sonoma State University
1994, second round, 46th overall

Somehow nine other offensive lineman were selected in the 1994 draft before Allen, who could bench press a whopping 700 pounds. The best player taken by Jones without Johnson or Parcells, Allen was selected to 11 Pro Bowls in his 14 seasons and made first team All-Pro six times. Heck, he was so damned good that he was named to the NFL's All Decade Team of the 1990s and 2000s.

Not only the best offensive lineman in Cowboys history, Allen's one of the best players of all time.

2. Troy Aikman, UCLA
1989, first round, first overall

With the top pick in a loaded draft that included Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas, the Cowboys added the second piece of the Hall-of-Fame threesome dubbed the Triplets, which began with the selection of Michael Irvin in the first round one year earlier.

He's the eighth-best quarterback of all time, far as I'm concerned, and Dallas wouldn't have won three Super Bowls without him. Nuff said.

1. Emmitt Smith, University of Florida
1990, first round, 17th overall

While quarterbacks Jeff George and Andre Ware grabbed most of the pre-draft headlines and Penn State's Blair Thomas was the first running back selected, Smith easily became the best player in the class of 1990 and one of the top running backs of all time, amassing the most rushing yards (18,355) and touchdowns (164) in NFL history, while finishing second to Jerry Rice in yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns. Smith also had 11-consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, seven of which he topped 1,300.

More than any of his statistical accomplishments, Smith was the most important of several impact players who contributed to the three Super Bowl wins.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten