Note: This is part one in a five part series. Counting down to the draft on April 27, Blogging The Boys will be presenting profiles on the top 5 biggest steals and worst disappointments in Cowboys draft history.
Biggest steal nominee #1: Chad Hennings, selected in the 11th round of the 1988 draft.
Chad Hennings entered the Air Force Academy out of high school as one of the nation's top defensive lineman. While at Air Force, he was named the defensive player of the year in the Western Athletic Conference. He was also a recipient of the 1987 Outland Trophy as the top defensive lineman in the nation. Hennings' size (6-6, 291) combined his athletic ability and work ethic made him a top NFL prospect leading up to the NFL draft. Unfortunately, he faced a five-year commitment to the Air Force; this would scare nearly all teams away from drafting him.
Tex Shramm and Gil Brandt had once before made a succesful commitment to a player from a military academy (Roger Staubach) and were convinced that drafting Hennings would pay off as well. He was selected by the Cowboys in the 11th round of the 1988 draft and prompty departed for military service. He would eventually become the pilot of an A-10 thunderbolt and fly missions over Iraq in support of humanitarian aid and relief.
Leading up to the 1992 draft, the Cowboys learned that Hennings would be leaving the service early and worked out for the team. The Cowboys coaches and excutives running the team at the time were not the ones that drafted him and were ecstatic at what had fallen into their laps. After seeing him work out that spring, defensive line coach Butch Davis exclaimed, "We just got ourselves another No. 1 draft pick."
Hennings would help provide the foundation to one the best defensive line rotations in football, contributing to the top ranked defenses of the early nineties and winning three Super Bowls. While his play on the field was top-notch, it was his attitude, character and leadership that helped lead the team to wins. Coming into the league as a 27 year old rookie he became a mentor to the younger players on the team and demanded accountability on the field from those around him.
Hennings would play nine years with the Cowboys and retire following the 2000 season, finishing with 27.5 career sacks. As the Cowboys started to lose players on the team with the leadership and maturity of Hennings, the winning days came to an end. When he retired he was one of the few remaining examples on the team of the type of player needed to win a championship. He was inducted into the college football Hall of Fame in 2006, and currently tours the country as a consultant and motivational speaker.
Worst disappointment nominee #1: Shante Carver, selected #23 overall in the first round of the 1994 draft
Seeking to bolster a defensive line that was on the verge of falling apart through free agency, the Dallas Cowboys made a desperation move in the 1994 NFL draft. Sitting with the #28 pick in the draft the Cowboys were scared they would be unable to get the defensive player they needed and chose to make a trade with San Francisco to move up into the 23rd spot. The Cowboys then drafted Shante Carver, an undersized defensive end out of Arizona state.
The Cowboys hoped that Carver's speed would make up for his lack of size. Unfortunately, his play on the field was sub-par and well below the level the Cowboys enjoyed during the Super Bowl years. As the Cowboys lost various starters to free agency and injury, Carver was never able to elevate his game and take their spot. His high stance and inability to adjust his game left him vulnerable to getting stood up at the line of scrimmage by offenses and negate any pass rush the Cowboys hoped to achieve. His only year as a full time starter in 1997, Carver anchored one the worst defensive lines in the NFL as the defensive ends totaled only 11 sacks for the entire season. Offenses would use one lineman to block out Carver and could devote double teams to interior veterans Tony Casillas and Chad Hennings.
While his play on the field left much to be desired for a first round draft pick, it was his conduct off the field that would be his undoing. During his rookie season Carver was charged with leaving the scene of an accident after wrecking his truck and fleeing. With suspicions of alcohol abuse surrounding the incident Carver entered the NFL's substance abuse program in 1994. Coming off a Super Bowl victory in 1995, rumors started to circulate that he was the latest Cowboy to violate the league's policy and would be suspended for the season. The league only suspended him for the first six games of the season, but the damage was done. Despite numerous statement that the bad times were over, the alcohol problems continued to haunt him. The Cowboys looked to clean up the image of the team and after his disappointing 1997 season the Cowboys released Carver, who never played with an NFL team again.