[This offseason, four BTB writers set out on a unique exercise: From a list of over 130 Cowboys players, each writer selected a team of all-time Cowboys greats through a fantasy-style draft. Starting today, each writer profiles his team and the rationale for picking the way he did. After that, the four teams - composed entirely of former and current Cowboys players - will face off in a round robin tournament in which the BTB community gets to vote on the winner. Finally, the two best teams face off in the Ultimate Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl.]
How do you go about drafting a team made up entirely of Cowboys greats? For me, the answer to that was fairly simple: you start with the numbers.
Looking at the number of players available from the storied history of the Dallas Cowboys, it quickly became clear to me that the offenses for every one of the four teams were going to be offensive juggernauts because the depth at the offensive skill positions is just incredible. Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Bullet Bob Hayes, Terrell Owens, Drew Pearson, Terry Glenn, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett and many other players available meant that each team would be a threat, especially through the air.
So my strategy in building my team was clear, I had to make sure I was in a position to take away the other teams' passing game - or at least make it as difficult as possible. As a result, seven of my first eight picks were on defense, as I set out to assemble easily the most daunting defense in this all-Cowboys, all-time fantasy draft.
I quickly saw that the least depth among all defensive positions, or the biggest drop in quality, was among the safeties. After all, would you really want Ken Hamlin as your free safety against some of the all-time Cowboys greats offensive players (good luck with that KD)?
So I set out to draft the best secondary possible. For the draft, we used Career Approximate Value from Pro Football Reference to determine the value of a player. In the table below, I've listed the available players, their Career AV, and highlighted my picks in yellow.
|Player||Years with Cowboys||Career AV||Player||Years with Cowboys||Career AV||Player||Years with Cowboys||Career AV|
|CB/S Mel Renfro||64-1977||149||FS Cliff Harris||1970-1979||103||SS Darren Woodson||1992-2003||99|
|CB Deion Sanders||1995-1999||147||FS Brock Marion||1993-1997||71||SS Charlie Waters||1970-1981||81|
|CB/S Cornell Green||1962-1974||126||FS Michael Downs||1981-1988||60||SS Roy Williams||2002-2008||73|
|CB Everson Walls||1981-1989||100||FS Ken Hamlin||2007-2009||47||SS James Washington||1990-1994||35|
|CB Terence Newman||2003-2010||58|
|CB Kevin Smith||1992-1999||40|
|CB Don Bishop||1960-1965||38|
|CB Dennis Thurman||1978-1985||37|
|CB Larry Brown||1991-1995||32|
Deion Sanders is the definitive "shutdown corner," one of the speediest wideouts in history and a mesmerizing kick and punt returner. Sanders holds the NFL record with 19 returns for TDs, including nine INTs, six punts, three kickoffs and one fumble. His nine INT returns for TDs is tied for second all-time, behind only Rod Woodson (12). In 1996, Sanders even became a two-way contributor for the Cowboys, playing a full slate at CB and eight games as receiver in which he caught 36 passes for 475 yards and 1 TD.
FS Cliff 'Captain Crash' Harris is easily the best free safety to ever play for the Cowboys. He played in five Super Bowls, winning two, and is often credited as being the mold other teams tried to build their free safety from. I narrowly missed out on SS Darren Woodson to Kegbearer, but happily took Charlie Waters instead. Waters partnered with Captain Crash Harris in the '70s to form one of the most feared safety tandems of that era.
I rounded off my secondary with Everson Walls, one of the most feared cornerbacks in the league during his time and one of the early shutdown corners before Sanders locked down that title.
You can never have enough linebackers in a 3-4 defense. But in this case, I think even my DC Bill Parcells would run around screaming in delight like a little girl if he had ever had anything resembling my linebacker corps.
The Bard said "Cry, 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." I'll admit it's a little strange to give a nickname to a team unit in a fantasy draft, but I'm calling my linebackers The Dogs of War.
Chuck Howley may be the best linebacker to ever don a Cowboys uniform. In 1970, he was the Super Bowl MVP, first defensive player ever to win it, and to this day remains the only winner from the losing team. When he retired, Tom Landry said "I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody better at linebacker than Howley." Howley was a five-time first-team All-Pro and a six-time Pro Bowler. Playing next to Howley is Ken Norton.
At outside linebacker, I partnered future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware with his onetime bookend OLB, Greg Ellis. Ellis may be a little under appreciated in Cowboys circles, but the duo is the most successful pass rushing duo in Cowboys history. In 2008, they combined for a record 28 sacks between them, and led the team to a team record 59 sacks.
A shutdown secondary and an insane linebacking corps. Lord have mercy!
The defensive line talent was very deep, and I chose my players quite late, focusing on players who joined the Cowboys as free agents. As such, they may not have quite the same pedigree as some of the homegrown talent, but they are formidable linemen nonetheless. Also, with my linebacking corps in the 3-4 defense, I'm not going to ask for a lot of pass rushing from my defensive line. They need to stuff the run reliably, and that they can absolutely do.
The Cowboys traded a #1 and #2 pick for DE John Dutton, who at one point was considered the most dominant defensive lineman in the league, leading the Baltimore Colts with 17 sacks in 1975. He ended up playing for 9 years in Dallas from 79-87. My other DE, Tony Casillas, still holds the team record with 152 tackles for the Falcons, from where he moved to the Cowboys in 1991 and became part of the best defensive line in the league for three years before moving on to the Jets.
With those two playing DE, I put Russell Maryland in the middle as my NT. Maryland started for the Cowboys as defensive tackle from 1992-1995, winning three Super Bowl rings, before moving on to the Raiders.
I knew going in to the draft that I would be picking offensive players fairly late. So I needed to find that one guy who could make up for that and drafted Roger Staubach with my first pick. Staubach was described by Tom Landry as "possibly the best combination of a passer, an athlete and a leader to ever play in the NFL."
Staubach started eight seasons for the Cowboys (1971 and 1973-1979). In those eight seasons, he had a combined passer rating of 85.3. The NFL average passer rating during those exact same eight seasons was 62.3. Roger Staubach was indexing at 137 versus the NFL average, or in other words, he was 37% better than the average of all other quarterbacks playing at the same time. This index is about twice as high as the next best QB in Cowboys franchise history and better than any other QB who has ever played the game.
In 1971 Roger Staubach notched a season passer rating of 104.8, when the NFL average for qualified passers was 62.2. In percent, Staubach was 68% better than the league average, the best value achieved by any quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
These numbers show just how extraordinary a player Roger Staubach was (and how he is going to elevate my team's offense). Here's how he compares to some of the all-time great Cowboys and non-Cowboys at QB (* denotes a HOF QB):
|Roger Staubach*||71, 73-79||62.3||85.3||137|
|Primetime Troy Aikman*||91-96||75.3||88.9||118|
Offensive Skill Positions
At receiver I'm pairing Tony "The Thrill" Hill with Dez Bryant. Hill ranks second in receiving yards, third in receiving touchdowns and fourth in catches in Cowboys history. Hill was an explosive, big play wide receiver who will stretch the field and will be an absolute nightmare for teams with lesser safeties. Landry called him the teams' "Home run hitter. I’ve never seen a guy who could adjust to a ball in mid-air like Tony. He is a very explosive player; the type who can turn a short play into a big play in a hurry, because he has excellent running ability and speed."
And while the Bryant selection hurt me in total team AV, as a rookie, he remains one of the most exciting prospects the Cowboys have ever had at wideout. And to have Staubach throwing to those two guys ...
The Cowboys won Super Bowls with three running backs. One of them is my feature back. Not Smith, not Dorsett, but the lesser known Duane Thomas. Thomas set the league on fire in his short but troubled career, in which he ultimately let the NFL get to his head. But in his brief career, Thomas was simply awesome. In his 1970 rookie season he led the league with 5.3 YPA. In his second year, he led the league with 13 touchdowns and was denied the Super Bowl MVP because he had boycotted the media that entire season.
Complementing Thomas is Felix Jones, whom Garrett handpicked as the prototypical running back for his pass-heavy offense. Felix Jones, even though splitting duties as running back in 2010, caught 48 passes. It is perhaps worth noting that Tony Dorsett surpassed that mark only once in his entire career as the feature back, while Emmitt surpassed those receiving numbers in one remarkable stretch from 1991-1995, but never again after that. Rounding out my backfield is Herschel Walker, whom I plan to trade for a monster haul of trade picks.
At tight end I'm going with 70s legend Billy Joe Dupree, who still leads all Cowboys TEs with 41 TD receptions, and as the number two guy I have Doug Cosbie, who eventually replaced Dupree on the Cowboys roster.
My target here was to go for an athletic and fast line that would complement Garrett's passing game, thereby forsaking the less mobile roadgraders that have featured heavily in the Cowboys' lines over the years. Here's what the line looks like:
|Player||Mark Tuinei||Tony Liscio||Jim Cooper||Blaine Nye||Pat Donovan|
|Height, Weight||6-5, 302||6-5, 264||6-5, 262||6-4, 252||6-5, 253|
|Super Bowl Rings||3||1||1||1||1|
Granted, outside of Tuinei, all four players are not heavy enough by today's standards, but keep in mind that players weren't always as heavy as they are today. Here's an overview of how many rookies entered the NFL with a weight of more than 300 pounds (per profootballreference.com):
|Rookies > 300 lbs||0||1||55||355||560|
In 2010, the NFL drafted 57 players who weighed more than 300 pounds. That's more than the combined total of the three decades from 1960 to 1989. I'm pretty sure a NFL strength and conditioning coach could have gotten my guys up to around 300 pounds.
If we take Doug Free (6-6, 320) and Tyron Smith (6-5, 307) as the prototypical linemen Garrett wants in his offense, and my linemen bulk up to today's standards, there's reason to believe that this offense will carve up virtually any opponent.
After all, I've got Captain America under center.