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Top 20 Defenders In Cowboys History (BOTB Pt. 5)

We've reached the fifth stop along BTB's Best Of The Best tour, and it's time to divulge the defensive player pool that we'll be using in our All-Time Cowboys Fantasy competition. The Cowboys have enjoyed the blessings of some of the NFL's premiere defensive talent, at every level of the defense. For every Cowboys defensive star of the last 25 years, you can find his equal or superior in the annals of the previous quarter century. Tom Landry, the patriarch to all things Cowboys, came to the team as a former defensive coordinator and mastermind, so it should be no surprise how inventive he was in putting various talents in the position to succeed.

Subjectively ranking these all-time greats might be an exercise in futility. Fortunately, we won't have to do that as we will again turn to Pro Football Focus' Approximate Value metric to help move us along. As a recap, here's a brief explanation of the metric from it's creator, Doug Drinen.

"AV is not meant to be a be-all end-all metric. Football stat lines just do not come close to capturing all the contributions of a player the way they do in baseball and basketball. If one player is a 16 and another is a 14, we can't be very confident that the 16AV player actually had a better season than the 14AV player. But I am pretty confident that the collection of all players with 16AV played better, as an entire group, than the collection of all players with 14AV."

For the full explanation of AV, you can go here. We'll only be focusing on AV's accrued while in a Cowboys uniform.

The defensive player pool will be used in conjunction with the following selection pools for our exercise. Click on each header to revisit the cutdowns.

Offensive Schemes | Defensive Schemes | QB's and Offensive Players |

(reminder: Ernie Zampese won the poll, but for diversity the fourth offensive scheme will be Sean Payton)

Follow the jump for the defensive player pool, highlighted by the Top 20 Defenders in Cowboys history.


Rank Player Played From Played To Cowboys AV
20 EdgRshr DeMarcus Ware 2005 2010 74
19 CB Everson Walls 1981 1989 78
18 LB Bob Breunig 1975 1984 80
17 SS Charlie Waters 1970 1981 81
16 LB DD Lewis 1968 1981 82
15 EdgRshr Greg Ellis 1998 2008 85
14 EdgRshr Larry Cole 1968 1980 87
13 EdgRshr George Andrie 1962 1971 95
12 LB Dave Edwards 1963 1975 96
11 SS Darren Woodson 1992 2003 99


10. ER Harvey 'Too Mean' Martin

Martin played for the franchise from 1973-1983. Cowboys Career AV 100. Four time Pro Bowler, one time First Team All-Pro. 1977 Defensive Player of the Year, 1977 Super Bowl co-MVP (Randy White). Apepared in three Super Bowls, winning one. Played in era when sacks weren't official stats. Led team in sacks seven times. Holds team record for sacks as a rookie (8), single season (23) and career (114). Played in North Texas from high school through retirement.

9. FS Cliff 'Captain Crash' Harris

Harris played for the Cowboys from 1970-1979. Career AV 103. Six Time Pro Bowler, three time First-Team All-Pro. In Cowboys Ring of Honor. Played in five Super Bowls, winning two. One of the original Cowboys UDFA finds. A hard hitting free safety, Harris is often credited as being the mold other teams tried to build their free safety from.

8. DL Jethro Pugh

Pugh played for the Cowboys from 1965-1978, the fourth longest career in Cowboys history. Career AV 107. Pugh played in five SB's, winning two. Led NFL in fumble recoveries in 1967 with four.Led Cowboys in sacks each season from 1968-1973, ended his career with 95.5 unofficial QB takedowns.

7. CB/S Cornell 'Sweet Lips' Green

Green suited up for the club from 1962-1974. He amassed a Cowboys Career AV of 126. Five time Pro Bowler, three time First Team All-Pro. Played in two Super Bowls, winning one. He was one of the original conversions from basketball player to football star. Green never missed a game in his entire career, starting each game from 1962-1974.Led team in interceptions four times, a tribute to his amazing ball hawk abilities as he defended numerous other passes.

6. LB Lee Roy 'Killer' Jordan

Jordan played for the Cowboys from 1963-1976. Career AV 129. Five time Pro Bowler, one time First-Team All-Pro. Played in three Super Bowls, winning one. In Cowboys Ring Of Honor. Retired as franchise's all-time leader in solo tackles (now 2nd). Landry's defensive captain, demanded a film projector as part of his contract so he could study game film. On November 4, 1973 intercepted Bengal QB Ken Anderson three times in a span of five minutes, including a TD return. Intercepted 32 passes in his career, tied for third most as a linebacker.

5. OLB Chuck Howley

Howley played for the Cowboys from 1961-1972. Cowboy Career AV 132 (136 overall). Six time Pro Bowler, five time First-Team All-Pro. In Cowboys Ring Of Honor. Played in two Super Bowls, winning one. 1970 Super Bowl MVP, first defensive player ever to win it, and still only winner from losing team. Howley was originally drafted by Chicago and played two seasons before suffering what was thought to be a career ending knee injury. He played an alumni game at West Virginia and Tom Landry took a gamble and traded for him. He'd play another 12 seasons. Returned a fumble 97 yards for a score in '66.

4. DL Ed 'Too Tall' Jones

Too Tall played for the Cowboys from 1974-1989, longest Cowboys career by a defender. Cowboys Career AV of 133. Three time Pro Bowler, one time First-Team All-Pro. Career 1-2 in Super Bowls. First overall choice in the 1974 draft. Took a brief hiatus from football to be a pro boxer, going 5-0 including a victory over future heavyweight champion Fernando Montes, Teammate of both Bob Lilly and Troy Aikman. 106 career sacks (unofficial).

3. CB Mel Renfro

Renfro played for the Cowboys from 1964-1977. Career Cowboys AV of 149. Inducted into Ring of Honor in 1981. Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1996. 10 time Pro Bowler (each of his first 10 seasons(, one time First-Team All-Pro. Four Super Bowl appearances, winning two.  Led league in punt and kick returns in rookie season. Led league with 10 interceptions in 1969, 52 for his career.

2. Randy 'The Manster' White

White played for the Cowboys from 1975-1988. Career AV 156. Inducted into the Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994. Nine time Pro Bowler (consecutive), seven time First-Team Al-Pro. 1977 Super Bowl co-MVP (Harvey Martin). Led league in single season AV with 17 in 1978. Played in 209 career games, missing only one. Played in three Super Bowls, winning one. Two time All-American in college (Go Terps!) 111 career sacks (unofficial) over 1100 career total tackles (701 solo).

1. Bob Lilly, "Mr. Cowboy"

Lilly played for the Cowboys from 1961-1974. Career AV of 175. Inducted into Ring of Honor in 1975 and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980. 11 time Pro Bowler (10 straight from '64-'73), seven time First-Team All-Pro. Played in two Super Bowls, winning one. First draft pick in Cowboys history. Made the four-point stance famous. Regularly double and triple teamed once moved to defensive tackle. First member of Ring Of Honor. 196 consecutive regular season starts. Member of both 1960's and 1970's NFL All-Decade teams.


The rest of the Defensive Player Pool

Player Played From Played To
CB Benny Barnes 1973 1982
CB Deion Sanders 1995 1999
CB Dennis Thurman 1978 1985
CB Don Bishop 1960 1965
CB Kevin Smith 1992 1999
CB Larry Brown 1991 1995
CB Terence Newman 2003 2010
DL Chad Hennings 1992 2000
DL Jay Ratliff 2005 2010
DL Jim Jeffcoat 1983 1994
DL John Dutton 1979 1987
DL La’Roi Glover 2002 2005
DL Leon Lett 1992 2000
DL Marcus Spears 2005 2010
DL Russell Maryland 1991 1995
DL Tony Casillas 1991 1997
DL Tony Tolbert 1989 1997
EdgRshr Anthony Spencer 2007 2010
EdgRshr Charles Haley 1992 1996
EdgRshr Pat Toomay 1970 1974
FS Ken Hamlin 2007 2009
FS Michael Downs 1981 1988
FS Mike Gaetcher 1962 1969
LB Bradie James 2003 2010
LB Dat Nguyen 1999 2005
LB Dexter Coakley 1997 2004
LB Eugene Lockhart 1984 1990
LB Ken Norton 1989 1993
LB Mike Hegman 1976 1987
LB Randal Godfrey 1996 1999
LB Thomas Henderson 1975 1979
SS James Washington 1990 1994
SS Roy Williams 2002 2008



Position Player
P P Mat McBriar
P P Toby Gowin
P P Mike Saxon
P P John Jett
STS ST Bill Bates
STS ST Keith Davis
STS ST Kenny Gant
STS ST Coach Joe Avazanno
K K Rafael Septien
K K Billy Cundiff
K K Chris Boniol
K K Richie Cunningham
K K Nick Folk
K K David Beuhler
LS Dale Hellestrae
LS LP Ladoceur
LS Jeff Robinson
LS Tom Rafferty

Player Pool Notes: Since we'll have various defensive schemes, some positional freedom must be allowed. After a few revisions, it seems the best way to categorize defenders is as follows: Front Five (DL +Edge Rushers), Linebackers, Cornerbacks, Free and Strong Safeties. I've also included the Special Teams on the defensive side, though they were not eligible for this top 20 list. Each of our GM's will include one each of the following on their rosters: Punter, Kicker, Special Teams Specialist, Long Snapper.

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