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Hidden gems: Cowboys’ draft history of diamonds in the rough

Talent isn't always found at the top of the totem pole.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft is one epic saga of surprise-riddled revelations. Aside from the event’s first few selections, fans can hardly construct accurate predictions of what’s going to happen at any given moment. And oftentimes, big boards will undergo tremendous shakeups as “best available” prospects begin to slide down the ladder, and lesser-heralded prospects find themselves in precarious positions they couldn’t have dreamt of heading into the event.

Every year, certain underrated novices burst onto the scene with shocking displays of brilliance that even the best scouts in the business couldn’t have foreseen. The Cowboys have had more than their fair share of players who fit into this category.

For every CeeDee Lamb, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith that’s waltzed through the franchise’s revolving door, there’s been a Dak Prescott, Jay Ratliff and Tony Romo that have provided laudable contributions. The team’s history is chock-full of late-round selections with similar contributions that can attest to patiently waiting for the call of a lifetime on draft day.

So don’t fret Cowboys fans. If you weren’t satisfied with last night’s selection of Micah Parsons, the team still has abundant opportunities (including an extra pick acquired last night) to capitalize on the copious talent that remains available.

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a blast to the past then, shall we? Star-caliber talent has emerged before in later rounds for the ‘Boys, and it’s bound to happen to again.

Here are some of the men who didn’t need a prompt election to carve out substantial careers in the silver and blue.

Jay Ratliff

Dallas Cowboys v Carolina Panthers Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Sir Jay was the 222nd selection of the seventh round back in 2005. But despite being the squad’s final choice that year, Ratliff was far from “Mr. Irrelevant” to the franchise.

In fact, he was one of the scariest defensive tackles to match up against during his heyday, with a strength and tenacity to complement an iron-man like physical health that saw him nominated to four straight Pro Bowls from 2008-11. Ratliff recorded 27 sacks through his eight-year tenure with Dallas before finishing out his career with the Bears.

George Andrie

Dallas Cowboys Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Andrie made a habit of giving quarterbacks rude awakenings in the backfield during the late 1960’s. At 6’6 and 260 lbs, Andrie was more than a handful to deal with for opposing adversaries and quickly established himself as a brutish stalwart who became a fixture in what was Dallas’ “Doomsday Defense.”

“Almost never was” though, is a label that perfectly encapsulates his career. In fact, he wasn’t even on several NFL squads’ radars after an idle senior campaign at Marquette, but player personnel director Gil Brandt saw something unmistakably extraordinary in him, prompting the team to take him with its sixth-round choice. Five straight Pro Bowls later (which included an unofficial 18.5 sack campaign 1966), it’s probably safe to say that Brandt bet correctly.

Roger Staubach

Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Well folks, let me stop the presses here. We have a GOAT alert. Yes, the man whom many consider to be the greatest to call signals for the Cowboys, who’s arguably enjoyed the most decorated career at the Star, and who owns the title as the original “Captain America”, was not taken until the 10th round of the 1964 draft.

Tabbed as a “future” selection after fulfilling his four-year military commitment as a graduate of the Naval Academy (he would’ve become ineligible had the team been forced to wait) Staubach began his tenure as a 27-year-old rookie. Age must’ve worked in his favor though, because Staubach swiftly burst onto the mainstage as an NFL mainstay, leading the league in passer rating four times, touchdowns in 1973, and collecting six Pro Bowl recognitions. Then of course, there’s his immortalization with a HoF bust in Canton. Not too shabby for an old man by football standards.

Rayfield Wright

1972 NFC Divisional Playoff Game - Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers - December 23, 1972

You’ve done something right in the league if you can waltz off into the sunset with a dazzling gold jacket draped across your back after the culmination of your playing days, and Rayfield Wright was the king of doing right. He was originally a seventh-round choice from small-town DII Fort Valley State in 1967, but he sure didn’t play like it.

The “Big Cat” became a massive cog in Dallas’ Super Bowl runs during the 1970’s, ensuring Roger Staubach remained untouched en route to six Pro Bowls, and inclusion on the 70’s All-Decade team.

Leon Lett

Super Bowl XXVII - Dallas Cowboys v Buffalo Bills

A couple unfortunate blunders may be the lowlights that Leon Lett is most remembered for, but the breadth of his career solidified him as an irreplaceable centerpiece to the ‘Boys dynasties of the 90’s. He was a two-time Pro Bowler at the right and left defensive tackle slots, and played in 121 total contests for Dallas from 1991-2000.

“Bullet” Bob Hayes

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

“Bullet” was the nickname given to Olympic champion Bob Hayes for his faster than a speeding bullet fleet-footedness. And for those who doubted whether or not his turbo-charged stride would translate to the gridiron with a few extra pounds in the form of a helmet and shoulder pads, Hayes was oftentimes already in the end zone before they could finish their resignation-filled sentences.

Hayes blasted numerous rookie receiving records as soon as he arrived in D-Town, and quickly became one of Staubach’s favorite targets once the two were able to link up. He led all eligible practitioners in receiving yards twice, and was a two-time second-team All-Pro selection, which complemented three straight Pro Bowls from 1965-67. After decades of dormancy from the limelight, Hayes was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2009.

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