Who are the 10 best Dallas Cowboy players of all time?
Of all the Cowboys greats, how do you rank the top 10? Statistics? Championships? See how we’ve ranked the top 10 Cowboys in franchise history.
Since their beginning with the NFL in 1960, the Cowboys have had their fair share of memorable players. Ranking the top 10 is not an easy task. It’s easy to think of 10 great Cowboys players throughout their history, but putting them in order is another story. I tried to take into account their impact on the team as well as their character, but there are perhaps one or two on the list whose character COULD be considered questionable (I won’t say who). If the impact was still great and the accomplishments were plenty, I just couldn’t leave them off the list.
Runner-up: Tony Romo
I also have to mention that Tony Romo would have made the list if it were a top 15, so we’ll give him an honorable mention. Though he was one of the more controversial quarterbacks and didn’t get the Cowboys any Super Bowl rings, he set all kinds of franchise records in passing yards, touchdowns, QB ratings, game-winning drives, and fourth-quarter comebacks. Statistically speaking, he’s better than even Staubach and Aikman…but well, some bobbled snaps and non-catches really overshadowed all of that. And that’s why he didn’t make my top ten, but should at least be part of the conversation. All right now, on with those who did make the list.
10 - Jason Witten
Tight End - 2003-2017, 2019
Maybe Jason Witten is not a name you expect to hear when thinking of the all-time greatest Cowboys players. But let’s just look at his career as a Cowboy. Throughout his entire stint with the Cowboys, he was the most reliable and consistent player on the team. He became the 12th player and second tight end in NFL history to join the 1,000 catch club. He wasn’t just consistent - he was durable. Helmet came off? No problem - Witten will run the ball down to the end zone anyway. Broken jaw? ’Tis but a flesh wound. Jason Witten was tough, and he was a big reason the Cowboys stayed relevant in the early to mid 2000s. And talk about character! This guy is one of the all-around nicest and you’d never see him throwing a tantrum on the sidelines if a play didn’t go his way. Not a diva. Just a hard worker and a dedicated player. Not to mention, he started a foundation called SCORE which provides mentors to children escaping domestic violence in their families.
Accomplishments: Most receptions in a single game by a tight end (18), 2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, 4th in receptions in NFL history (1,228), Most consecutive games played by a tight end (235 - 243 including playoffs), Most consecutive games started by a tight end (179-186 including playoffs), Fastest tight end to make 600 receptions (125 games); Most career receptions of any Cowboy (1,215), Most career receiving yards of any Cowboy (12,977), Most receptions in a single game of any Cowboy (18), Most games played of any Cowboy (255), Most consecutive games started of any Cowboy (179), First tight end to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season of any Cowboy, First tight end to have at least 65 receptions in consecutive seasons of any Cowboy, First player in franchise history to score in 16 seasons
9 - Daryl “Moose” Johnston
Fullback - 1989-1999
Known as “Moose”, he was a stealthy fullback whose contributions to the Cowboys are more difficult to quantify. One thing is certain though. Emmitt Smith wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all he did without Moose on his team. As his lead blocker, Moose was a big reason Smith was able to get all those rushing yards. During his time as a Cowboy, Moose played in 149 consecutive games from 1989-1997 and scored 22 career touchdowns and 2,227 receiving yards. Before him, there was no fullback position in the Pro Bowl. It is because of him that the NFL added the position to the Pro Bowl and Moose played in it twice in 1993 and 1994. He also helped the Cowboys along to three Super Bowl titles.
Accomplishments: Three Super Bowl rings, created the fullback position in the Pro Bowl, two-time Pro Bowler, one of only five Cowboys to have at least one TD catch in each of his first 10 years in the league (and only fullback in the league to accomplish that)
8 - Randy White
Defensive Tackle - 1975-1988
Pro Football Hall of Fame 1994
Appropriately nicknamed “The Manster” - half man/half monster, Randy White was one of the most intimidating forces to be reckoned with on defense during his time. After wasting a few years trying to make Randy White a linebacker, the Cowboys finally figured out that this man belongs as a defensive tackle. He was tough, he was motivated, he was competitive, and he was ruthless. Whatever offensive lineman dare get in his way was immediately dominated by The Manster.
Accomplishments: Nine-time All-Pro team member, nine-time Pro Bowl player, co-MVP of Super Bowl XII (with Harvey Martin), NFC Defensive Player of the Year (1978), played in three Super Bowls, six NFC Championship Games, and accumulated 1,104 tackles and 111 sacks
7 - Drew Pearson
Wide Receiver - 1973-1984
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2021
During his time with the Cowboys, Drew Pearson was mister clutch, He was one of the best wide receivers in the league. He was Roger Staubach’s favorite target and who could forget the famous Hail Mary connection in that 1975 playoff against the Minnesota Vikings?? For four seasons in a row, Pearson led the team in receiving yards and receptions and had two 1,000-yard campaigns. Keep in mind, this was in the 1970s, when passing offenses weren’t the high-powered attacks they are today. By the end of his career, Pearson had become the third Cowboy to surpass 7,000 career yards and the first Cowboy to ever reach 8,000 scrimmage yards. He was with the Cowboys for 11 seasons and started the tradition of only the greats rocking number 88 to do him justice. Following Pearson, Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant, and now CeeDee Lamb have worn number 88.
Accomplishments: He and Tony Hill became the first WR tandem in Cowboys history to record 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the same year, NFL leader in receiving yards in 1977 (870), NFL Man of the Year 1980, three Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro honors, one Super Bowl title
6 - Tony Dorsett
Running back - 1977-1988
Pro Football Hall of Fame 1994
Drafted as the Cowboys second overall choice in 1977, Tony Dorsett did not disappoint. From the start, he was setting records. He rushed for 1,007 yards and 12 touchdowns in his rookie season, winning Rookie of the Year and set a Cowboys rookie record as the only player to rush more than 1,000 yards in a rookie season. He has since been surpassed only by running back Ezekiel Elliott (in 2016 - Dorsett held that record for 39 years). He helped get the Cowboys to the Super Bowl two years in a row, with one victory. He had two huge years in 1980 and 1981, breaking a franchise record in 81 with 1,646 yards. By the time he played his final season with the Cowboys, Dorsett was ranked second in the NFL all-time rushing list. Even the great Roger Staubach refers to Tony Dorsett as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, and I don’t disagree.
Accomplishments: 1977 Offensive Rookie of the Year, second in NFL all-time rushing in 1988 (12,396 yards), 9th all-time leader in rushing yards to this day, broke the NFL record for longest run from scrimmage (99-yard TD; Derrick Henry tied it in 2018), four-time Pro Bowler, one All-Pro honor, three All-NFC selections, one Super Bowl title
5 - Michael Irvin
Wide Receiver - 1988-1999
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2007
They don’t call him the Playmaker for nothing. The Cowboys were coming off a few losing seasons when they drafted Michael Irvin in 1988 and he was just what they needed. He was tough and he could handle the big cornerbacks and make the difficult catches. By 1991, he led the NFL in receiving yards and went to the Pro Bowl five years in a row. His teammates would tell you he was one of the most dedicated and hardest working players on the team. Though he was controversial off the field, as a part of the team, he was a leader and his impact is undeniable. He played a huge part in the three Super Bowls the Cowboys made it to in a four-year span. He was a part of the triplets, and so he must be included in this list.
Accomplishments: eighth-most 100-yard receiving games (47) in NFL history, five-time Pro Bowler (two more tan any other WR in franchise history), Pro Bowl MVP 1992, six division titles with the Cowboys, three Super Bowls titles
Michael Irvin | The Playmaker pic.twitter.com/TEQItYYPJw— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) March 6, 2020
4 - Troy Aikman
Quarterback - 1989-2000
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2006
Accuracy. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of Troy Aikman. He could always find his men on the field and is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. He is only the third player in league history to lead a team to three Super Bowl victories. He’s the all-time leading passer in Cowboys history. He did what Tony Romo was unable to do and that was help the Cowboys get winning seasons. So even though their numbers don’t compare, football is about winning, and that’s what Aikman did. The triplets wouldn’t be who they were without their backbone, Troy Aikman.
Accomplishments: Six Pro Bowls, Cowboys record holder for postseason pass attempts (502), completions (320), yards (3,849), and completion percenAGE (63.7%), three Super Bowl titles, MVP Super Bowl XXVII
3 - Emmitt Smith
Running back - 1990-2002
Pro Football Hall of Fame 2010
The all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith no doubt belongs in the top three. Smith was unstoppable. He wasn’t a showy running back, but he always broke through and got those yards. And he was tough. Remember when he dislocated his shoulder during a game against the Giants in 1993 and then went on to basically beat them all on his own, with 32 runs for 170 yards, 10 catches for 62 yards, and all of that done with one arm? Yeah, that’s the kind of player Emmitt Smith was and that’s why he belongs right here at number three. He completed the triplets and it’s a shame he ever left the Cowboys.
Accomplishments: NFL record holder for career rushing yards (18,355), lead RB with 164 career rushing TDs, one of only four players in NFL history to get over 21,000 combined yards, NFL all-time leader in rushing attempts (4,409), only player to post three seasons with 19 or more TDs, and holds the record for most games in a season with a TD and most games in a season with a rushing TD (15), most rushing yards in a postseason (1,586), three Super Bowl titles, Super Bowl MVP (XXVIII, the only Cowboys RB to ever win that award)
2 - Bob Lilly
Defensive Tackle - 1961-1974
Pro Football Hall of Fame 1980
Mr. Cowboy! He took the Cowboys from nothing to something. He never missed a single regular season game and he played in 11 Pro Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Cowboys. He was dominant, he was unstoppable, and he was solid. Sometimes he’d have three players on him and they STILL couldn’t block him. In 1971, the Cowboys went to the Super Bowl and won it over the Miami Dolphins 24-3 and it was Lilly’s 29-yard sack of Bob Griese that is still remembered today. He’s known for being agile and quick and that led to him scoring four defensive touchdowns during his career.
Accomplishments: Rookie of the Year 1961, seven-time All-Pro, 11 Pro Bowls, NFL 1960s All-Decade Team, NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, one Super Bowl victory (the Cowboys’ first ever)
Cowboys’ first Super Bowl win: Jan. 16, 1972. Bob Lilly sacks Bob Griese on third-and-9 for a 30-yard loss pic.twitter.com/qJnGLAXjAo— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 27, 2020
1 - Roger Staubach
Quarterback - 1969-1979
Pro Football Hall of Fame 1985
Roger Staubach is a Dallas Cowboys legend. Before he joined the team, he won the Heisman in college and then served the country in Vietnam. He was a hero to every team he was a part of. He led the Cowboys to four Super Bowl appearances and two victories. Everything that was good about Aikman was all of that and then some with Staubach. He was determined, competitive, and he was a leader - everything you’d want in a Cowboy. We cannot talk about Staubach without talking about his fourth-quarter comebacks. He became known as “Captain Comeback” in 1972 in the playoffs, when he had his first of 23 fourth-quarter comebacks. He was clutch and if there was any chance of winning at all, no matter how slim, he’d find it and he would win it. Not only that but he was also good at scrambling and some referred to him as “Roger the Dodger”. He was accurate and he was determined and he is without a doubt my number one choice for best Cowboys player of all time.
Accomplishments: Six Pro Bowls, NFL Player’s Association MVP 1971, second-most passing yards in a single season (22,700), leads the team in career average of 7.67 yards per attempt, 23 fourth-quarter comebacks, coined the term “Hail Mary” with Drew Pearson, Golden Plate Award 1976. three championship berths, two Super Bowl victories
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