From Staubach To Pat Riley (Yes, That Pat Riley), The Highs & Lows Of Cowboys Drafts

Written By Tyler Andrews on April 24, 2022 - Last Updated on April 25, 2022
Cowboys NFL Draft history

For three days, the eyes of the NFL world will be on Las Vegas to celebrate and/or bemoan their teams’ futures.

With an NFL Draft class that most consider having depth at all positions (except QB), plenty of blue-chip options mean the first couple of rounds will be full of exciting picks.

The Dallas Cowboys have the 24th pick in the Draft. Will they shore up the offensive line, fill one of their receiver holes, or set their sights on an edge rusher? We’ll know soon enough.

While the 2022 NFL Draft is getting you excited for the new season, hope is alive for legalized Texas sports betting in the distant future. While it won’t happen in time for the coming season, it will be a focus of the next legislative session.

When and if Texas gets sports betting, the Cowboys will no doubt be a driving force for the behemoth market.

Before that, let’s look at some previous Dallas Draft picks. Some of the best, some of the worst, and some of the most curious — to get your minds back on football.

The good picks

1977, Tony Dorsett — 2nd overall pick

Dorsett won the Heisman at Pittsburgh, which is no clear mark of NFL potential (think Andre Ware, Eric Crouch or even Reggie Bush).

He was also considered on the small side by scouts at the combine; however, it’s hard to argue anyone was or has been more consistent as a running back in Dallas than Dorsett.

In the 10 years he spent with the Cowboys, he averaged 1,000+ yards in all but three of them. He helped them win Super Bowl XII and landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Emmitt Smith might be a more obvious RB pick here — he is the NFL’s leading rusher after all — but we’re giving Dorsett the love for being the trailblazer.

1961, Don Lilly — 13th overall pick

In their second year of existence, the Cowboys selected the TCU All American in the first round.

While the Cowboys only won one Super Bowl during Lilly’s career, Lilly racked up an incredible stat line at both defensive tackle and defensive end and started in 196 straight games.

Lilly missed only one regular-season game in his career, made the NFL All-Decade team in both the 1960s and 70s, and his nickname “Mr. Cowboy” perhaps says all that’s needed to say about this defensive force of the Cowboys’ early years.

1964, Roger Staubach — 129th overall pick

The legends of players that emerge from the late rounds of the draft and rise to NFL glory (Tom Brady, Shannon Sharpe, Bart Starr, Terrell Davis) are among the best in the game.

Staubach, a product of the Navy, arrived in Dallas at a time when the fledgling Cowboys had established themselves as a formidable franchise. Fans though would have to wait a further five years for Staubach to make his debut.

His military obligations as a Navy grad kept him off the field until 1969, but his return ushered in the first Cowboys dynasty in one of the greatest decades in NFL history.

Staubach in Dallas and Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh duked it out for the next decade, and while the Cowboys fell twice to Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl, Staubach brought two Super Bowl trophies to Dallas and solidified the dynasty.

Moreover, his career cemented the idea of Dallas Cowboys Quarterback as a rarefied title in professional sports.

The bad eggs

1997, David LaFleur — 22nd overall pick

In the 1990s, there weren’t many tight ends raking in receptions like there are today. Jay Novacek defined that role for the league, and his connection with Troy Aikman during the ’90s dynasty gave the team a dimension that NFL defenses couldn’t handle.

With LaFleur, Aikman essentially picked Novacek’s replacement, expecting him to find the same success over the middle as Novacek. However, the LSU grad racked up only 85 catches in 60 games and 12 total touchdowns in his four-year career.

2008, Felix Jones — 22nd overall pick

Maybe the 22nd pick is cursed or maybe it’s a coincidence. Either way, Jones arrived in Dallas from the University of Arkansas and was expected to produce.

His first game started auspiciously with a kickoff return for a TD, but the hype faded fast after that run. He played a full season twice in his Cowboys career, and his injuries ultimately lost him the starting running back position to rookie Demarco Murray.

Jones settled in as a kick returner and backup RB, which is not what a team’s looking for from their first-round pick.

2017, Taco Charlton — 27th overall pick

Most Cowboys fans are looking squarely at one person for this pick: former defensive coordinator, Rod Marinelli. Marinelli was given a lot — too much, even — control over their draft picks in those years, and this pick was met with the immediate rage that most people associate with draft day despair.

The Cowboys needed a pass rusher, and the options were on the board (Kevin King, Charles Harris) for the Cowboys at 27. King or Harris would have been a good fit, but the other guy the Cowboys yearned for, T.J. Watt, would never fall that low. Or would he?

Incredibly, Watt, the dominant Wisconsin pass rusher, was on the board for Dallas.

A no-brainer pick.

The kind that turns the tides of a franchise.

A gift from the gods.

But, as Marinelli would have it, Taco Charlton’s name was called.

Marinelli, particularly, liked the look of the guy and somehow convinced enough people to step over Watt and sign Charlton. He lasted two seasons, posting meager numbers before he was waived. T.J. Watt, though. That guy can play.

The strange

1967, Pat Riley — 285th overall pick

Slicked-back hair. Great suits. Showtime. The Lakers.

Yes, that Pat Riley.

The Cowboys took the Kentucky Wildcats basketball standout thinking they could turn him into a receiver.

This was the kind of move Gil Brandt, Cowboys VP, thought could set the Cowboys apart.

Well, Riley never suited up for the Cowboys. Instead, he went to the San Diego Rockets as the 7th-overall pick in the 1967 NBA Draft.

1984, Carl Lewis — 332nd overall pick

Another yes, it’s the same guy pick.

Track athletes transitioning to the NFL isn’t that strange.

The Cowboys had done it 20 years before, in fact, with Olympic track athlete Bob Hayes. However, Lewis didn’t take the offer.

It seemed a risk/reward question for Lewis, who knew his greatest successes were on the track and not the gridiron. Nine gold medals suggest he made the right choice.

Still, can you imagine him streaking by a DB? It would’ve been a thing of beauty.

Photo by Ray Stubblebine/Associated Press
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Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for PlayTexas, covering sports, sports law and gambling for the Lone Star State. He has also covered similar topics for a number of Catena Media's regional sites including NCSharp, PlayCA, PlayFL, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler is a Texas resident and currently specializes in covering gambling legislation and news in emerging US markets.

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