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Cowboys Have Been Bandits Late In The Draft

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Despite being involved in two of the more infamous plays in team history, Leon Lett was a late-round steal in the 1991 draft for the Cowboys. Al Bello/Allsport.
Despite being involved in two of the more infamous plays in team history, Leon Lett was a late-round steal in the 1991 draft for the Cowboys. Al Bello/Allsport.

Finding gems in the later rounds of the NFL Draft is a must for any GM in the league, and there is evidence that many quality players can be found as the draft winds down. Over 40 players currently in the Hall of Fame were taken in the fifth round or later, and about a dozen were undrafted free agents.

Topping that list are quarterbacks George Blanda (12th, 1949), Johnny Unitas (9th, 1953) and Bart Starr (7th, 1956). TE Shannon Sharpe was a seventh-round pick of Denver in 1990, and DE Richard Dent was picked by the Bears in the eighth round in 1983.

The Dallas Cowboys have their fair share of late round Hall of Famers as well in a pair of late 1964 picks in QB Roger Staubach (10th) and WR Bob Hayes (7th), and the Cowboys also took OT Rayfield Wright in the seventh round of the 1967 NFL Draft.

Since taking over the team shortly before the 1989 draft, owner/GM Jerry Jones has seen the Cowboys have a modicum of success in finding those late-round diamonds in the rough. In 24 drafts, Dallas has eight players taken in the fifth round or later that have turned out to be steals; four of those came when Jimmy Johnson was the head coach and had a lot of influence in player selection.

After an 11-year drought in the late rounds, Jones has managed to find a few players late in the draft. Here are those players, in order of year drafted.

Kenneth Gant (1990, 9th round, 221st overall) S, Albany State

Gant earned the moniker “The Shark” due to his pre-kickoff dance routine, and was a quality special teams player. He also played a key role in the nickel defense, and was tied for the team lead in interceptions with three in 1992 while being a part of two championship teams.

Leon Lett (1991, 7th round, 173rd overall) DT, Emporia State

Lett, named “Big Cat”, blossomed in his second year and went on to be named to two Pro Bowls. He anchored the defensive line for all three Super Bowl teams and was a terror for opposing offenses when on the field.

Off-field issues led to several suspensions, and Lett was front and center for two of the biggest blunders in franchise history. In Super Bowl XXVII, Lett recovered a fumble and was on his way to a 65-yard touchdown return. But when Lett started showboating it allowed Don Beebe to catch him and strip the ball away for a touchback. Lett also tried to recover a blocked field goal during the 1993 Thanksgiving day game against the Dolphins that allowed Miami to get a second chance and win the game.

Larry Brown (1991, 12th round, 320th overall) CB Texas Christian

Brown got the MVP of Super Bowl XXX because Steelers QB Neil O’Donnell all but handed him the trophy and the Cowboys the game with one of the worst passes in Super Bowl history. But Brown was still a solid, if not a flashy cornerback, and he was a clear steal in the 12th round.

Brock Marion (1993, 7th round, 196th overall) S, Nevada

Marion was a backup to James Washington and a special teams player during his first two years, but when Washington departed in free agency, Marion stepped up and was a key cog in the teams’ last two Super Bowl wins. However, salary cap issues forced the Cowboys to reluctantly let Marion go.

Patrick Crayton (2004, 7th, 216th overall) WR, Northwestern Oklahoma State

Crayton would probably be among the top late-round picks in Cowboys history save for one playoff game. His numbers, while not gaudy, are solid for a career No. 2 receiver and, overall, he had a great six-year run in Dallas before going to San Diego. But a dropped pass that would have gone for a touchdown and a perceived lack of hustle on the next to last play that could have been the game-winning score in the 2007 divisional round playoff loss to the Giants that will forever haunt Crayton in Cowboys’ lore.

Jay Ratliff (2004, 7th round, 224th overall) DT, Auburn

Ratliff is still on the team, for now, and made four consecutive Pro Bowls — from 2008 to 2011 — since becoming the starting nose tackle in 2007. His fate with the team may hang with the fallout from an arrest for drunk driving in January of this year.

Nick Folk (2007, 6th round, 178th overall) PK, Arizona

Were it not for a hip injury Folk would likely still be the Cowboys placekicker going into 2013. In his first two years, Folk was money, going to the Pro Bowl after his rookie year and setting the Cowboys’ single-season scoring record for kickers at 131 points. But Folk rushed back too soon after injuring his hip and was cut late in the 2009 season. Folk is still in the NFL as a solid kicker with the Jets.

It is still too early to tell for the last two players on the list. Both Dwayne Harris, taken in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and James Hanna, taken in the same round last year, haven’t been on the team long enough, but both are showing promising signs that they will be key contributors for the Cowboys in the near future.