Best Draft of the Decade (1990s)

Here’s the third installment of our five-part series looking back at the best drafts by a team each decade.

Two weeks ago, we highlighted the 1974 draft of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their Hall of Fame selections of wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, middle linebacker Jack Lambert and center Mike Webster.

Last time out, it was the 1986 San Francisco 49ers draft that featured outside linebacker Charles Haley, wide receiver John Taylor, fullback Tom Rathman and cornerback Tim McKyer.

Now for our purposes, it is once again 10 years later and we’ll be picking another outstanding class from another franchise.

This time around, we’ll be looking at a group that helped a franchise win three NFL titles in four seasons.

1991 Dallas Cowboys

Anyone familiar with NFL history knows of “The Triplets.” But as everyone also knows, it takes more than three great players to build a championship team.

Still, three consecutive years brought three future Hall of Fame players to Dallas. In 1988, in what proved to the final season of the glorious Tom Landry Era, the Cowboys drafted wide receiver Michael Irvin in the first round. One year later, the Cowboys made quarterback Troy Aikman the first overall pick in the ’89 draft. In 1990 and off a forgettable 1-15 campaign, new head coach Jimmy Johnson and his staff would eventually make running back Emmitt Smith a first-round selection.

Speaking of Johnson, from nearly the moment he arrived in Dallas he was tinkering with a team that had gone 3-13 before his arrival. There was plenty of wheeling and dealing during those early years of the Jerry Jones Era. From the Herschel Walker trade with the Minnesota Vikings to the Steve Walsh deal with the New Orleans Saints, the D in Dallas stood for “Deal.”

Fast forward to 1991 and when you add up all of the eventual wheeling and dealing, Johnson, Jones and the Cowboys selected 18 players…kind of. With the first overall pick that year, they selected defensive tackle Russell Maryland (Miami, Fla.) and 11 picks later in the first round, snared big-play wideout Alvin Harper (Tennessee). Dallas actually made a third pick in the first round, selecting Mississippi defensive tackle Kelvin Pritchett with the 20th overall choice. But the Cowboys would deal his rights to the Detroit Lions for (you guessed it) more picks.

Russell Maryland

Along with Maryland and Harper, there were many other standouts that came out of this class, a group that contributed greatly to the franchise’s success during the decade. From 1991-99, the Cowboys made eight playoffs appearances in nine seasons, reached the NFC title game four straight years from 1992-95 and won those aforementioned three Super Bowl titles.

As for some of the other highlights, there were many. Tackle Erik Williams, the third of three picks by Dallas in the third round that year, turned out to be a four-time Pro Bowler and a key part of one of the best offensive lines in recent memory. Linebackers Dixon Edwards (Michigan State) and Godfrey Myles (Florida), the first two picks in the third round, were contributors on three Super Bowl squads.

Known more for his infamous bloopers in Super Bowl XXVII and Thanksgiving Day of 1993, seventh-round pick Leon Lett from Emporia State was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle with Dallas. And who could ever forget cornerback Larry Brown? The 320th player selected in the 1991 draft saw two passes thrown his way in Super Bowl XXX, garnering game MVP honors.

Two years after Dallas’ big haul, the draft was reduced to eight rounds and in 1994 it was down to its current format of seven rounds. But Johnson knew how to make the most out of his picks. And the ‘90s Cowboys proved to be a very memorable team.

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