Dallas Cowboys: Top 5 Linebackers in Franchise History
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The old saying is that defense wins championships. The Cowboys have five Super Bowl titles due in large part to some dominating defensive players.
It can be argued that the linebacker position is the most important on any defense. They are always right in the middle of the action and play a key role in stopping both the run and pass.
The 2013 Dallas roster has its share of young and exciting linebackers who should produce for many years to come. Perhaps guys like Sean Lee and Bruce Carter will become some of the team’s best.
Until then, let’s take a look at the top five linebackers in the Cowboys’ history.
Honorable mentions: Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Bob Breunig, D.D. Lewis, Dat Nguyen
All statistics via Pro Football Reference unless indicated otherwise.
5. Dexter Coakley
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Dexter Coakley was the best player on the Dallas Cowboys during some very disappointing years. Many people took his great play for granted because the teams he was on were simply not good.
Coakley just missed the Cowboys’ best years in the 1990s when he was drafted in the third round in 1997.
His biggest attribute was his quickness and ability to get out and cover. Beyond being a solid tackler, Coakley was better than most linebackers in coverage. In fact, he is tied for the franchise record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns with four.
He spent his first eight seasons with the Cowboys and only missed one game during that time. In his three Pro Bowl years, Coakley averaged 90 tackles.
Coakley was never the flashiest Cowboy, however, he was one of the most consistent every week for a number of years.
4. DeMarcus Ware
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DeMarcus Ware is the only current Dallas Cowboy to make the list. Before his time is over in the league, he very well might be at the top.
Dallas drafted Ware with its 11th pick in 2005 and the outside linebacker has made an impact ever since.
Although Ware has never had huge statistical numbers in terms of tackles, he’s been the most consistent Cowboys defender since joining the NFL. His best skill, one that is necessary in today’s pass-heavy league, is rushing the passer.
Ware recorded less than 10 sacks only once in his career and that was his rookie season. Since then, he’s led the league in that category twice, including in 2008 when he posted 20.
Another part of Ware’s game that’s so beneficial is his consistency and durability. In his eight years with the team, he’s only missed one start. That’s impressive for a linebacker taking hits every play.
Ware has been rewarded for his stellar play, making seven straight Pro Bowls since 2006. He’s also been named a first-team All-Pro four times.
Ware will be moving to defensive end in the upcoming season, but there’s no reason for his production to slow down. He’s only 89 sacks away from Bruce Smith’s record on the NFL career sacks list. If the 30-year-old can stay healthy, he should be able to challenge that number and add to his legacy.
3. Ken Norton Jr.
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Ken Norton Jr. was drafted in the second round of the 1988 draft and was a major component of Dallas’ Super Bowl runs during the early 1990s. He played his first six seasons with the Cowboys before shipping off to the hated San Francisco 49ers to finish his career.
During the Cowboys’ back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, Norton had monster years as one of the defensive leaders. He recorded more than 120 tackles both of those years, leading the team in that category.
Norton was a very big defender, but was extremely versatile as well. He bounced around between different linebacking positions during his time in the NFL.
Despite not finishing his career with the Cowboys, Norton was definitely one of the best to play the position. To go along with his three rings, he was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection (once with Dallas).
2. Lee Roy Jordan
Lee Roy Jordan was another great linebacker who played his entire career for the Cowboys. He was the sixth-overall pick in the 1963 draft out of Alabama.
Tackles were not officially recorded until after 1994, so it’s difficult to express his impact in terms of numbers. Jordan was, however, the best middle linebacker Dallas ever had.
He wasn’t the biggest guy to play the position, but he was one of the toughest and most intelligent.
In Jordan’s 14 years with the Cowboys, he was a five-time Pro Bowler, including a first-team All-Pro in 1969. He was a Hall of Fame finalist in 1988 and although not elected, is part of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Jordan had a number of important forced turnovers, including 32 interceptions in his career. He was a steady cog every week and one of the most important players that made up the legendary Doomsday Defense.
1. Chuck Howley
Chuck Howley is the greatest linebacker in franchise history. Although he’s well before my time, his legend will last forever for Cowboys fans.
Howley played 13 seasons for Dallas through the 1960s into the early 1970s and played alongside Lee Roy Jordan for the Doomsday Defense.
Although he’s not in the Hall of Fame, he accomplished just about everything else in his career. The linebacker was actually the first defensive player to win the Super Bowl MVP in 1970-71. In fact, he’s still the only guy to take home the award while playing for the losing team.
The former first-round pick from West Virginia was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and a first-team All-Pro five times as well.
Although Dallas lost the Super Bowl in which he won MVP, it won the following year in Super Bowl VI to get Howley his ring. He will forever be known as one of the all-time great Cowboys.