The Draft Class That Elevated the Dallas Cowboys

James WilliamsonSenior Writer IOctober 7, 2008

The NFL Network has done some top-10 countdowns during the past year, which have made me even more learned when it comes to football. I got to listen to some of the greatest players, writers, and coaches on these shows.

One countdown was the Top-10 Draft Classes. A draft class is the group of rookies taken in a certain draft year.

The No. 1 Class was the 1974 draft class of the Steelers, which featured four Hall of Famers. That countdown made me look at teams differently, since in the draft, you make the team of the future or the present.

I recently was examining the recent drafts of the Dallas Cowboys, and the one that astonished me was the class of 2005. It consisted of eight picks, and five of them are now starters, with another in reserve in case of injury.

Our first pick was the 11th overall pick. With that pick, the Cowboys select linebacker from Troy University...DeMarcus Ware!

He was our first pick and one of our best first rounders ever, considering he currently has an eight-game sack streak going.

In his three seasons, he has been elected to the Pro Bowl twice, All-Pro twice, won the 2007 Co-All Iron Award, and has collected 38.5 sacks, forced 13 fumbles, and recovered one, taking it 69 yards for a touchdown.

He also recorded an interception and took it back 41 yards for another touchdown. This man, at the rate he is going, will have a bust in the Hall of Fame whether the Cowboys win the Super Bowl or not.

Our second pick also came in the first round as the result of a trade with the Buffalo Bills. Bill Parcells had wanted to select Marcus Spears with the 11th pick, but after some thought, the Cowboys believed that Spears would still be available by the 20th pick, but Ware wouldn't.

So they rolled the dice, and it came up in their favor. With the 20th overall pick, the Cowboys selected defensive end Marcus Spears out of LSU. Spears was about to be considered a bust, but after a few years, he has learned that in the 3-4, his job is to stop the run first, then get the sack.

He has been an effective lineman so far; he may not have a Pro Bowl selection, but I believe that he will, once he has his role totally secure. He has forced two fumbles and recovered one for 59 yards, along with 4.5 sacks. Remember, this is the 3-4, so the ends don't usually get the sacks.

The Cowboys then went to the second round, where they chose another linebacker with the 42nd overall pick. Now this linebacker is in reserve, since Ware, Ellis, Thomas, and James are the starters.

We sometimes use him on third-down situations, and even though he has been injury prone, he is still effective. With the 42nd pick, the Cowboys selected linebacker Kevin Burnett out of Tennessee.

Burnett has done fairly well—two sacks, three forced fumbles, and one interception taken back 39 yards for a touchdown. He will be a good player for special teams and in case the Cowboys suffer injury.

Dallas had to wait quite a while before it made its next pick. 67 selections to be exact, since they had traded their third-round pick. However, the pick in the fourth round was a steal. With the 109th pick the Cowboys selected Minnesota running back...Marion Barber III!

See what I mean when I say this draft took the Cowboys to another level. Marion the Barbarian people. I have never seen a running back like him, He could kill me with one stiff arm. If I had to choose between getting hit by Chuck Norris or Marion Barber, I would cry and ask for a gun instead. Just look at the his picture above and tell me those eyes don't scare you. They scare me half to death.

This man has been compared to Earl Campbell when it comes to toughness, which makes me happy and scared. Happy because Campbell is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and that is a good sign for Barber. Scared because Earl Campbell lives in a wheelchair because of all the hits he took in his career.

I don't want to see anyone, especially this young man, suffer a fate like that. I read an article about Marion Barber, and he has got attitude. He resents the fact that he is a fourth-round draft pick and wants to prove everyone wrong. His father said he, himself, had an amazing stiff arm, but his son's makes his look pathetic.

Barber has already scored 33 touchdowns rushing, five by receiving, 2,562 yards rushing, 699 yards receiving, and a Pro Bowl selection as a backup running back. He is now the starter for the Dallas Cowboys and is quite effective. He is amazing at his position as a bruiser. He is the runner Dallas needs to take them to a Super Bowl, without question.

The Cowboys had another fourth-round selection due to a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and decided to get another defensive lineman. The Cowboys selected, with the 132nd pick, Chris Canty. Canty has some big highlights. I think he might even be better than Marcus Spears. Last year, safety Pat Watkins returned a blocked field goal to the end zone in a game against the Vikings.

Who do you think blocked it? That's right, Chris Canty got his hand up in the air and caused a play that Dallas needed desperately. He also has gotten eight sacks and forced a fumble and recovered another one. He is the other end opposite Spears and those guys will help stop the run severely. He also was one of the 2007 Co-All Iron Award winners.

The next two picks are guys who I have never heard called on the field, so they are irrelevant to this article.

The last pick though, the guy that was drafted in the seventh round is amazing. He has astounded me to a greater extent than any defensive player on the Dallas Cowboys. I know it's early, but right now he looks like he is going to the Pro Bowl.

He has been described as hungry, and he also resents being a seventh-round choice. With the 224th overall pick, the Cowboys selected Auburn defensive tackle Jeremiah..."Jay"...Ratliff.

You talk about a steal! That is a steal. This guy, in the offseason, has grown from a seed to an oak! He recorded four sacks as a high in 2006. He now has three going into the sixth game of the season. He was the unsung Cowboy that recovered the Donovan McNabb fumble that saved the Cowboys the Monday night game.

With that fumble recovery, he puts his recoveries up to a total of six. Leon Lett was a defensive tackle for the Cowboys during the '90s, and he only recovered seven fumbles in a 10-year career with the Dallas Cowboys.

How many of us think that Ratliff is not going to recover another fumble? When he is going into only his fourth season? He also has 11 sacks so far and Lett had a career total of 22. So Ratliff is more than a year ahead of Lett's schedule when it comes to sacks. And this is only the fifth game of the season.

Dallas, in my opinion, has the history of the best defensive lineman. Randy White, Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones, Jim Jeffcoat, Charles Haley, and of course the No. 1 defensive lineman of all time—our first ever pick—Bob Lilly.

To come into the 2005 draft and grab three defensive lineman and a pass-rushing outside linebacker just proves that Dallas has that ability to pick great lineman. To add a running back that could be the next Earl Campbell just makes this draft class even more special.

If someone asks me in the future, what started the Cowboys of the 2000s down their path to a winning team, (or a championship team hopefully) I will say "The 2005 draft class."