They are the team that you either love, or absolutely love to hate. Calling themselves “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys are the most popular franchise in all of football, and perhaps all of American sports. With five Super Bowl titles and 10 conference championships, there is little doubt that the Cowboys have also been among the most successful NFL teams in history.
It seems that no matter how good or bad the Cowboys have been throughout the years, one constant is that they have always had at least one very good wide receiver or tight end. While they have had at least one strong player at those positions, there have been plenty that didn’t make any impact at all.
Today, we take a look at both the best and worst pass catchers in the long and illustrious history of the Dallas Cowboys. Legendary quarterbacks like Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Tony Romo have looked for these guys downfield. Some were dependable, while others would warrant the quarterback searching for the next option. Here are our picks for the eight best and seven worst receivers in Cowboys history.
15. Best: Frank Clarke
You have to go way back in time for our first receiver on the best list, and it comes in the form of Frank Clarke. Clarke made history back in the 1950’s by becoming the first African-American football player ever at Colorado, and he would end up being a fifth round draft pick by the Browns in 1957. After spending three seasons in Cleveland, Clarke would be picked up by the Cowboys in the 1960 Expansion Draft.
Clarke had been an afterthought while in Cleveland, but was given a chance with the expansion team. He made the most of it, collecting 290 yards and three touchdowns in limited time during his first season. In a more expanded role, Clarke became one of the best receivers in football, topping out with 1,043 yards and 14 touchdowns in the 1962 season. All in all, he finished his Cowboys career with 5,214 yards and 50 touchdowns, adding another 231 rushing yards.
14. Worst: David LaFleur
After the Cowboys dynasty of the mid 1990s had come to an end, they were looking to re-tool on offense, especially at the tight end position. When the 1997 NFL Draft rolled around, almost all teams had Tony Gonzalez as their top tight end. Gonzalez would end up going 13th to the Chiefs, and that was just fine with the Cowboys as they had David LaFleur ranked even higher on their board.
LaFleur would end up not being the answer that the Cowboys were looking for, collecting less than 300 yards and only four touchdowns in his first two seasons. His third season was mediocre with 322 yards with seven touchdowns, but that would be about it. After his back started to flare up, LaFleur’s production fell off of a cliff and then he did not return after the 2000 season.
13. Best: Drew Pearson
Once you pick up an undrafted player, you’re basically hoping that they are able to get through training camp and make it to the main roster. If they end up producing, that’s a huge bonus. If they end up becoming a four-time All-Pro, then you struck gold. That was the case for the Cowboys when they picked up undrafted receiver Drew Pearson out of Tulsa in 1973.
Pearson spent his entire 11 season career in the NFL with Dallas, and was the original number 88 before Dez Bryant came along. Pearson had his best season in 1979 when he collected 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns. Altogether, he would finish his Cowboys career with a total of 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns. Currently, he sits fourth all-time in franchise history in receiving yards despite playing in a much different era.
12. Worst: Darrin Chiaverini
Our second Colorado Buffalo on the list, Darrin Chiaverini did not quite have the career that Frank Clarke had. Like Clarke, Chiaverini was also selected by the Browns, this time in the 1999 NFL Draft’s fifth round. Chiaverini played for two seasons in Cleveland, with his rookie year being promising with 487 yards and four touchdowns. After missing some time in his second season, Chiaverini was let go.
He would sign with the Cowboys for the 2001 season, never cracking the starting lineup. On 32 targets, he would catch just 10 passes for a total of 107 yards and two touchdowns. That 31.3 percent catch rate is among the worst in Cowboys history, and 2001 would be his only season in Dallas. Chiaverini had one more season in Atlanta before leaving the league and turning his attention to coaching.
11. Best: Tony Hill
After becoming a two-time All-Conference player at Stanford in the late 1970’s, Tony Hill was selected in the third round by the Cowboys in 1977. Hill wasn’t expected to make much of a splash, and he didn’t get many opportunities in his first season with just two catches and no starts. That would change big time as Hill became a staple for years, spending a total of 10 seasons with the Cowboys.
Hill had three seasons of at least 1,000 yards, with his best coming in 1985 on the heels of an 1,113 yard season. Hill finished his 10 seasons with 7,988 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns. He was selected to three Pro Bowls during his time and was the all-time leading receiver in Cowboys history when he called it quits.
10. Worst: Randal Williams
Earlier we showcased the best absolute thing that you can expect out of an undrafted pick, and here we see what you get out of the absolute bare minimum with expectations. Randal Williams was not selected in the 2001 NFL Draft out of New Hampshire, and eventually found himself on the Cowboys roster. Mainly a special teams player, Williams actually had the distinction of fastest touchdown at three seconds for returning an onside kick.
When given the chance to become a wide receiver, Williams showed that his home was certainly on special teams. Williams finished with one catch on six targets over four seasons, finishing with just 14 yards. Unfortunately, Williams would be injured in 2004 and was let go from the team. He then spent two years in Oakland where he collected 457 receiving yards.
9. Best: Dez Bryant
You know that you’ve had some good fortune at the receiver and tight end position when Dez Bryant barely makes the top five. Bryant was a highly touted prospect from Oklahoma State, but dropped down the draft board due to some personal questions. The Cowboys rolled the dice and selected him 24th overall in 2010, and it has turned out to be a fruitful endeavor as he has reached three Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team.
Bryant has missed some time over the past couple of seasons due to injury, but still shows that he is among the best receivers in the league right now. After seven seasons, Bryant has 6,621 yards with 67 touchdowns as he continues to climb the franchise leaderboards in both categories. In a few years, you can probably expect Bryant to be higher on the list if he keeps up his production.
8. Worst: Dedric Ward
The Jets were the team that picked up Dedric Ward out of Northern Iowa in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft. He would spend his first four seasons with the team, collecting 1,815 yards and 11 touchdowns in mostly a reserve role. After his breakout year in 2000, Ward would sign with the Dolphins and spend two seasons as a backup. In 2003, he split time with New England and Baltimore before finding a home in Dallas for the 2004 season.
Ward would end up seeing time in eight games with Dallas, and was not exactly what you would call productive. Quarterbacks threw eight passes to Ward that season, and he only came down with one catch. That catch was only for five yards, as well. Strangely enough, Ward would have more yards as a rusher for the Cowboys, gaining 11 yards on his only carry.
7. Best: Bob Hayes
Older fans will likely make a case for “Bullet” Bob Hayes to be number one on this list instead of just fourth. The former standout on the track won a gold medal with his speed, and he made his debut for the Cowboys in 1965. Hayes was selected to three Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams during his 10 seasons in Dallas, leading the league in touchdowns twice in 1965 (12) and 166 (13).
Hayes’s over the top speed was second to none, and he would end up averaging an amazing 20 yards per catch over his NFL career. While with Dallas, Hayes finished with 7,414 receiving yards (fifth in franchise history) and 71 touchdowns, which is still the most in Cowboys history. Dez Bryant is only four touchdowns behind him, so the late Bob Hayes might not have the title for very long.
6. Worst: Harold Carmichael
There was a time where Harold Carmichael was among the better receivers in the NFL in the 1970’s. While spending 13 seasons with the Eagles, Carmichael collected nearly 9,000 yards and added 79 touchdowns through the air. The four-time Pro Bowler from Southern University saw his Eagles career unceremoniously come to an end after the 1983 season when he was waived.
Carmichael, who was one of the tallest receivers ever at 6’8” weighed his options, and decided to join the Cowboys for the 1984 season. Carmichael would make just two appearances in Dallas, catching just one pass for seven yards. The Cowboys had seen enough from the 35 year old, and released him shortly thereafter. Carmichael would then eventually find his way to the Eagles front office before retiring in 2015.
5. Best: Terrell Owens
Placing Terrell Owens ahead of Bob Hayes is probably enough to make anyone over the age of 35 pull out whatever hair they have left. The reality is, Terrell Owens is one of the greatest receivers in NFL history whether you liked his antics and personality or not. After spending his first eight years with the 49ers and then two more seasons with the Eagles, Owens became a high profile signee in 2006.
Owens spent three seasons with the Cowboys, and his numbers were definitely great. He would catch 235 passes for a total of 3,587 yards and 38 touchdowns. Averaging that out, and you get more than 78 catches for nearly 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns per season. He wasn’t around in Dallas long enough to challenge the yardage and touchdown leaders, but he had more yards per game than any other Cowboy receiver in history (76.3), so that has to count for something.
4. Worst: Jesse Holley
Reality television really hit a boom in the early to mid 2000’s, and not even football was out of the equation when it came to the reality circuit. Back in 2009, there was a show called “4th and Long” where the winner would get an invitation to attend the Cowboys training camp. Holley, a former undrafted receiver from North Carolina, was working as a security guard at the time and ended up winning.
Holley would then spend a few seasons bouncing in and out of the Cowboys active roster, though he would appear in a total of 28 games. During that time, he would only catch seven passes (albeit for a respectable 169 yards). There were no touchdowns, however, and wasn’t re-signed after the 2011 season. Keeping him around was more for publicity than anything, it seemed like.
3. Best: Jason Witten
Outside of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten is the only other player on this list that is still active in the NFL, and he’s also still on the Cowboys roster. Witten was a third round pick out of Tennessee back in 2003 and has been a staple ever since, earning his way to being one of the most beloved Cowboys of all-time. Even fans of the Redskins, Giants and Eagles admire Witten’s play and determination, which is second to none.
Witten’s illustrious career has seen him reach 11 Pro Bowls with four All-Pro honors. The stats back him up, too, as Witten has amassed 11,888 receiving yards and 63 touchdowns. Currently, Witten needs just 17 yards to become the franchise’s all-time leading receiver and is eight touchdowns behind Bob Hayes for the touchdown title.
2. Worst: Roy Williams
After getting drafted seventh overall by the Lions in the 2004 NFL Draft, it looked like Roy Williams was on the way up when he had a breakout third season. That year, in 2006, Williams posted 13,10 yards with seven touchdowns. Wanting Williams to have a homecoming, the Cowboys offered up a trade during the 2008 season to bring in Williams in exchange for a first, third and sixth round draft pick.
Williams then signed a six year deal worth $54 million as the Cowboys thought they finally had their answer at receiver for Tony Romo. Instead, Williams ended up being a huge disappointment that didn’t even last a total of three seasons. Williams collected just 1,324 yards and 13 touchdowns during that time, playing well below his pay grade. Williams then spent 2011 with the Bears, and retired afterward.
1. Best: Michael Irvin
Rounding out our list as the top wide receiver in Cowboys history is “The Playmaker” Michael Irvin. Irvin was selected 11th overall in the 1988 NFL Draft to give young Troy Aikman a weapon, and it ended up being a huge decision. Irvin struggled for his first three seasons, then broke out in 1991 with 1,523 yards and eight touchdowns. The good times kept coming as he had seven more seasons of at least 960 yards.
Irvin spent his entire 12 season career with Dallas, winning three Super Bowls in the process, making five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams. Currently, Irvin is still sitting atop the all-time receiving yardage mark in franchise history with 11,904 yards, and he added 65 touchdowns to go along with it. His 74.9 yards per game is behind only Terrell Owens, so all-around he is the best in Cowboys history.
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