Back when the NFL was formed in 1920, there were fullbacks, flankers and halfbacks among other positions that have gone the way of the dinosaur. Nowadays, wide receivers are a huge part of offense, and Dallas Cowboys receivers have set the standard.
Back then, offenses were mostly ground-and-pound, and beating the opposing defense down with size and strength was the name of the game.
Nowadays, having a strong passing attack is the formula for success. Quarterbacks are the premier position on the field but without reliable wide receivers, a good quarterback can’t reach his full potential.
Sometimes, good wideouts can even mask sub-par quarterback play. Here are some of the best receivers in Cowboys franchise history:
10th – Cole Beasley
Beasley was a tremendous short-yardage receiver in his seven years as a Cowboy. It was rare that he was the top receiving option, but it did happen in 2016 when other wideouts sustained injuries.
Depth is a key to success in the NFL because players are bound to miss time due to injury. That’s when having someone like Beasley becomes so valuable because despite his 5’8, 174-pound frame, he’s been quite durable through his career.
Beasley has the 10th most receptions in franchise history despite playing far fewer games than those ahead of him.
9th – Lance Rentzel
The former Oklahoma Sooner was around early on in Dallas’ NFL days after they entered the league as an expansion team in 1960. The Cowboys took some time getting their footing and didn’t have a winning season until 1966.
Rentzel led Dallas in receiving yards in two of his four years as a Cowboy, and the team never had a losing season while he was there. Rentzel was an integral part in creating a winning culture in Dallas after so many sour years when the team initially joined the NFL.
8th – Miles Austin
An undrafted free agent in 2006, Austin carved out an impressive eight-year run with the Cowboys. Especially considering he didn’t post any receiving statistics as a rookie and didn’t start until year four.
Then, in his first two seasons as a starter Austin posted 1,000+ yards each year and was a pro bowler. Injuries slowed down his next few seasons before he left Dallas.
Austin is also a legend at his alma mater as he was the first NFL player from Monmouth University.
7th – Amari Cooper
In only three-and-a-half seasons in Dallas, Cooper ranks third in average yards per game and first in receptions per game.
Cooper, much like the next player on this list, would surely have climbed the Cowboys’ statistical leaderboard if his time in Dallas lasted longer. But in an effort to preserve cap space, Cooper was traded to the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
6th – Terrell Owens
T.O. was a controversial figure in the NFL through his career, with some fans hating him and others loving him.
One thing that’s undeniable is the impact Owens made in his three-year stint in Dallas. Owens’ 76.3 receiving yards per game is tops in franchise history.
He also ranks ninth in receiving touchdowns in only 47 games, making him the only top 10 player on the list to not play in at least 100 games.
At 48 years old, T.O. is currently playing professionally in the 7-on-7 Fan Controlled Football league.
5th – Dez Bryant
Bryant is the most prolific pass catcher in Cowboys history when it comes to finding the endzone. The former Oklahoma State Cowboy is Dallas’ all time leader in touchdown catches with 73, accomplishing the feat in only eight seasons.
In second on that list is tight end Jason Witten, who played 15 seasons as a Cowboys and appeared in 142 more games than Bryant.
Even after cementing his legacy as Cowboys great, it’s easy to wonder what could’ve been if Dez was able to avoid injury and prolong his career in Dallas. He’s a top-five receiver in many categories despite playing in significantly less games than those preceding him.
4th – Tony Hill
Thrill Hill is forgotten about in Cowboys receiver lore. He was a Super Bowl champion in 1977 but was a non-factor as he was only a rookie that year.
But he does rank third in receiving yards, fifth in receiving touchdowns and sixth in receptions amongst Cowboys wideouts.
Hill also made three pro bowls in his 10 year career. The first two selections came in his second and third seasons and the last selection came in year nine. Hill was the definition of consistency through his time in Dallas, with only injuries slowing him down in some seasons.
3rd – Bob Hayes
Despite Hayes playing in the 1960s and 1970s when high scoring games weren’t common and offenses moved the ball on the ground more than through the air, he has the third-most receiving touchdowns in franchise history.
Equally impressive is Bullet Bob’s 20 yards per reception average through his 10 seasons in Dallas. It was this big-play ability that earned Hayes a bust in the NFL hall of fame in Canton, Ohio.
The 1971 season was particularly impressive for Hayes as he led Dallas’ aerial attack while also leading the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory.
2nd – Drew Pearson
It’s not often the top rookie in a given season goes undrafted, but that was the case in 1973 when Dallas scored Pearson. Even the Cowboys couldn’t have foreseen a Super Bowl, three all pros, three pro bowls and a hall of fame induction from Pearson, who started his career as a special teamer.
Among all time Cowboys pass catchers, Pearson has the fourth-most yards and catches, and the seventh most touchdowns.
Pearson was also the first great Cowboys wide receiver to wear the number 88, with some all-time greats following in his footsteps by donning the same number.
1st – Michael Irvin
The Playmaker is the most decorated player on this list both individually and based on the peaks his early 1990s teams reached. Irvin, alongside Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, are arguably the best offensive trio to ever grace an NFL field.
No wide receiver has more receptions or yards in franchise history. The hall of famer also has three Super Bowl victories, one all pro selection and five pro bowls to boot.
All things considered, it will be tough for Dallas receivers coming after Irvin to knock him off the throne as the best to ever do it for the Cowboys.