We have covered the offensive side of the ball now it is time for the defense. The Cowboys franchise has had some all-time NFL greats sport the blue and silver. From Super Bowl titles to Hall of Fame resumes, there are far too many players to choose from. But the only way we know who is the best is to separate them out. Let’s break down the best defensive rookies in Cowboys history.
To kick off this list, we have to go back to the days of Roger Staubach. Mel Renfro was drafted in the second round of the 1964 NFL Draft out of Oregon. Funny enough, this is the same draft that saw the Cowboys land Roger Staubach and Bob Hayes. Renfro is the prime example of a lifetime Dallas Cowboys who contributed greatly in their rookie year.
Renfro came to the Cowboys and immediately started at safety. He was a dual-threat on defense and on special teams. Renfro finished his rookie year with seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He also racked up an NFL best 418 punt return yards and 1,017 kick return yards. A Pro Bowl nod in his rookie year was only the beginning of a long and successful Hall of Fame career. His two Super Bowl titles and ten Pro Bowl nods cement him high up on most Cowboys ranking lists.
Next, we have arguably the greatest cornerback in Cowboys history. Walls came to Dallas as an undrafted free agent out of Grambling University. He spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Cowboys but that rookie year was easily his best. It is rare for an undrafted free agent to make such a big impact in their first year. Walls made my list for best undrafted free agents in Cowboys history so here he is on another list.
It is no coincidence that Walls’s rookie year was referenced so much this past season. Trevon Diggs tied Walls’ interceptions in a season record with 11. But what separates Walls here, he did that as a rookie. Walls led the NFL that season with his 11 picks and became the only player in the modern Super Bowl era to have ten or more picks as a rookie. Walls became a starter on day one despite being undrafted and turned his career into something great, especially in his rookie year.
Lastly, we have the most recent Cowboys defensive phenom, Micah Parsons. The Penn State product, drafted 12th overall, had the best defensive rookie season in Cowboys history. Parsons stepped up and played a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role and flourished. To think that 11 other teams passed up on drafting Parsons, especially after his rookie year, blows my mind.
Parsons finished his rookie year with 13 sacks, 84 tackles including 20 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles. His 13 sacks on the year shattered the Cowboys franchise record set by Demarcus Ware. All of those stats ended with Parsons unanimously winning Defensive Rookie of the Year and coming in second for Defensive Player of the Year.
Parsons would have been the first rookie to accomplish winning Defensive Player of the Year since Lawrence Taylor in 1981. The craziest part is that he played more snaps at linebacker than he did anywhere else. He racked up 454 snaps at linebacker, 347 on the defensive line, 25 at cornerback, and one at safety, yes you read that correctly. Parsons easily had the best defensive rookie season in Cowboys history. I do not see the stat line Parsons put up being touched any time soon except by maybe himself.
Which all-time Cowboys defensive rookie is your favorite? Comment below and join the discussion!
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