Late-Round Gems

The glamour picks in any draft — the guys who get the most attention from fans and media alike — are the players selected at the top of the first round. Cameron Newton, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson can't walk across the street without having it reported somewhere.

But many coaches and general managers will say that a draft class is evaluated in large part by the performance of the players teams choose in the later rounds. Every scout in the NFL can see that Julio Jones can make an array of acrobatic catches, or that Von Miller has a lot of speed when rushing the passer off the edge. But if a team's scouts can identify a cornerback whose speed overcomes slightly less-than-ideal height or an offensive guard whose power can compensate for slightly sub-par quickness, a good class can turn in to a great class.

There's no magic formula for such projections; for all of the analysis and scrutiny that teams invest in the study of college players, drafting remains an inexact science. But the Cowboys have had some success finding players in the later rounds (the draft switched to a seven-round format in 1994). Since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989 — and named himself general manager — here are the top five players Dallas has selected in or after the fourth round:

5. Defensive end Tony Tolbert He never earned the accolades some of his teammates earned, but Tolbert was one of the anchors of the defense that helped Dallas win three Super Bowls in the early 1990s. A fourth-round draft choice in 1989 out of UTEP, Tolbert came off the bench for the first 32 games of his career, but started the next 112 straight games before retiring. During his nine-year career, all of which he spent with the Cowboys, Tolbert piled up 59 quarterback sacks, including a career-high 12 in 1996. He had 531 tackles in his career, including a career-best 87 in 1992. Tolbert also forced seven fumbles, and returned the only interception of his career 54 yards for a touchdown.

4. Running back Marion Barber Selected in the fourth round of the 2005 draft out of Minnesota, the Cowboys raised a few eyebrows by drafting Barber just a year after choosing Julius Jones. But the two complemented each other well — Jones started games and Barber became the designated closer, using his battering-ram running style to bludgeon fatigued defenses into submission. Barber started just three games over his first three seasons, but collected 29 of his 47 career rushing touchdowns in those first three years. In his fourth season, Barber became the team's starting running back, and raised his career totals to 1,042 carries for 4,358 rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry) and the 47 rushing touchdowns. He also has caught 174 passes for 1,280 yards and six more scores and earned a trip to the 2007 Pro Bowl.

3. Linebacker Bradie James One of the few players who played a significant role in the team's former 4-3 defensive alignment and the current 3-4 defense, James has manned the middle of the Dallas defense since the Cowboys chose him out of LSU in the fourth round of the 2003 draft. He has started 98 of 126 career games, including every game since the start of the 2005 season. In eight years, he has made 700 tackles, including 486 solo stops.

2. Defensive lineman Leon Lett Casual fans might remember Lett most for off-field issues and for one of the most famous gaffes in Super Bowl history when he had a sure touchdown on a fumble return derailed when Buffalo wide receiver Don Beebe chased him down from behind and stripped the ball from Lett's outstretched hand as he approached the goal line. But Lett was one of the most talented linemen in the NFL for years. Selected in the seventh round in 1991, Lett played 10 years with the Cowboys before spending his last NFL season as a member of the Denver Broncos. A rare combination of speed and power, Lett had the ability to completely dominate games and destroy offensive lines. A versatile athlete who played both defensive end and defensive tackle in his career, Lett had 223 of his 235 career tackles and all 22.5 of his sacks during his tenure in Dallas.

1. Defensive lineman Jay Ratliff Ratliff tops the list in part because he not only was taken in the seventh round of the 2005 draft, he was a compensatory pick — a selection granted to the Cowboys after the seventh round was complete. If not for DeMarcus Ware, Ratliff would be viewed as by far the best player in the team's draft class. Viewed at the time as a throw-away pick in the draft that produced future starters Ware, Marcus Spears, Barber and Chris Canty, Ratliff has become widely regarded as the NFL's best nose tackle, harnessing rare quickness and pass rushing moves in a physique that supports just over 300 pounds. In six seasons with the Cowboys, Ratliff has 174 tackles (119 solo), 25 sacks and four forced fumbles.

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