The pioneer of modern football scouting, Brandt built the Cowboys of the ’60s with a more scientific scouting approach than then existed. He has worked in the NFL for 58 years.
I took great pains to rank players by position. I ranked guards and centers differently. I ranked all the linebackers, inside and outside, together. I ranked the kickers and punters separately. I did quarterbacks and running backs. My strategy was that I looked at positions, and when I look at my 16th-ranked QB, it’s Drew Brees. Why should I pass up a good player at another position to draft a QB high? When I did draft a quarterback, I still had choices: Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Drew Brees. My strategy was to get position players at the top of my list, and I think I did really well at getting the position players I wanted.
My first pick in the draft would have been Lawrence Taylor, but in that same group of linebackers I got my second-best, my sixth-best and my 11th-best linebackers. I got my number one and number two guards and my third-ranked center. The guys I was probably most excited about were my offensive linemen, especially my guard, John Hannah, and my tackle, Jonathan Ogden. And I was stunned that I got Jim Brown and Walter Payton.
|Landry took the Cowboys to the NFL Championship Game twice in the ’60s and the Super Bowl five times in his storied career, winning two titles and amassing 270 career wins along the way. Credited as the first coach to install a base 4–3 defense, the famously stoic Landry experienced 20 straight seasons with a winning record. He took the Cowboys to the playoffs in 18 seasons.|
|The first overall pick under a new-look Cowboys team without Tom Landry, Aikman led Dallas to three Super Bowl victories in four years. He passed for four touchdowns with a 73.3 completion percentage in Super Bowl XXVII en route to winning the game’s MVP award. Concussions and back pain ended his career early; he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.|
|The greatest running back in NFL history and perhaps the greatest player ever, Brown is still the only back in league history to average more than 100 rushing yards per game, and he led the league in rushing a record eight times in nine seasons. Playing for the Browns his entire career, he set the NFL career rushing record at age 27 and held it for nearly two decades after he retired at 29, at the height of his prowess. The 1971 Hall of Famer’s off-field legacy is complicated, but his on-field accomplishments are among the best we’ve ever seen.|
|Sweetness had 10 seasons in which he rushed for at least 1,200 yards in his Bears career. One of the toughest running backs to tackle in league history (and a punishing blocker as well) the five-time All-Pro broke Jim Brown’s all-time rushing mark in 1984, and his single-game record of 275 yards stood for 23 years. Payton, a 1993 Hall of Fame inductee, served as an inspiration to generations of great backs after him, and his charitable work during his lifetime attached his name to the NFL’s Man of the Year award.|
|Moss was one of the most fascinating players of his era, for his on-field play and off-field personality. During his career—spent with the Vikings, Raiders, Patriots, Titans and 49ers—he made such a habit of catching passes over defenders that “moss” was adopted as the term for it. He holds the single-season TD receptions record at 23 and will eligible for the Hall next year.|
|His 15,934 receiving yards, with five teams, are second-most in NFL history, and his 153 touchdowns are third in a career that ushered in a flamboyance at the wide receiver position. T.O. caught nine passes for 122 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX despite playing on a fractured fibula that should have taken much longer to recover from. His Hall of Fame bona fides aren’t in question, but he’s been snubbed in consecutive years due to his volatility as a teammate.|
|Strangely traded away from Chicago after the 2010 season, Olsen has been Cam Newton’s most reliable target through six seasons with Carolina. In 2016, he became the first tight end in NFL history to put together three consecutive 1,000-receiving-yard seasons.|
|One of the greatest offensive tackles in history, Ogden was the first pick for the brand-new Ravens in 1996, and he played his entire career with Baltimore. He was named to 11 Pro Bowls and anchored an offensive line that helped Jamal Lewis rush for more than 2,000 yards in 2003. In 2013 he was enshrined in Canton as a rare first-ballot Hall of Famer at his position.|
|Hannah started every game that he ever played (190 including the playoffs) and earned seven first-team All-Pro nods in his career. At the height of his powers, Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman named him the best offensive lineman of all time. He was as great a run blocker as he was a pass protector.|
|A first-round pick in 2013, Frederick was a key element in the Cowboys’ plan to assemble a strong offensive line akin to the one that helped Dallas win three Super Bowls in the ’90s. Frederick has made three Pro Bowls in his young career and was named All-Pro last season after paving the way for the league’s leading rusher, Ezekiel Elliott.|
|The second pick of the 1966 NFL draft, Mack put together 11 Pro Bowl seasons in Los Angeles in his 13-year career. His speed helped him tremendously on sweeps, at only 6’ 3” and 250 pounds. He never missed a game in 194 contests, including the postseason. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999.|
|The Big Cat was All-Pro three straight years from 1971 to ’73 and a Pro Bowler six times. He started in six NFC title games and played in five Super Bowls for the Cowboys, winning twice. A 2006 Hall of Fame inductee, Wright was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1970s.|
|At 6’ 8”, Atkins was one of the biggest and longest players in the NFL of the 1950s and ’60s. He won a title with the Browns in his second season, then spent 12 storied years with the Bears (adding another title in 1963) before finishing his career with the expansion Saints. The 1982 Hall of Fame inductee played in an era before sacks were recorded, but he once estimated he had 25 in his best season.|
|Doleman’s career 150.5 sacks were fourth-most in NFL history when he retired in 1999. He had eight seasons in which he racked up at least 11 sacks‚ including a league-best 21 in 1989, and 15 in 1998 at age 37. The two-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler made the Hall of Fame in 2012.|
|A fierce two-way player for the New York Yankees in the All-American Football Conference, Weinmester came to the NFL in 1950 and dominated at defensive tackle for the Giants for four seasons, in each of which he was named All-Pro. Afterward, the Saskatchewan native spent two seasons in the CFL. His six-year American football career is one of the shortest of any Hall of Famer.|
|One of the league’s top defensive linemen in the ’80s, Klecko went to the Pro Bowl at three different positions. He played in 160 total games, mostly as a part of the “New York Sack Exchange,” and he’s a member of the Jets’ Ring of Honor. His omission from the Hall of Fame is the cause of much debate among players of his generation and football historians.|
|No player in the 1990s had more sacks than Thomas, who was named to nine Pro Bowls in his career, spent entirely with the Chiefs. At 23 he became the youngest player in NFL history with at least 20 sacks in a season, which included an NFL-record seven sacks in one game (and he had six in another). Thomas, who died in 2000 as the result of a car accident, was inducted into the Hall of Fame posthumously in 2009.|
|Florida born and bred, Brooks helped deliver the city of Tampa its one and only Super Bowl victory, following the 2002 season. A model teammate and citizen, Brooks was the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2000 and its Defensive Player of the Year in ’02. A five-time All-Pro, Brooks was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.|
|Howley retired from football after two seasons with the Bears due to a knee injury, but after missing the 1960 season he came back with Dallas and played 13 stellar seasons, during which he was named All-Pro five times and earned six Pro Bowl nods. Howley was the first defensive player in history to be named Super Bowl MVP when his Cowboys won Super Bowl V.|
|No player returned more interceptions for touchdowns (12) than Woodson in his storied career with four teams (Steelers, 49ers, Ravens and Raiders). He also served as a kick returner and punt returner in his early career before switching to solely safety in his later years. His 71 career picks are third-most all-time. A six-time All-Pro, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.|
|There was an 11-year gap between Woodson winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, showing how consistently good the 1998 Heisman winner was over the span of his career spent with the Raiders and Packers. Woodson’s 11 career pick-sixes are second only to Rod Woodson, and his 65 career interceptions are tied for fifth all-time. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2021.|
|A two-time Super Bowl winner, three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler, Harris put together a stellar 10-year career with the Cowboys—SI’s Paul Zimmerman named him to his All-Time Defense—after going undrafted out of small Ouachita Baptist in Arkansas. Harris got the nickname “Captain Crash” because of his hard hits on opponents. He still had plenty of gas left in the tank when he retired at 31. He is regularly in the discussion of players worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.|
|One of the best strong safeties in NFL history, Shell had 51 career interceptions playing for the famed Steel Curtain defense. He won four Super Bowls with Pittsburgh, but despite his high interception totals and praise from teammates and opponents—Tony Dungy said Shell “was John Lynch before John Lynch”—he’s still on the outside looking in regarding the Hall of Fame.|
|Tucker has led the NFL in field goals made in two of his five seasons, and his career 89.84% accuracy is the best ever among kickers with at least 100 attempts. He’s made all 166 of his PATs, including all 56 since the spot of the extra point was moved to the 15-yard line.|
|Set to turn 41 this year and still booming kicks, Lechler has been named All-Pro six times. His 47.5 yards per punt is the best all-time by a half-yard, and his 51.1-yard average in 2009 is highest in the modern era. If another punter is to ever join Ray Guy in Canton, Lechler might be the favorite for it.|
|A six-time Pro Bowler, Taylor was a first-ballot Hall of Famer this year. His nine fumble returns for touchdowns are the most all-time for a defensive lineman, and the three-time All-Pro finished his career with 139.5 sacks.|
The dynamic of this offense is fascinating. Team Brandt seemed to commit fully to a throwback style of football, spending its first two picks on all-time great running backs (Jim Brown and Walter Payton), then adding guards John Hannah and Tom Mack and tackle Jonathan Ogden within the draft’s top half.
However, rather than continue to overload in the trenches, Brandt buoyed the rest of his attack with QB Troy Aikman and two of the game’s most explosive receivers, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, plus pass-catching TE Greg Olsen. In some ways this depth chart resembles the Aikman-Emmitt Smith-Michael Irvin-era Cowboys, cranked up to the max. The selection of current Cowboys center Travis Frederick, in Round 22, helps drive home the Dallas connection.
How does an all-Woodson cornerback duo sound? Brandt partnered Rod with Charles, and the selections of safeties Donnie Shell and Cliff Harris made it apparent the plan was to keep the Woodsons on the outside. Of the four DBs taken by Team Brandt, only Rod Woodson has yet earned a Hall of Fame nod, though Charles figures to join him in the near future. Any shortcomings at safety—and Shell and Harris played in a combined nine Super Bowls and 40 postseason games—would be offset by both Woodsons’ ability to shift over there and thrive.
Team Brandt has options along the defensive line, as well, thanks to the savvy 25th-round wild-card selection of DE Jason Taylor. Nothing like having a guy with 139.5 career sacks as an extra chip in your pocket. Everyone in the D-line rotation carries a reputation for being able to get to the QB, including tackles Joe Klecko and Arnie Weinmeister.
The RB-RB open could have boxed in Brandt’s roster, but he managed to avoid a one-note offense while also stockpiling talent at most spots on defense.
— Chris Burke