The 10 best defensive linemen in the history of the Dallas Cowboys

St. Louis Rams v Dallas Cowboys
St. Louis Rams v Dallas Cowboys / Stephen Dunn/GettyImages

Behind quarterback, team success is best determined by the play of its defensive line. If a team pressures opposing QBs at a high rate and stops the run consistently, chances are they will find their way into the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys know this all too well.

The Cowboys have been blessed with a rich tapestry of defensive lineman. Much of the team's success in past generations can be attributed to the play of its defensive line. While Dallas still churns out high-level pass rushers at will to this very day, they seemingly have forgotten the value of winning in the trenches.

This list will serve as a reminder as to just how dominant the Cowboys have been in their lifetime across the entire defensive line.

Criteria for selection:

Defensive linemen is a difficult position group to rank for a variety of reasons. On one hand, there's interior players and edge rushers to account for. On the other, sacks didn't become an official stat until the 1982 season. Other statistics like tackles for loss and forced fumbles weren't tracked until later on.

Fortunately, Pro Football Reference tracks players' stats regardless. Even though they don't technically count in all-time rankings, we'll mention players' sack output to hammer home why they deserve a spot on this ranking.

Furthermore, we'll split defensive tackles and edge rushers down the middle; so five each. Without further ado, let's dive in.

The Top 10 defensive linemen in Cowboys history:

10. Jethro Pugh

It's unfortunate for Pugh that he played on the same defensive line as Bob Lilly and George Andrie, but his career output speaks for itself. One of many former Cowboys who lined up at defensive tackle and on the edge, Pugh posted 96.5 sacks in his career, per Pro Football Reference. However, the league didn't start counting sacks until 1982 and Pugh retired after the 1978 season. He deserves recognition as one of the best defensive lineman in Cowboys history.

9. Jim Jeffcoat

Jeffcoat is one of the most underrated pass rushers in Cowboys history. He never made a Pro Bowl in 12 seasons with Dallas, but he racked up five double-digit sack seasons. Believe it or not, Jeffcoattrails only DeMarcus Ware for the most sacks in Cowboys history with 94.5. He left Dallas before the team's third Super Bowl win in the 1990s, but he was a two-time champ and tallied a combined 17 sacks in the title-winning seasons of 1992 and 1993.

8. Leon Lett

Lett is one of a handful of players who are credited with the Cowboys' 1990s defense being as dominant as it was. He only made two Pro Bowls, but he was perhaps the top defensive tackle in the game for a multi-year stretch. Arguably the best seventh-round draft pick in team history, Lett's resume doesn't stack up with other members on this list, but he's one of the most iconic players to ever lace 'em up in Big D.

7. George Andrie

Andrie was Bob Lilly's running mate at defensive tackle during the early stages of Tom Landry's coaching tenure. However, Andrie played all over the defensive line and was disruptive both against the run and getting after the quarterback. He posted six straight seasons with double-digit sacks. That included leading the NFL with 18.5 sacks in 1966. The Cowboys didn't win a Super Bowl until Andrie's second-to-last season in 1971, but he helped lay the foundation for the most successful stretch of football in franchise history.

6. Ed "Too Tall" Jones

Is there a better nickname in the history of sports? Too Tall Jones is one of the longest-tenured Cowboys in team history. He played all 15 seasons in Dallas and his arrival was marked by 11 playoff appearances in his first 13 seasons. He won Super Bowl XII and would have posted over 100 sacks in his career if sacks were an official stat when he entered the league in 1974. Even still, his 57.5 career sacks are sixth-most in team history.

5. DeMarcus Ware

A first-round pick out of Troy in 2005, Ware is the Cowboys' all-time sack leader with 117. He is unquestionably Dallas' best defensive player of the last 20 years. He twice led the NFL in sacks, thrice topped the league in tackles for loss and he was an All-Pro seven straight seasons spanning 2006-2012. Though he captured a Super Bowl with Denver to put a bow on his Hall of Fame career, Ware is one of the most dominant defensive forces in team history. It's a shame he never won a ring in Dallas.

4. Charles Haley

The Cowboys traded for Chuck Haley before the 1992 season. It was a genius move by team owner Jerry Jones as it propelled Dallas' dynastic run. Haley moved to DE after the trade and tallied 34 sacks in four seasons, including double-digit sack seasons in 1994 and 1995. It's no surprise the Cowboys won a Super Bowl in Haley's first season in 1992. He won three rings in Dallas and would rank higher if the bulk of his career wasn't spent in San Francisco.

3. Harvey Martin

Simply put, Martin is one of the most dominant pass rushers in NFL history. There's an argument to be made that Martin belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A four-time All-Pro, Martin put together one of the best seasons in Cowboys history in 1977. If sacks were an official stat, he would have the single-season record all too himself with 23 in just 14 games. He was named Defensive Player of the Year that season and later won co-Super Bowl MVP in Dallas' triumph over the Broncos.

2. Randy White

A staple of the famed Doomsday Defense, Randy White played linebacker his first two seasons before making the switch to defensive tackle and d-end. In his first year at DT, White was named co-MVP of Super Bowl XII. That began a streak of nine consecutive All-Pro selections, which culminated in White winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1978 when he logged 16.5 sacks. He technically finished his career with 52.5 sacks, but the NFL didn't start counting sacks until 1982, eight years into his career.

1. Bob Lilly

It's fitting that the player nicknamed "Mr. Cowboy" tops the ranking. Widely considered one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history, Lilly was the first-ever draft pick by the Cowboys. He made 11 Pro Bowls and was a nine-time All-Pro, including seven First-Team selections. He played a crucial role in Dallas' first Super Bowl win in team history, logging a famous 29-yard sack of Bob Griese.

Lilly's durability also earns him the No. 1 spot. He played 196 consecutive regular-season games and the Cowboys made two Super Bowls and four NFC title games during his time with the team.

The 10 best defensive linemen in Cowboys history by sacks:



Years with team

Total sacks


DeMarcus Ware




Harvey Martin*




Randy White*




Ed "Too Tall" Jones*




George Andrie*




Jethro Pugh*




Bob Lilly*




Jim Jeffcoat




Greg Ellis




Larry Cole*



*Players with an asterisk next to their name played before, and, or during when sacks became an official stat in 1982