Ranking Greg Ellis with the Best Defensive Ends in Team History

Greg EllisWord on the street is that outside linebacker (and former defensive end) Greg Ellis is mulling whether to retire. While this would cause some problems on the team’s current roster, our issue for today is how Ellis ranks among the best defensive end in team history.

I think it is only fair to compare Ellis with defensive ends playing in the 4-3 defense, which Dallas ran in different forms from 1960 to 2004. According to my figures, a majority of the 22 players who were full-time starters during those years only started a year or two, so other than mentioning them below, I did not consider them as candidates for this list. I also excluded Bob Lilly, who started at defensive end from 1961 to 1963, because he was so much better as a defensive tackle.

Another problem is that defensive ends are often ranked by sacks, but that statistic was not available officially until the 1982 season. Thus, we do not have complete statistics for four of these players.

Here they are, in reverse order:

8. [tag]Larry Cole[/tag]: Full-time starter at DE from 1968 to 1974; 176 total games; four career interceptions.

Cole was a solid defensive end for several years, though he was overshadowed by Lilly and George Andrie early in his career, and then by Randy White, Harvey Martin, and Ed Jones later in his career.

7. [tag]Greg Ellis[/tag]: Full-time starter at DE from 1998 to 2005 (Dallas ran the 3-4 in 2005); 124 total games at DE; 52 sacks at DE (4.5 as OLB).

Ellis never recorded as many as 10 sacks in a season and has never been named to a Pro Bowl. He showed great athletic ability over the years, but he was not always consistent in getting pressure on the quarterback.

6. [tag]Tony Tolbert[/tag]: Full-time starter from 1991 to 1997; 144 total games; 59.0 career sacks.

A fourth-round pick in 1989, Tolbert was named to one Pro Bowl in his career. As a left defensive end, he was more responsible for run defense than to provide pass pressure, but he was certainly a presence no matter what his role was.

5. [tag]Jim Jeffcoat[/tag]: Full-time starter from 1984 to 1991; 227 total games; 102.5 career sacks.

Jeffcoat was in a position similar to Ellis when the former was drafted in the first round in 1983. He came along as the team started to experience its decline in the 1980s, and he was forced to play much of his career for bad Dallas teams. Although he recorded double-digits in sacks five different times, Jeffcoat never made the Pro Bowl.

4. [tag]George Andrie[/tag]: Full-time starter from 1964 to 1971; 141 total games.

Andrie was part of the original Doomsday defense in the 1960s, and he made the Pro Bowl five times during his career. A sixth-round pick in 1962, he was a starter on two Super Bowl teams, including the Cowboys’ win in Super Bowl VI.

3. [tag]Too Tall Jones[/tag]: Full-time starter from 1975 to 1978 and 1980 to 1989; 224 total games; 57.5 official sacks (1982-1989 only).

A first-round pick in 1974, Jones was an important part of the dominant Cowboys defense of the late 1970s. His stock as an all-time great would probably be better if the NFL had kept official stats in two categories: (1) sacks, which were not tallied officially until 1982; and (2) passes knocked down. With respect to the first category, Jones had 57.5 sacks later in his career, including 13 in 1985. In the latter category, few in NFL history have been more effective at knocking passes down, though few ends have been 6’9, either.

2. [tag]Charles Haley[/tag]: Cowboys’ full-time starter from 1992 to 1995 (and part of 1996); 63 total games; 34 sacks.

Haley is the only player on this list who was not originally picked by the Cowboys in the draft. However, he still deserves to be ranked this high, for the Cowboys may not have had three Super Bowl titles in the early 1990s without him. Haley made two Pro Bowls in his five seasons with the team.

1. [tag]Harvey Martin[/tag]: Full-time starter from 1975 to 1983; 158 total games.

Martin was another player who would have benefited from official stats for sacks. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, the defensive player of the year in 1977, a Super Bowl co-MVP in 1977, and was a member of the All-Decade team for the 1970s. How he is not in either the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the Ring of Honor is a travesty.

Other Full-Time Starters at Defensive End (with years as starters): Nate Borden (1960-61), John Gonzaga (1960), Bob Lilly (1961-63), Larry Stephens (1964), Maury Youmans (1965), Willie Townes (1966-67), Pat Toomay (1972-74), Daniel Stubbs (1990), Shante Carver (1996-97), Kavika Pittman (1998-99), Alonzo Spellman (2000), Peppi Zellner (2001), Ebenezer Ekuban (2002-03), Marcellus Wiley (2004).

  • melonball

    We really have had a succession of quality defensive ends in Dallas. I doubt any other team can match that over the past 40+ years. Here’s hoping Marcus Spears and Chris Canty carry on that tradition by becoming our next pair of multi-year starting bookends.
    And you’re so right- what is Jerry waiting on with Harvey Martin?

  • dan

    Honestly I just never felt Ellis’ impact on the defense very much. I am not sure I can qualify him in the top 8 but looking at the list, he may have been stats-wise. He certainly wasn’t a leader.