The Best Wide Receivers in Dallas Cowboys History

Updated on January 9, 2017

In the Dallas Cowboys 50 year history they have had some excellent wide receivers.  Bob Hayes and Michael Irvin are hall of famers and Drew Pearson is deserving of the same honor.  I believe that players should not be judged before their career is over so I have only included retired players.  It is difficult to compare players from different eras, especially when looking at statistics, so statistics are not a major factor in the rankings.

Drew Pearson catching the "Hail Mary".
Drew Pearson catching the "Hail Mary".

1. Drew Pearson (1973-1983)

Drew Pearson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cowboys in 1973.  He is arguably one of the best undrafted players of all time.  He was named All-Pro three times (1974, 1976, 1977).  He was also selected for the Pro Bowl three times.  He led the NFL in receiving in 1976 with 58 receptions.  When he retired he was the Cowboys all-time leading receiver with 489 receptions, 7,822 receiving yards, and 48 touchdown receptions.  Pearson was also named to the 1970s All-Decade Team.

His nickname was “Mr. Clutch” because of his numerous game winning clutch catches.  His most famous catch was the “Hail Mary” in 1975 against the Minnesota Vikings.  In 1974, he caught the game winning touchdown on Thanksgiving Day against the Washington Redskins from Clint Longley.  And in a 1973 playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams he caught the game winning touchdown.  In 1994, NFL films named all three of these plays in its top 75 plays in NFL history.  He also made some clutch catches against the Atlanta Falcons in a 1980 playoff game  when he caught two touchdown passes from Danny White in the last two minutes of the come from behind victory.   In the 1981 NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers he almost scored the game winning touchdown after Dwight Clark made “the catch”.  Pearson caught a pass from Danny White around mid-field and Eric Wright made a one handed tackled just short of field goal range. 

Despite all of his accomplishments he is not in the Cowboys Ring of Honor.  Apparently he and Jerry Jones do not get along.  Pearson also has not been selected for the NFL Hall of Fame.  He is deserving of both honors. 

Michael Irvin scoring a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII.
Michael Irvin scoring a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII.

2. Michael Irvin (1988-1999)

Michael Irvin was selected with the eleventh overall pick in the 1988 draft during the last Cowboys draft that would be run by Tom Landry, Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm.  The following year Jerry Jones would buy the Cowboys and hire Jimmy Johnson to replace Tom Landry.  Irvin is the only player to play for each of the Cowboys first four coaches (Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, and Chan Gailey).   Irvin was one of the “triplets”, which consisted of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith. They were a major factor in the Cowboys winning three Super Bowls in four years during the 1992, 1993, and 1995 seasons.

In twelve seasons with the Cowboys he had 750 receptions for 11,094 yards and 65 touchdowns.  He had 47 100 yard receiving games which ranks third in NFL history.  He was selected to five Pro Bowls which is the most by any Cowboys receiver.  In the post season he had 87 receptions for 1,315 yards, both which rank second only behind Jerry Rice.    He also had six 100 yard receiving games in the post season, again only second to Jerry Rice who had eight.  Irvin was inducted into Pro Football’s Hall of Fame in 2007.  He was inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2005.  Irvin was also named to the 1990s All-Decade Team.

3. Bob Hayes (1965-1974)

Bob Hayes was selected in the seventh round of the 1964 NFL draft.  The Cowboys took a chance on “the world’s fastest man” who had recently won two Olympic gold medals in sprinting in the 1964 Olympic Games.  Bob Hayes in the only person to win both a gold medal at the Olympics and win a Super Bowl ring.  Since no single player could keep up with Hayes, defenses had to come up with different ways to cover him.  Hayes is the reason the zone defense was created.

Bob Hayes was instrumental in the Cowboys first Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl V against the Miami Dolphins.  He was the first Cowboy receiver to gain 1,000 yards in a season as a rookie.  He finished his career with 371 receptions, for 7,414 yards and 71 touchdowns.

4. Frank Clarke (1960-1967)

Frank Clark was selected in the expansion draft by the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 after spending three seasons with the Cleveland Browns.  He moved into the starting lineup for the Cowboys in 1961.  He had the best opening day performance of any Cowboys receiver in team history catching 10 passes for 241 yards.  In 1962 he became the first Cowboy receiver to gain 1,000 yards in a season.  He also had 14 touchdown receptions that year, which was a Cowboy record until Terrell Owens broke it in the 2007 season.  He finished his Cowboy career with 281 receptions for 5,214 yards and 51 touchdowns.

5. Tony Hill (1977-1986)

Tony “the Thrill” Hill was selected by the Cowboys in the 1977 NFL draft in the third round. He gave the Cowboys the deep threat they had been missing since Bob Hayes retired.  He was selected to the Pro Bowl three times in his career. He finished his career with 479 receptions for 7,988 yards and 51 touchdowns. His best season was 1985 when he caught 74 passes for 1,100 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also won a Super Bowl ring in 1977, his rookie season.

Nearing the end of his career some questioned his work ethic and his lack of effort in games. He was cut during training camp in 1987.

Who is the Best Cowboys Receiver of All-Time?

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Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Michael Swanson 3 months ago

        These fans seem to think the NFL was created in 1980 with ESPN. No way Michael Irvin should be at 57 percent ahead of Bob Hayes and Drew Pearson. If running your mouth and showboating was a requirement, then he would be ahead.

      • profile image

        mark 4 years ago

        I am a Cowboys fan and think Drew Pearson is the best wide receiver ... better than Irvin and Hayes.

      • seattleamilehigh1 profile image

        seattleamilehigh1 6 years ago from Seattle, Washington

        I can hate the Cowboys, but I can't hate this list. Irvin was one of my favorites to watch when I was growing up. Thanks for the read!

      • profile image

        Simply A 6 years ago

        I say that Drew Pearson is the third best Cowboys wide receiver behind Michael Irvin and Bob Hayes.

      • Shawn Scarborough profile image

        Shawn Scarborough 6 years ago from The Lone Star State

        MrBombastic--I have high hopes for Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. Hopefully they can both stay healthy this year.

        Soupygenius--thanks for your comments and voting in the poll.

      • profile image

        Soupygenius 7 years ago

        I remember my grandfather talking about Bob Hayes a lot and I learned to have a lot of respect for him but I never got to see him play.

        Clarke was before my time too but don't remember him being talked about.

        I certainly remember Tony Hill and his contributions and you gotta love Michael Irvin but....

        I got to grow up watching Drew Pearson play and it was a thing of beauty. I've told other football fans how I just wish I could watch another wide receiver that puts his heart all out there like Drew did. I don't know how many times I watched him catch a pass that should have flown out of bounds and he made it a catch by dragging his toes just inside the line, like he and the lines shared a physical connection and he just knew where they were.

        I know some guys today make catches like that on occasion but Drew did it week in and week out and I sure do miss it.

        So if you couldn't tell I vote Drew Pearson ;)

      • MrBombastic profile image

        MrBombastic 7 years ago

        I bleed blue and silver! I am going with Michael Irvin aka The Playmaker as the best Cowboys WR followed by Drew Pearson and then Bullet Bob Hayes. Hopefully, Dez Bryant can be the next great 88 and Miles Austin is showing he was not a 1 year wonder.

      • Shawn Scarborough profile image

        Shawn Scarborough 7 years ago from The Lone Star State

        waynetheman--thanks for your comments. Bob Hayes was something special.

        TwO1FouR--Michael Irvin was fun to watch. Thanks for your comments.

      • TwO1FouR profile image

        TwO1FouR 7 years ago from Dallas, TX

        This is a great hub! Michael Irving was my favorite.

      • profile image

        waynetheman 7 years ago

        I always liked watching Bob Hayes. He was very unique in the 1960s since there wasn't a lot of deep passing in the NFL.

      • Shawn Scarborough profile image

        Shawn Scarborough 7 years ago from The Lone Star State

        Thanks for stopping by prasetio30. I'm glad you were able to learn something about the Cowboys.

      • prasetio30 profile image

        prasetio30 7 years ago from malang-indonesia

        I like something about history and I found this from you. Very well explanation. Cowboy is my favorite. I learn much about cowboy. Thank you very much. I vote this Up.


      • Shawn Scarborough profile image

        Shawn Scarborough 7 years ago from The Lone Star State

        I appreciate you taking the time to read my hub, especially since you are not a cowboys fan. Thanks for stopping by!

      • akirchner profile image

        Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

        I'm not a huge Cowboys fan (gasp - don't stone me) - but great hub on some of the best receivers ever.