Best of the Firsts, No. 11: Michael Irvin
As part of our offseason coverage, we’re taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.
The No. 11 Pick: Michael Irvin, 1988, Cowboys
His Credentials: Five-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time All-Pro, three-time Super Bowl champion, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s, finished with 750 career receptions and 65 touchdowns, ranked No. 92 on NFL.com’s 100 Greatest Players list, inducted into Hall of Fame in 2007
Others in Consideration: Patrick Willis (2007, 49ers); DeMarcus Ware (2005, Cowboys); Ben Roethlisberger (2004, Steelers); Dwight Freeney (2002, Colts); Wilber Marshall (1984, Bears)
“Before Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, there was Irvin, the original receiver-turned-entertainer …”
That’s how the NFL Network described Michael Irvin during its countdown of the top 100 players in league history, and it’s an apt characterization. Troy Aikman was the leader of the Cowboys’ offense during their dominant run in the 1990s, Emmitt Smith was the workhorse and Irvin was the showstopper.
Before Deion Sanders brought his camera-friendly style to Big D, Irvin was there, playing to the crowd.
All the flash and dazzle never took away from Irvin’s on-field performance, as he developed into Aikman’s favorite target. Irvin finished his 12-year career with seven seasons of 1,000 or more yards receiving, including a league-leading 1,523-yard outburst in 1991 and a 1,603-yard showing in 1995. He currently sits tied with Charlie Joiner for 29th all-time in receptions at 750.
“He’s one of those guys that you love him when he’s on your team and hate him when he plays for somebody else,” Aikman said of Irvin.
The Cowboys definitely loved him, and with good reason. After drafting Irvin in 1988, Dallas added Aikman in ’89 and Smith in ’90, then went on a sizzling run where they made the playoffs eight times in nine seasons, appeared in four NFC title games and won the Super Bowl three times.
Irvin often delivered on the sport’s biggest stage too. He caught six passes and scored twice in the Cowboys’ 52-14 Super Bowl win over Buffalo to close out the 1992 season, then started the next year’s title run with nine grabs, 126 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay.
Two seasons later, he made three TD grabs in the playoffs as Dallas again rolled to a Super Bowl win.
“His performance always improved as the level of competition increased,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at Irvin’s Hall of Fame induction in 2007. “He routinely had his best games against Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Rod Woodson, Aeneas Williams. And his numbers increased as that long season went along and we got closer to the playoffs.
“From the regular season to the playoffs, from the playoffs to the Super Bowl, that was Michael Irvin’s best days.”