One and only: 50-year anniversary of ‘Too Tall’ Jones’ historic No. 1 overall selection

NFL Published on : 1/28/2024
Fifty years ago, the Dallas Cowboys made history with the first overall selection in the 1974 NFL Draft. 

Coming off their eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs but having won only one Super Bowl – in 1971 – the Cowboys were looking for a spark on the defensive line. Heading into the 1974 NFL Draft, the Cowboys held the No. 22 overall pick, with the Houston Oilers, who finished 1-13 the previous season, holding the top spot. 

Dallas negotiated a trade, sending defensive end Tody Smith and wide receiver Billy Parks to Houston for two draft picks, Nos. 1 and 53. 

The Cowboys made headlines Jan. 29, 1974, selecting Ed “Too Tall” Jones, a 6-foot-9 defensive end out of Tennessee State.The Cowboys made headlines Jan. 29, 1974, selecting Ed “Too Tall” Jones, a 6-foot-9 defensive end out of Tennessee State. This marked the first (and still only) time a player from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) was selected with the first overall pick. 

Before Jones, only two HBCU players had been selected in the top five of an NFL Draft: future Hall of Famer CLAUDE HUMPHREY, DE, Tennessee State, third overall by Atlanta in 1968; and Richard Harris, DE, Grambling State, fifth overall by Philadelphia in 1971.

Originally, Jones was recruited on a basketball scholarship in 1970 and played two years at TSU, before switching to football during his junior year. His first day on the field garnered the attention of all those in attendance, teammates and coaches alike, with one even giving him his nickname.

“First day at practice, I walked into the equipment room, the longest pair of pants the equipment manager had hit me above my knees,” Jones said. “I walk on the field, I don’t remember which player it was, said, ‘Hey, you know you’re too tall for football.’ ”

The life-changing sport decision paid dividends for Jones, as he won two Black College Football national championships – in 1971 and 1973. He finished his collegiate career with the most sacks in school history: 38.

“We shocked everyone when we took Ed Jones from Tennessee State first overall because none of the draft experts had him ranked at all,” former Cowboys vice president and Hall of Famer GIL BRANDT said. 

“Too Tall” fittingly stood out among the 43 HBCU players in the 1974 draft, which included four of his Tennessee State teammates.

The 1974 Draft also was noteworthy for its array of future Hall of Famers: DAVE CASPER, LYNN SWANN, JACK LAMBERT, JOHN STALLWORTH and MIKE WEBSTER, the latter four all selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And that No. 53 pick? Brandt and the Cowboys used it to select quarterback Danny White, who would go on to appear in 166 games (92 starts) and pass for almost 22,000 yards.

Jones he earned a spot on the PFWA’s All-Rookie Team, leading all first-year players with six sacks (an unofficial statistic at that time), despite not starting a game. He finished third in the Associated Press’ vote for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
The Cowboys made headlines Jan. 29, 1974, selecting Ed “Too Tall” Jones, a 6-foot-9 defensive end out of Tennessee State.

During his tenure with “America’s Team,” Jones started on both iterations of the “Doomsday Defense,” first alongside Hall of Famers BOB LILLY, CHUCK HOWLEY, MEL RENFRO, HERB ADDERLEY and CLIFF HARRIS, followed later by RANDY WHITE and Harris. Jones started at defensive end in three Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XII in 1978. 

For 15 years, he never missed a game, finishing with a team-record 244 games played (including 20 playoff games) and 223 starts. 

“My attitude was I’m the toughest, biggest, baddest on the block,” Jones once said. “That was my attitude throughout my career.’’

His career stats include an unofficial 106 sacks (sacks became an official stat in 1982, Jones had 48.5 from 1974-1981), 19 forced fumbles and three interceptions. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for three consecutive seasons (1982-84) and earned first-team AP All-Pro honors in 1982.

In 2013, Ed “Too Tall” Jones was inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.