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Drafting Late In 1st Round Presents Different Dynamic, But Same Objective

FRISCO, Texas – It's the consequence of a winning season, one the Cowboys gladly accept.

For the second time in three years, the franchise owns a late first-round draft pick this April.

In 2015 and now 2017, the Cowboys entered the offseason defending NFC East champions coming off a divisional-round playoff appearance. In 2016, a 4-12 record netted them the fourth overall pick. The rest is history: rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott won the league's rushing title and helped restore the offense as one of the NFL's best.

This year's process is still early. The NFL Scouting Combine gets underway in Indianapolis in a little under two weeks and the draft itself isn't for another 11 weeks. The Cowboys' pre-draft approach to preparation won't change even though they're set to pick 24 spots later than last year.

No. 28 does present a different dynamic than No. 4, though.

"Obviously it's a little more work because it's not as defined and refined as it was when you're picking at four," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told reporters last month at the Senior Bowl. "You pretty much can narrow it down to a handful of guys that you're really starting to know somebody's going to be there. At 28 you really don't know, so you've just got to do the full body of work and there's obviously going to be some guys you won't spend as much time on because you know they're going to be top half of the draft guys. But after that, and there's always the occasional guy that falls, but you start become aware of that as well."

The last time the Cowboys drafted this late in the first round, their patience was rewarded. Byron Jones, a four-year college starter at safety and cornerback, was still available at No. 27 and has since become a fixture at free safety in Rod Marinelli's defense.

The Cowboys also had the No. 27 pick in 2010, but when Dez Bryant – one of the top receiver prospects in that class – started falling, they traded up three spots with the New England Patriots to draft the future Pro Bowler.

And, proof there's top talent even at the very end of the first round: in 2013, All-Pro center Travis Frederick was the pick at No. 31 after the club traded down from No. 18.

It's too early to say what the front office will do this year -- free agent decisions in March should help crystallize their roster needs by April -- but there's likely to be a much wider pool of prospects to sift through at No. 28 rather than No. 4.

"It's probably more work in terms of doing that, but you were having to do that for that second (round) pick anyway," Jones said. "We'll go evaluate all the players and stack them up on the board and then take them down the way we've been doing it and hopefully do it better than we've done in the past."

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