FRISCO, Texas– Identifying a team's draft targets is a lot like fishing. But fortunately for those of us following the draft process, the size of the pond is always shrinking.
We started out with so much ground to cover. What are the Cowboys' needs? Who will they lose in free agency? Who might they add to the team? Are they facing any injuries or suspensions? Which positions in this year's draft or deep? Which positions are thin?
To make things even more fun, things are always changing. For instance, the Cowboys are facing some uncertainty at right tackle with doubt about Doug Free's future. They also cleared up some uncertainty about Jason Witten's future by signing him to an extension.
All of that affects the draft picture in the coming month.
By now, it's practically April, and the picture gets clearer by the day. The pond that started out large has shrunk considerably since January.
Want some proof? Check the comments from Cowboys officials, who acknowledge the need for defensive playmakers – and who also express a desire to avoid injured players in this year's draft.
It all paints a fairly clear picture, and you see that play out when you examine mock drafts from around the NFL landscape. There's plenty of difference in opinion about who the Cowboys will draft, but the logic is all the same.
The Cowboys need playmakers on the defensive line and in the secondary. In looking at 12 different mock drafts from some of the league's most noteworthy analysts, all 12 have them following one of those two paths.
Here's the rundown:
Date of Mock:March 30
Pick:Missouri DE Charles Harris
Comment:"There are a lot of holes to plug on defense for the Cowboys, but certainly pass rush has to be considered a priority."
Date of Mock:March 28
Pick:Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
Comment:"Humphrey fills a major need caused by losses of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency."
Date of Mock:March 27
Pick:Tennessee DE Derek Barnett
Comment:"Barnett doesn't have the burst out of his stance to put fear into offensive tackles, but his production wasn't an accident. With outstanding hands and good power, Rod Marinelli will be able to have him ready to produce early on for Dallas."
ESPN.com's Mel KiperDate of Mock:March 22
Pick:Michigan S Jabrill Peppers
Comment:"Wouldn't this be a Jerry Jones type of pick? Peppers is one of the most well-known prospects in this class, but he's a tweener (5-11, 213) who's polarizing to NFL scouts. The team that drafts him will have to get creative and use him as a hybrid safety who can play the run and cover tight ends. Peppers could also be a great return man. He's a tremendous athlete (4.46 40, 35.5-inch vertical). And Dallas' secondary has been depleted in free agency – Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are all gone.)
Date of Mock:March 27
Pick:UCLA DE Takkarist McKinley
Comment:"The Cowboys have plenty of needs in the secondary, but an upgraded pass rush will help whoever is playing in the back end of the defense. McKinley might not last this long if healthy, but his shoulder issue allows Dallas to land the UCLA pass rusher at a discount."
SBNation's Dan Kadar_Date of Mock:March 27
Pick:Ohio State CB Gareon Conley
Date of Mock:March 25
Pick:Auburn DE Carl Lawson
Comment: "The Cowboys have a very strong need at the EDGE position, and Lawson could be the perfect fit for Dallas here. This is a draft that is deep in quality DE/OLB pass rushers, and if Lawson is already gone by this point, there should be other strong options here for that spot for Dallas."
Date of Mock:March 27
Pick:Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie
Comment: "By allowing multiple members of their secondary to walk in free agency, it seems like that the Cowboys will address that position early and potentially often in the draft. For whatever reason Awuzie has not generated as much national attention as some of his peers at cornerback but some scouts feel he is the safest of this year's class, standing out on tape due to his quickness, anticipation and toughness, including in run support."
Date of Mock:March 16
Comment: "He would play with his hand on the ground in their scheme, but I think he could do it."
Date of Mock:March 22
Pick:Michigan DE Taco Charlton
Comment:"Randy Gregory has yet to prove he can be counted on. Charlton is a skilled pass-rusher who features the size and versatility to have an impact right away."
Fox Sports' Peter SchragerDate of Mock:March 21
Pick:Washington S Budda Baker
Comment:"Barry Church is gone. Mo Claiborne is gone. Brandon Carr is gone. The Cowboys' defensive backfield will need some young replacements in this draft. Sidney Jones got a lot of the love in the Pac-12, but Baker could be the more productive pro."
Date of Mock:March 15
Comment:"Humphrey's physicality and speed will endear him to Jerry Jones."