*The author of "America's Team: The Official History of the Dallas Cowboys," Jeff also writes a new column each week in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. *
- Am starting to think that more words, both print and verbal, are invested toward the NFL Draft than the actual football season. I'm not kidding. It's just mindboggling. And at the end of the process, perhaps eight or nine of the 300 or so prospects analyzed from every angle conceivable will play for the Cowboys in 2014. If that. The extra two weeks didn't help, but alas, we are finally there.
- So what's the plan? What do we know, or more accurately, what do we think we know? This time of year the majority of the rumors floating around carry zero merit. Some are put out there on purpose, a little misdirection in the hopes of creating some leverage. There are the rare absolutes, such as the Cowboys are not drafting Johnny Manziel. And you know what, in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.
- For the most part, Jerry Jones was pretty honest at his Tuesday pre-draft press conference, outside of saying there weren't already talks about moving up and down in the first round. Those discussions have definitely taken place – they always do – especially with Jones, who has moved up or down in the first round 20 times in 25 years.
- There's a pretty decent chance this will make for 21 in 26, with the Cowboys interested in both scenarios. They would rather move up than down, but the draft board will dictate their decision. They aren't going to reach, take a defensive lineman at 16 when he's 30th on the board. If that's the case, they will make a deal similar to last year, at least if another team is willing, which is seemingly always the case.
- Now, in terms of moving up, no one is talking a 2012-type deal, when Dallas jumped to No. 6 and took Morris Claiborne. If it was me, and this is just me saying this, if Jadeveon Clowney isn't taken No. 1 overall, I would start making phone calls to St. Louis, and if he isn't taken second, keep making phone calls. Would deal whatever it took. Think he's a once-in-a-generation talent and can't fathom how he isn't the first player selected. Sometimes we tend to overthink stuff and this could be one of those instances.
- There's a .001 percent chance of the Cowboys dealing for Clowney, just wanted to throw that out there. As for reality, if Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald is there at No. 13, the Cowboys would be interested in moving up. They also like UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who could play end in the 4-3. Some think he's better suited to remain at linebacker. Either way, the Cowboys like him and would be willing to jump a pick or two if he's available and Donald is off the board.
- They need a pass rusher and a defensive tackle from the first three picks. Again, though, not going to reach. That's the No. 1 objective of this draft: no reaches, no repeats of 2009 and likely no projects. This team, this coaching staff has to win now. Like in 2014, or the majority of them will be looking for new gigs eight months from now.
- If the Cowboys end up staying at 16, and Donald and Barr are off the board, a name they are quite comfortable with is Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin. Yes, the offensive front was a strength last season, much more so than most give them credit for, but Doug Free is 30 years old and no one is quite sure what to expect. Also, this is the last year of his deal. And no one knows whether veteran Brian Waters is going to return. Likely won't until August, regardless. So while the defense should be the priority, if Martin's the top player on the board, he'll be the pick.
- Worth noting once again that the Cowboys are higher on safeties J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath than most of the fan base is. Not saying safety isn't in play, but I would be surprised if they took one in the first round. Been a lot of talk about Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, but that would be surprising, at least from my perspective. Don't see them moving up to take him either. Ditto for Louisville's Calvin Pryor. Do think the Cowboys take a safety at some point, but in the middle rounds where the pundits say there is some real depth at the position.
- Another strong possibility is Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, who should be there at 16. The Cowboys are by no means giving up on Bruce Carter, who struggled with the scheme change last season, but with the injuries the last few seasons, can't have enough linebackers. Shazier seems like a Jason Garrett-kind of guy, too.
- Everyone needs to chill about Anthony Spencer. It's great the Cowboys re-signed him and he's a first-class individual, has been since his first day here. However, there is no guarantee he's on the field when the season starts, and if he is, no one knows at what level he's going to be playing. Seems like some are just assuming the 2012 Spencer, who for me was the team's defensive MVP that season, will return. Microfracture surgery is not ACL surgery. Complete different ballgames there. Hope he does, but it's certainly not a given.
- As for wide receiver, the team feels pretty good about the depth chart at this point. Still, if Texas A&M's Mike Evans starts to fall, which seems highly unlikely, there's interest. A Dez Bryant-Evans combination for the next decade would be quite pleasing to Tony Romo and Jones, among others. This draft is widely unpredictable, more than any in recent memory, so we could have three skill position players off the board before the Cowboys pick or we could have six or seven. If the former happens, Evans could slip a bit outside of the top 10.
- Cowboys also like LSU wideout Odell Beckham, who would also return kicks, but really think Evans is the only one they would take in the first.
- Don't think Florida State tackle Timmy Jernigan is an option in the first round. Know that Peter King has the Cowboys taking him in his mock draft, but I don't see that. Again, this time of year, no one knows for certain.
- The Cowboys enter the draft with 11 picks, which sounds impressive and all, but honestly, six of them are in the seventh round. If even one of those are playing in the opener against San Francisco, that would be a success. So barring some deals, which are certainly possible, we're looking at four or five impact players. Cowboys can't afford to hit on anything less.
- The crystal ball has the Cowboys focusing heavy on defense, especially early. If forced to make a specific prediction, think they trade up to No. 14 with Chicago and take Donald in the first. If they stay at 16, Martin is the pick and if they deal down, to the 18-24 range, then give me Shazier. Really think Stephen and Jerry Jones will do what it takes to draft Donald, though. I really do.
- A few other quick thoughts: Cowboys love SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, but I can't see them taking him before the seventh. … Look for an aggressive trade in the second or third round with the Cowboys dealing future picks to take another player in what is considered the deepest draft in a decade. … Don't think the Cowboys take a running back or tight end. … Also see the NFL Draft being held at AT&T Stadium within the next five years.
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