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Cowboys 2011 NFL Draft Primer

The Cowboys are scheduled to pick No. 9 overall in this week's NFL draft. The following is a primer to remind you where their roster is, what they are expected to do Thursday, and other important data for the draft.

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So you left the 2010 Cowboys season depressed and weren't able to muster any interest in the 2011 NFL Draft until now. Never fear, here are your crib notes.


DRAFT SCHEDULE

The 2011 NFL Draft begins Thursday.

Round 1: Thursday, 7:00 CT
Rounds 2-3: Friday, 5:00 CT
Rounds 4-7: Saturday, 11:00 a.m. CT

The draft can be seen on ESPN and the NFL Network.


COWBOYS DRAFT PICKS

The Cowboys were one of seven teams to finish 6-10 in 2010. Those teams will draft in the 7-13 slots, rotating through the rounds. Dallas will begin in the nine slot and rotate forward. They pick eight times overall, with the seventh round being the only change from their natural slot.

1.9 - No. 9 overall
2.8 - No. 40 overall
3.7 - No. 71 overall
4.13 - No. 110 overall
5.12 - No. 143 overall
6.11 - No. 176 overall
7.17 - No. 220 overall (from SD for Patrick Crayton)
7.49 - No. 252 overall (one of numerous compensation picks)
(Dallas forfeited the 10th pick in the 7th round - No. 213 overall - to draft Josh Brent in the 2010 Supplemental Draft.)


COWBOYS ROSTER NEEDS

QB: Tony Romo is locked up, and Stephen McGee is in place as a developing backup.
RB: Felix Jones is in place, but Tashard Choice could enter free agency after 2011 depending on the new bargaining rules, and Marion Barber is expected by many to be a contract casualty this summer. Dallas could look at backs in the middle rounds.
WR: Dez Bryant has been the story of the Cowboys' offseason, but the club maintains that they are committed to him, and Miles Austin is locked up long term. With Roy Williams as a potential contract casualty, the team could look for depth at the position after the first round or two.
TE: Jason Witten, John Phillips and Martellus Bennett are all in place.
C: Andre Gurode is aging, but he has years remaining on his contract and the club has bigger problems in the line.
G: Kyle Kosier is a free agent, Leonard Davis has not been good for two years, and there is nothing developing behind them. Guard should be a major offseason focus.
OT: Doug Free could become a free agent, and Marc Colombo appears to be done as a full time player. Even if Free is kept, the team will have to find a right tackle. Sam Young showed some promise and could be a potential borderline starter, but not necessarily in 2011.

DT: Rob Ryan said that he sees Jay Ratliff as a nose tackle, and Josh Brent did well as a rookie backup.
DE: Marcus Spears, Jason Hatcher and Stephen Bowen are all out of contracts, and Igor Olshansky dropped back in 2010. Sean Lissemore may add depth here, but end will have to be dealt with this offseason.
ILB: Keith Brooking needs to step back to a part time role and Bradie James has turned 30 himself, but there is hope that Sean Lee can transition into Brooking's spot and that James has more in the tank.
OLB: DeMarcus Ware holds down one spot, but Anthony Spencer struggled in 2010. Rob Ryan's evaluation of him may determine whether the club looks to add talent at the spot. Brandon Williams and Victor Butler showed flashes in 2010 but were not consistent enough to be looked at seriouisly as starters.
S: Alan Ball was basically a failed experiment as the starting free safety. Gerald Sensabaugh was mediocre and is a free agent. Barry Church showed more than 4th rounder Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, but neither looked like an immediate answer. Help is needed here, but the top of the draft is very weak at safety.
CB: Terence Newman's age (he'll turn 33 as the season starts) began to show in 2010, and Mike Jenkins graded out as one of the worst starting corners in the NFL. Orlando Scandrick has settled into a nickel role, and Bryan McCann looked like an NFL player, but this is another position that the Cowboys should look to upgrade and renew.

How does all of that add up? The Cowboys appear to need a new starting offensive tackle and could use upgrades at defensive end, right guard, safety and corner - even if they can hang onto their choice of free agents Free, Kosier, Spears, Sensabaugh and Bowen. Potential cuts of Davis, Barber and Roy Williams would thin out the depth at those spots and make additions more important.


DRAFT PROSPECTS 

If the Cowboys pick at No. 9 or near there, common wisdom is that they will choose from the following:

OT: Tyron SmithAnthony CastonzoNate Solder
DE: J.J. WattCameron Jordan
CB: Patrick PetersonPrince AmukamaraJimmy Smith

Smith is the top rated offensive linemen in most circles, though Matt Mosley said last week that his Valley Ranch sources tell him that the Cowboys don't see much difference between him and Castonzo or Solder. Smith is just 20 years old and is seen as a project but one that could survive immediately. Castonzo is that stereotypical Boston College lineman - which is usually a good thing. Solder has strength questions much like Free did early on, but he's long and has good feet.

Watt is whispered about as a Cowboys favorite. He's good at everything, but he usually appears in the teens on observer draft boards which makes him a natural trade-down target. Jordan would be a speedy end for the 3-4 scheme and also sits in the early teens on most boards.

Peterson is the top ranked player on many boards and is certain to be picked before No. 9. The Cowboys are believed to love him and could consider trading to the six spot (where they would have been picking anyway if they'd not beaten the Eagles on the last day of the season) if the draft falls such that he makes it that far. Amukamara preceded Smith as the popular choice for the Cowboys' pick. He and Peterson were long thought to be the two elite corners in the draft, and he could go anywhere from six to the early teens. Smith has closed the gap and now looks like a smaller drop from the top two as character concerns have waned. He's big and fast and performed well in the pass happy Big 12.

Blogging The Boys has features on the following players they see as potential Cowboys targets throughout the draft here: Greg Lloyd, Kelvin Sheppard, Bruce Carter, Prince Amukamara, Johnny Patrick, Shareece Wright, Korey Lindsey, Brandon Burton, Aaron Williams, Jonathan Nelson & Collin Zych, Rahim Moore, Eric Hagg, Da'Norris Searcy, Gabe Carimi, Nate Solder, Derek Sherrod, Anthony Castonzo, DeMarcus Love, Tyron Smith, Jake Kirkpatrick, Mike Pouncey, Jonathan Baldwin, DeMarco Murray & Phillip Tanner, Stevan Ridley, Jimmy Young, Cecil Shorts, Bilal Powell, Andre Holmes, Will Rackley, Edmund Gates.


PLAYER RANKINGS AND MOCK DRAFTS

SB Nation DFW has kept track of key mock drafts for weeks and will continue to do so this week here.

Mocking the Draft Top 200 (with scouting reports)
Mel Kiper's Big Board & Scouts Inc.'s rankings (For those with ESPN Insider) 
NFL.com's player rankings (the 'sort by grade' function seems to come and go)
Rick Gosselin's top 10 at each position (DMN Sub required)
CBS Sports Top 50
Scout.com Top 50


COWBOYS STRATEGY

Jerry Jones likes to trade down. It almost never works out for him, but he continues to believe in his organization's ability to use quantities of picks over quality while saving money. The popular belief again this year is that Jones won't want to spend top ten money and doesn't expect to see an elite talent available when the Cowboys go on the clock, so another move down the board is almost expected. 

If they buck that trend and try to move up, as mentioned above the expectation is that it will be to go get Patrick Peterson at the six spot. In their current location at nine, Amukamara and Smith seem to be the most likely possibilities. If they trade down, defensive ends and other offensive linemen seem to be the overriding favorites, with the likelihood being that they see a cluster of guys and will be happy with whoever falls to them from that group.

If they do intend to move down, Dallas will likely root for Alabama receiver Julio Jones or Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert to fall to them, spurring a potential bidding war. Mark Ingram looms as an intriguing possibility if they do move to the teens. Jerry Jones is thought to be a fan of his and the running back position isn't exactly settled.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.