The draft's just 3 weeks away now, I reckon I can't procrastinate any longer, or my draft analysis will be entirely in hindsight. This year, I decided to split the analysis up into two separate posts, one covering the first day (rounds 1 through 3), the second covering the festivities on Sunday (rounds 4 through 7). I do this because my analyses tend to be VERY long, and I fear that might discourage comments from the readers. Before getting into specifics as to which player I'd target in which round, I thought it might be helpful to explain my strategic approach to this year's draft. For openers, the Boys have done a nice job filling most of their most pressing needs in free agency, so they won't have to force picks to fit a need. Instead, they can go with the tried and true "best player available" approach-- to a certain degree. The thing is, the Cowboys still have some needs that they should address in the draft, but fortunately, many of their needs coincide with some of the stronger positions in this draft. As a result, a common-sense mix of both approaches (need and BPA) is in order here, I think. The most glaring needs going into this draft are offensive line, free safety, linebacker and wide receiver (TO and Glenn are on the wrong side of 30, after them there's just Patrick Crayton). Obviously, with 3 picks on the first day, the Cowboys aren't going to be able to fill all those needs on Saturday. Or will they? This draft goes maybe 12-15 players deep in so-called marquee talent, after that there isn't much difference between the next 30-40 players. So a team drafting at pick 18, like the Boys, might be tempted to trade down 5-10 picks, or maybe into the early second round even, in the process adding a third round pick. They might even be able to add a late second round pick instead of a third, depending on how far down they trade. Given all that, I strongly favor a trade down, so as to give the Boys four first day picks, with which they can hopefully address all the aforementioned needs. That's the first part of my master plan. The second part comes from listening to Jerry's interviews over these past weeks, where he talks about the team's draft plans. Among other things, he's said: 1) The Boys won't likely draft an offensive lineman in the first round... 2) The Boys probably won't draft a safety in either of the first two rounds... Jerry was very specific about those plans. Of course, he's blown smoke at us before, in fact he's semi-legendary for such things. But that was mostly a few years ago, it seems to me that in recent years he's been sensitive to the criticism he took for his disingenuousness, and has tried to be a bit more straightforward in interviews. So I'm taking Jerry at his word in formulating my draft plans-- no offensive linemen in round one, no safeties in the first two rounds. I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with those plans, but I'm taking him at his word. For your reference, when a player's name is followed by an asterisk, that indicates that the Cowboys have shown some specific interest in the player in question. This could mean an interview at the Senior Bowl or at the Combine, or a private workout. As for the rankings in this analysis, I've tried to use input from a number of different websites' value boards to arrive at a general consensus for each player's rank. Obviously, there's always the possibility that some team will draft a player somewhat higher than the consensus would have him going, and it's equally possible, even likely, that some of these players will slip much lower than is currently expected. Hey, I'm no oracle, and I try to keep my personal biases out of the ranking part of this exercise, but I can't tell you with certainty that the players will fall in the order I'm projecting. That's why I offer a number of different options for each pick. With these caveats in mind, on with the guesswork: FIRST ROUND Manny Lawson* 6-5 240 OLB/DE North Carolina St. 4.55 sec. 40 Kamerion Wimbley* 6-4 250 OLB/DE Florida St. 4.65 sec. 40 Bobby Carpenter* 6-3 250 OLB Ohio St. 4.65 sec. 40 Thomas Howard* 6-3 235 OLB Texas-El Paso 4.45 sec. 40 COMMENTS-- I'm not saying that linebacker is the only position the Cowboys should be targeting here, but if Jerry's being straight with us, and offensive line or safety aren't likely, that leaves wide receiver as the other option, and frankly, I'm not that enthused by the likely first round wideouts. I hate ignoring fine options at DB like Jason Allen, Ko Simpson or Donte Whitner, or quality offensive linemen like Marcus McNeill (though his reported back problems worry me some) and Max Jean-Gilles, but again, I'm taking Jerry at his word. At the same time, if the Boys do draft somewhere between pick 18 and pick 35, then the four linebackers listed above would all represent good value, and they DO need to bring in more quality linebackers if they wish to make the 3-4 work. Lawson and Wimbley are classic "tweeners", in the mold of DeMarcus Ware. Of course, the Cowboys already have a DeMarcus Ware, and he looks like he's gonna be a good one, but I guess a team can never have enough quality pass rushers. Personally, I like Carpenter the best at this spot, because he's more of a "classic" linebacker in the traditional sense, and as such would be a nice bookend on the opposite side of the defense from Ware. He has some pass rush skills, too. Howard is also more of a traditional linebacker, but a bit rawer talent than Carpenter. His raw speed is eye-opening, I have a hunch he'd be the type of linebacker who would not need to come off the field on obvious passing downs. Besides, once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I went to UTEP, so I naturally have a fondness for Miners. PERSONAL PREFERENCE-- Like a lot of Cowboys fans, I'm holding out hope for Bobby Carpenter; if he hadn't gotten hurt late last season, he would probably have been a top 10 pick in this draft. As things stand now, though, the Boys could probably move down to pick 25 or so, and still have a good shot at picking him up. SECOND ROUND Charles Spencer* 6-5 350 OG/OT Pitt 5.1 sec. 40 Jonathon Scott* 6-6 320 OT Texas 5.3 sec. 40 Davin Joseph* 6-6 310 OG/C/OT Oklahoma 5.1 sec. 40 Darryn Colledge* 6-4 300 OT Boise St. 5.05 sec. 40 Chris Chester* 6-4 306 C/OG Oklahoma 4.9 sec. 40 COMMENTS-- Again, I'm not trying to suggest that offensive line is the only position worth targeting at this point in the draft, because it isn't. I could certainly support drafting a safety like Danieal Manning or Daniel Bullocks at this point too, they'd be good value and a team need. But offensive line is a glaring need as well, perhaps the most glaring need for this team as it's currently constituted, and any of the players listed above would be terrific value at pick 49. In the glory days of the Cowboys, Hudson Houck wanted his "big butts", those massive, mauling drive blockers, but Parcells prefers more agile linemen, guys who can trap, guys who can get out on the sweep. Charles Spencer is the best of both worlds, and as an added bonus, he could play either guard or tackle in the NFL. Scott doesn't have that kind of versatility, he's strictly a tackle, but a good one (and I'm a Longhorns fan, and this is my mock). Two months ago, you could never have convinced me that Jon would fall to the second round, but his stock has been slipping here of late, for two reasons-- scouts were disappointed at his strength, at how few reps he could do in the bench press, and they expected him to put up a better 40 time than he did. However, I feel his subpar performance in the bench press is a function of how unusually long his arms are (meaning he has to move that weight a greater distance to get one rep), and scouts generally consider long arms to be a strong advantage for an offensive tackle. I was also kind of surprised that he only ran a 5.3 40, and honestly believe he's faster than that. Joseph is the most versatile of the offensive linemen in this bunch, though he's a guard I have seen some reports that project him to center and some that project him to tackle. Colledge is the most mobile and athletic linemen considered here, but I'd like for him to get a little bigger, and worry about the jump from Boise State to the NFL. Chester really intrigues me, I think the Boys could use an upgrade at center. More to the point, he's a converted tight end (check out that 40 time, it is NOT a misprint), and we all know how Parcells loves tight ends and offensive linemen who have been converted from tight end, so I'm not surprised to learn the Boys have an interest in Chris. PERSONAL PREFERENCE-- I really, really like Spencer, but this ol' Horns fan would smile if Scott was the choice. THIRD ROUND (SAFETY) Cedric Griffin* 6-1 200 CB/FS Texas 4.5 sec. 40 Pat Watkins* 6-4 206 FS Florida State 4.45 sec. 40 Greg Blue* 6-2 220 SS/FS Georgia 4.55 sec. 40 Anthony Smith* 6-1 195 FS Syracuse 4.55 sec. 40 Jon Alston* 6-1 225 S (OLB) Stanford 4.4 sec. 40 COMMENTS-- If the Cowboys are ever gonna draft a free safety in this draft, they'd be well-advised to take one now, because the pickings will get rather slim on Day Two. But as was the case in the first two rounds, there is nice talent at other positions that would bear looking at in round 3-- Rodrique Wright, a DT from Texas that the Cowboys apparently think could play DE in their 3-4, and occasionally slip inside to DT when they go to the 4-3. Then there's Dusty Dvoracek from Oklahoma, another DT that I think could either play DT in the 4-3 or DE in the 3-4, and LeKevin Smith, a pure NT prospect (the Cowboys need a backup NT for Jason Ferguson, though that need isn't as pressing as the other 4 priorities I mentioned early on in this piece). I also like OG/C Jason Spitz in this range, he has the size and mobility you look for in an interior lineman, and Chris Gocong, a LB/DE tweener who racked up 40 sacks in college his last 2 years. Admittedly, this was at a rather low level of competition, but still, 40 sacks is 40 sacks. A few weeks ago, most folks considered him a 5th or 6th round pick, but he's one who's been rocketing up the charts here lately. Of the safeties, Griffin was a cornerback for my beloved Horns, but his size and mediocre 40 times lead some scouts to believe his NFL future lies at free safety. Watkins fascinates me because of how tall he is, it would be tough for opposing quarterbacks to drop the ball in over top of him in the deep zone. Blue is more of a strong safety type, but there are reports that he has run some considerably faster 40 times in private workouts, more in the 4.4 second range. If he does indeed have that kind of speed, I think he could probably adapt nicely to fee safety. Smith has been compared to Donovin Darius, and of course the Cowboys have a nice connection to Syracuse with former head coach Paul Pasqualoni on their staff. I have a hunch Coach P gave them a pretty fair scouting report on him (which might not necessarily be a good thing). Finally, the Boys have worked out Alston, who was a 225 pound linebacker for Stanford. But most scouting reports think that he's about as big as he's gonna get, and he runs a 4.4 second 40, so I'm wondering if he might not be a poor man's Darren Woodson. PERSONAL PREFERENCE-- The Horns fan in me says Griffin, but I'm most intrigued by Watkins, all 6-4 of him. THIRD ROUND (WIDE RECEIVER) Demetrius Williams* 6-2 195 WR Oregon 4.5 sec. 40 Mike Hass* 6-1 206 WR Oregon State 4.55 sec. 40 Martin Nance* 6-4 216 WR Miami-Ohio 4.55 sec. 40 Todd Watkins* 6-2 195 WR Brigham Young 4.35 sec. 40 Brad Smith* 6-2 216 WR (QB) Missouri 4.45 sec. 40 Hank Baskett* 6-3 220 WR New Mexico 4.55 sec. 40 Jonathon Orr* 6-2 195 WR Wisconsin 4.4 sec. 40 COMMENTS-- Man, just look at that list of wideouts, and the Boys have demonstrated an interest in every one of them. That's why, if they do trade down to acquire an extra third round pick, I'd look to safety first; there are so many quality options at wide receiver that it's more likely that a good one will be available later in the third. For that matter, there are wideouts as yet undiscussed who are likely to still be on the board as late as the fifth round, so if the Boys don't pull of a trade down, I'd go safety in the third, and see what's left at wide receiver in the fifth round. Williams and Hass would be the two highest rated receivers on this list, in fact it's quite possible either or both will be off the board by the time pick 80 rolls around. Both are bigger, possession-type wideouts who were productive in the Pac-10. Nance was an absolute stud a year or two back, before he got hurt, a big receiver who could run. In 2003, he caught 90 of Ben Roethlisberger's passes, for almost 1500 yards (1498, to be exact), then he got hurt in 2004 and caught just 25 passes. He didn't seem to be quite as fast this past season, but still caught 81 passes for 1107 yards, 14 of them for TDs. It may be that he lost some of the speed he had pre-injury, or it may be that he'll get some more of it back in the fullness of time. Watkins is the burner of this group, and the Cowboys have said they'd like to inject some more speed to the receiver corps. Two years ago, he averaged a hair over 20 yards per catch. Smith is making the conversion from quarterback to wideout, and his size/speed ratio has apparently caught the Cowboys' collective eye. Could he be a bigger, faster Hines Ward? Baskett is another large receiver, Orr isn't quite as big but is a good deal faster. PERSONAL PREFERENCE-- I believe I see some Alvin Harper in Martin Nance. BEAR'S FIRST DAY MOCK: 1) Bobby Carpenter 6-3 250 OLB Ohio State 4.65 sec. 40 2) Charles Spencer 6-5 350 OG/OT Pitt 5.1 sec. 40 3a) Pat Watkins 6-4 206 FS Florida State 4.45 sec. 40 3b) Martin Nance 6-4 216 WR Miami-Ohio 4.55 sec. 40 Carpenter will put up a better 40 time when he gets his broken leg fully healthy, and I think Nance is also capable of running a bit faster, I believe he's still working through his rehab process too. Anyway, that would be the way I'd approach the first day of the draft. In rereading what I've written here, I'm struck for the first time with how all of the players I've recommended are players the Boys have shown some interest in. This wasn't conscious on my part, and there will be Day Two players considered who haven't seemed to draw their interest (at least, I haven't heard of them showing such interest). In the next 24 hours, I'll be tackling the second day, and my approach will revert to more of a traditional best player available approach, with players at a number of different positions considered for each spot. But for now, I welcome comments and criticisms. I'll bet that any of you who waded all the way through this post are REAL glad that I opted to split this year's effort up into two parts.