January is the least pleasant time of year for the Dallas Cowboys. Once again, Jerry Jones' squad has found itself sitting at home watching the playoffs instead of participating.
An 8-8 season leaves the Cowboys with the 14th overall pick in April's NFL draft. Jason Garrett knows there are some chinks in the armor and can use his seven draft picks to address the Cowboys' needs.
Lets see whom the Cowboys should rank the highest on their draft boards and be ready to select in the first round.
No need was more evident for the Cowboys this season than at cornerback. Terence Newman has seen better days at corner, and Mike Jenkins' health issues have limited his field action. Kirkpatrick is widely considered to be the No. 2 cornerback in the draft behind LSU's Morris Claiborne.
The tall, rangy junior was a cornerstone for the Alabama defense this season. His stats may say otherwise (he had 30 tackles and no interceptions this year), but ask SEC quarterbacks if that matters. They are the ones that didn't throw in his direction.
It may be wishful thinking for the Cowboys to have Kirkpatrick there for them at No. 14, but his draft stock could deplete because of off-the-field issues. If he is there, the Cowboys will get a guy who can instantly contribute.
If the Cowboys decide to look on the offensive side of the ball in the first round, the offensive line should be the first addressed. The Cowboys struck gold in the first round last year with Tyron Smith, who has become one of the game's best young right tackles. Surely Tony Romo wouldn't mind seeing another big body up front to protect him.
DeCastro is another player who could step in and start immediately. He spent his college days at Stanford protecting Andrew Luck and paving the way for a ground game that averaged 210 yards per game last season.
DeCastro won't be around past the first round, so the Cowboys would have to make a move early to snare the top guard in the draft.
Jenkins started his career at Florida but was dismissed by the team prior to last season. He wound up at North Alabama, where his speed and athleticism were no match for the Division II competition.
Jenkins is one of the more physically gifted players in the draft but might be considered a reach at No. 14. Some teams may worry about his problems off the field, but the Cowboys have been known to roll the dice in the past on players with questionable reputations.
Surely Jenkins' combine stats will increase his buzz, and a solid Senior Bowl performance all but locked him in as a first-round pick. Like Kirkpatrick, Jenkins could make an immediate impact for the Cowboys defense.
Another position the Cowboys seemed thin at throughout the year was inside linebacker. Sean Lee had a fantastic year, but Keith Brooking has probably seen his last days in Dallas.
Kuechly is built in a similar mold as Lee is: fast, strong and a tackling machine. The Butkus Award winner had 102 solo stops in 2011.
The Cowboys may not feel the need to take a linebacker in the first round, but Kuechly could instantly step in and make plays.
This may be more of a desire than a need. Aside from DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys pass rush looked uncharacteristically bad this season. An addition like Upshaw would put fear into opposing quarterbacks eyes.
Upshaw would fit in seamlessly in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense (the same defense he ran at Alabama) and provide the perfect complement to DeMarcus Ware. He may not be as athletically gifted as Ware, but he always finds a way to get to the quarterback.
He may not be around at No. 14, but if the Cowboys did decide to go with a pass-rusher it would be hard to find a better player.