Entering the 2013 NFL draft, which gets underway at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys are on a little bit of a roll. A team that for much of the first decade of the 21st century was criticized for its draft follies has hit on all of its first- and second-round picks since 2010, with the jury still out but looking favorable for Morris Claiborne.
Can they keep the momentum going in 2013? We'll get our first feel for things Thursday at Radio City Music Hall, when Dallas is scheduled to be on the clock with the No. 18 overall pick.
There's a lot of speculation right now, but let's just step back and get inside the Cowboys' war room. Here's what the team should be thinking in the hours leading up to the big event.
We have to keep it simple
Sometimes, we let our over-involved owner become too dead set on specific players, which costs us elsewhere. This is something ESPN's Dan Graziano mentioned yesterday:
It appears to me that Jerry Jones, who ultimately makes these decisions, falls in love with a player and does what he can to get him, the rest of the draft be damned. And a roster as thin with top-level talent as Dallas' has been for the last couple of years needs to make the second, third and fourth rounds more productive than the Cowboys usually have.
Who would you prefer to see Dallas draft 18th overall?
In the 2011 draft, we didn't mortgage later picks in order to do anything special in Round 1. We drafted Tyron Smith, who filled a major need and then took two more eventual starters—Bruce Carter and DeMarco Murray—with our second- and third-round choices. No trades, nothing fancy. Three very good players.
In 2010, we did move up three spots to take Dez Bryant in the first round and four spots to take Sean Lee in the second round. Those moves cost us later picks but also paid off, so we're not saying we're anti-trade. But in a deep draft that isn't top-heavy at all, like this one, we can't afford to become obsessed with someone in the top 10 and deal away valuable picks in the later rounds.
Right tackles can be found elsewhere
We need to improve the offensive line, yes, but the one spot at which we're in great shape is left tackle. No need to spend a first-round pick on a tackle, especially if we'd be reaching with the big three off the board and even if that player might provide us with an upgrade over Doug Free.
We have to remember that quality tackles are found later in the draft all the time, and two are actually still sitting unclaimed on the free-agent market. Worst case, we keep Free and hope he gets back on track, or Jermey Parnell emerges, or we find the cash to bring in Eric Winston.
This team is much more desperate to find help in the interior offensive and defensive line and at the safety position. That's why guys like Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, Sheldon Richardson and Kenny Vaccaro have to trump D.J. Fluker.
At safety, it's not Vaccaro or bust
We absolutely have to find a safety in this draft who can compete for a starting job right away. Obviously, Kenny Vaccaro is the ideal candidate for us in Round 1, but we also have to adhere to thought No. 1 on this list and avoid overpaying to move up and take Vaccaro. If he's not available when we're up, we have to accept that and draft for another position of need.
Either that or trade down. There's no need to panic. This draft is loaded with quality safeties. No Eric Berrys or Earl Thomases, maybe, but lots of guys could push for starting opportunities. If we have to wait for Round 2 to grab a guy like Eric Reid or Phillip Thomas, we're cool with that.