Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/11/13
Season Summary2012 Record: 8-8, 3rd in the NFC EastThe Cowboys used the 2012 offseason to upgrade their blocking, and make it almost good enough for the NFL.  They finished the season by once again losing a de facto division championship to fall to third in the division.  A week 1 win against the defending league champion New York Giants provided a spark of hope that quickly faded in the light of the cheap and ineffective offensive line (although injuries were clearly a factor).  The defense also succumbed to injuries, starting players off the street by the time Week 17 arrived.  Rob Ryan and the coaching staff appear to have received the brunt of the blame for 2012's poor finish, although the fans blame Romo and the analysts blame injuries and weak offensive line play.Positions of needRT, LG, RG, SThe clear top priority is the offensive line, most likely at the guard spots.  Pass protection was poor all season, and the Cowboys only had a ground game when DeMarco Murray was on the field, the only back they have that can create holes as well as run through them.The interior of the line (including the cheap to acquire guards) failed to perform, and it got Romo killed in Week 17.  Some of the issues in the interior of the line may already be fixed with the re-signing of Phil Costa, but that depends on the health of the veteran center and the ability of the line as a whole to stay on the field.At right tackle, Jeremy Parnell is no sure quality starter, no matter what Valley Ranch thinks of him, and Doug Free is clearly not the answer at tackle unless he experiences some sort of career rebirth.However, the safety positions aren't necessarily where they need to be either.  Gerald Sensabaugh never lived up to his contract, and none of the remaining players are proven durable starters.  Brandon Carr could see some time at safety, but he was signed to play cornerback and should remain there.Defensive end was on the list as well until the Cowboys surprised everyone by tagging Anthony Spencer a second time.  He likely won't be the answer long term unless his price drops or the Cowboys manage to stay out of the cap hell that are creating for themselves, but it's no longer an immediate position of need.A second running back would also be nice, but Lance Dunbar can fill in for now, which makes running back another position that can wait.First Round StrategyNeed is the worst evaluator of talent.  It's better to draft players based on their abilities, but on a team like the Cowboys, who have built their salary cap plan around the idea that they can win now, draft picks need to fill needs.The release of Sensabaugh created Twitter buzz around the idea that the Cowboys could draft Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.That would be a terrible idea.The CLEAR top priority is offensive line.  Some mock drafts put Alabama guard Chance Warmack falling to the Cowboys with the 18th pick, which would be huge, but it's more likely that the Cowboys would land a player like Jonathan Cooper or DJ Fluker in the middle of the round.Trade WindsWith all that said, there is a distinct possibility that the Cowboys trade up to take Chance Warmack or Lane Johnson before anyone else can.  If the offensive line is as high a priority as the cornerbacks were last year, and one of those players draws the interest of the Cowboys the way Morris Claiborne did, it's certainly a possibility.Teams To Watch In Case Of SurprisesMany of the teams ahead of the Cowboys have offensive line issues.  It'll be difficult to get a truly great lineman at 18, but a career quality starter is certainly viable.Picks one, two, and four could all be offensive lineman (Chiefs, Jaguars, and Eagles).  The real key is going to be the next tier of picks- the Cardinals at seven, Bills at eight, Titans at 10, and the Chargers at 11.  If five of these picks are offensive linemen, the Cowboys might be forced to trade up or settle for Vaccaro at safety.  More, and there won't be any first round OL talent left when the Cowboys pick.The depth of defensive front seven talent in this draft could allow a player like Cooper or Fluker to fall to the Cowboys at 18, but it's not a guarantee.  The Cowboys themselves could very well be the team to shake up the draft, just like last year.First Round Pick History2012, pick 6- Morris Claiborne (traded with Rams to move from 16 to 6)2011, pick 9- Tyron Smith (previous first round OL pick by the Cowboys was 1981)2010, pick 24- Dez BryantNo pick in 2009 due to Roy Williams (WR) trade with Lions2008, pick 22- Felix Jones (pick acquired from Browns during 2007 draft)2008, pick 25- Michael Jenkins2007, pick 26- Anthony Spencer (traded pick 22 to Browns, then acquired pick 26 from Eagles)
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