After giving up more points (406) than all but five teams in the league last season and the second most passing touchdowns (31) in team history, shoring up of the defense with impact pressure players was the top priority.
The Cowboys used six of their eight picks on defensive players, led by pass rushing linebacker Demarcus Ware with the 11th overall pick, defensive end Marcus Spears at No. 20 and linebacker Kevin Burnett in second round, 42nd overall.
"We gave up 406 points last year and 31 touchdown passes," coach Bill Parcells said. "That is the highest of my career. I knew for a fact if that didn't change, the fortunes of the Cowboys wouldn't change. It is obvious you can't give up 25 points a game and expect to win. We have to fix that. Hopefully we have started down that path."
The Cowboys, who didn't have a third round pick thanks to last year's trade with the Texans for quarterback Drew Henson, picked up running back Marion Barber III with their first pick of the fourth round.
After owner Jerry Jones was unable to make a first day trade for only the fourth time since 1989 -- and he certainly tried to move one of the two first round picks to add more value -- the Cowboys pulled off a deal in the fourth round to get defensive end Chris Canty. To acquire Canty, the Cowboys gave the Eagles their fifth-round pick this year and a fourth-rounder next year. Dallas also received a 2006 sixth-round pick from Philadelphia. The Cowboys then took safety Justin Berialt and tackle Rob Pettiti in the sixth round and defensive end Jay Ratliff in the seventh round.
Jones said the Cowboys thought about getting a receiver at times in the draft but felt compelled to address their needs on defense.
Making it even more a priority was the team's impending move to a 3-4 defense next season. These picks on defense were all selected with the 3-4 in mind, especially Ware, Spears and Canty.
They do give the give the Cowboys "total flexibility to do some of the things that the 3-4 allows you to do," said Parcells: "We're prepared to play both fronts if we have to ... we're prepared scheme-wise to go either way."
"I walked into Bill's office quite a few times last season, and he would be wringing his hands saying we had to get pressure on the quarterback," Jones said. "These guys should allow us to do that. The combination of Ware and Spears gives us total flexibility: Spears gives us size, and Ware gives us flexibility."
The top two picks were the key to draft for the Cowboys, as Ware and Spears were the two players the Cowboys wanted heading into draft day.
They decided to take Ware first because of his abilities as a pass rusher, gambling that Spears would still be there at 20.
A nervous Jones and Parcells even tried to trade up three or four times to get Spears but were unable to do so.
When he fell to them at 20, Jones said it was like checking off a Christmas list.
"I think we had a good fortune there on the 20th pick," Parcells said. "I thought there was a good chance someone would come and get that pick.
Actually we know now for a fact that someone was trying to trade up in front of us. Realistically I didn't think we could expect to get two players like this at the top of the draft."
A closer look at the Cowboys' picks:
Round 1/11 -- Demarcus Ware, DE, 6-4, 247, Troy State
Expected to compete for starting job at linebacker if the Cowboys move to a 3-4 defense. Projects as a nickel pass rusher in the 4-3. Reminds Parcells of Lawrence Taylor and Willie McGinest.
Round 1/20 -- Marcus Spears, DE, 6-4, 298, Louisiana State
Likely starter at defensive end opposite Greg Ellis in both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes. He possesses the powerful size and strength Bill Parcells covets in defensive linemen.
Round 2/42 -- Kevin Burnett, OLB, 6-3, 237, Tennessee
Good size, speed and power. Solid tackler and effective playmaker in blitzing situations. Could compete for a starting job in the 3-4 or the 4-3.
Round 4/109 -- Marion Barber, RB, 5-11, 221, Minnesota
Was very productive in college and catch the ball. Has the size to provide a nice change of pace with Julius Jones.
Round 4/132 -- Chris Canty, DE, 6-7, 286, Virginia
Would have gone higher if not for injury concerns. Is a prototypical 3-4 end. Cowboys think they got a steal. Also played for Parcells friend Al Groh in college.
Round 6/208 -- Justin Beriault, FS, 6-2, 199, Ball State
A hard hitting safety who the Cowboys hope will address a huge need at free safety next to Roy Williams. Should at least be factor on special teams as a rookie.
Round 6/209 -- Rob Petitti, OT, 6-6, 347, Pittsburgh
Needs to lose a little weight and the Cowboys will quickly put him in touch with the strength coach. The Cowboys hope he can develop enough to get into the mix at right tackle.
Round 7/224 -- Jay Ratliff, DE, 6-3, 293, Auburn
Is considered an ideal 3-4 end, though he is still a little raw. The started his college career as a tight end before moving to defense.
Draft Exceeds Expectations
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