'Boys Narrow Draft Focus

IRVING, TX -- The "draft experts'' had the Cowboys' "Big Board'' erected months ago. But do you want to know something about Dallas' War Room that the supposed experts don't know? The NFL Draft is now just six weeks away, and guess what?

The Cowboys themselves STILL haven't erected their own "Big Board.''

They have, however, according to two higher-up sources in the organization, identified the three areas of focus for the team's first-round pick, the No. 18 overall selection in the draft: It's official: Offensive tackle, safety and linebacker, in that order.

One of the sources was careful to note that the Cowboys have learned lessons from previous years' mistakes and "will not concentrate excessively on need,'' as he put it. "We don't want to take a Shante Carver just because we need a defensive end. We don't want to overstate the need for a Clay Shiver at the expense of getting a Tony Brackens.''

Ah, Shante Carver. Ah, Clay Shiver. I almost feel like I owe you an apology for even mentioning them. But they are cautionary tales for the Cowboys, from years past when the team wrongly thought it was strong enough to add the best player at a position rather than add the best player REGARDLESS of position.

"You go with the position of need,'' a source said, "almost exclusively as a tiebreaker between two similarily graded players.''

While the outside world constructs its endless array of mock drafts, the Cowboys wait. They will indeed erect that "Big Board'' in the War Room; right now, there is a master list that ranks players by talent, regardless of position -- but it's so much a work-in-progress list that players' rankings, their "scores'' as pro prospects, have not yet been permanently attached aside their names.

Notably, while the scouting department naturally must examine each and every prospect at each and every position, there is a special attention being paid to offensive tackles, safeties and linebackers.

The top players at each position are D'Brickshaw Ferguson (Virginia tackle), Michael Huff (Texas safety) and A.J. Hawk (Ohio State linebacker). Dallas is assuming each of them will be well gone by 18, but have nevertheless, according to the sources, become well-versed in the talents of those players and the handful of college players who rank right behind them. The Cowboys must also balance moves they make in free agency with who they eventually target in the draft.

"But by and large, we need to take the best guy, no matter what,'' said a source, "and not waver from that because of other influences.''

And, if plans go just right, not waver from selecting an offensive tackle, safety or linebacker.

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