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Draft of '09 begins to burden Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Dallas Cowboys' 2009 draft class might have been doomed long before the team went on the clock.

Giving away first- and third-round picks for an underachieving, overpriced receiver isn't exactly a great start for a draft.

But, unless Roy Williams counts, it appears unlikely that the draft class of '09 will ever produce a starting offensive or defensive player for the Cowboys. Dallas ended up with a dozen picks after all the wheeling and dealing was done, but Jerry Jones & Co. dropped the ball with most of them.

Dallas had the Dirty Dozen in 1975, when 12 draft picks made the squad and helped form the core of a Super Bowl championship team two years later. Call the class of '09 the Dud Dozen and cross your fingers that it doesn't cripple the franchise as it moves forward.

The '09 crop should be blossoming as it enters its third season. That class would ideally be a young bunch with some seasoning that featured a few starters and several players fighting for significant roles.

Yeah, right.

A class that was met with much initial skepticism looks even worse in hindsight. It's one of the worst classes of the Jerry era.

There isn't a player from that class pushing for a starting job with the Cowboys, who have nothing but sheepish looks to show for the first three rounds. Backup outside linebacker Victor Butler, third-string quarterback Stephen McGee and third tight end John Phillips are the group's only good bets to survive final cuts in early September.

Look at the damage drafts like 1995, 2000 and 2001 did to the Cowboys. Playoff win droughts tend to happen to teams that trade away first-round picks, reach for character risks like Sherman Williams, Dwayne Goodrich and Quincy Carter in the second round and fail to find any late-round gems.

The only way a general manager survives so many bad drafts is if he happens to sign the paychecks.

That's not to say Jason Garrett's Cowboys can't overcome the Dud Dozen. However, it's certainly a major hurdle for a coach who constantly preaches about the importance of creating competition.

"What you're trying to do is just really move forward and create [competition] however you can create it," Garrett said when asked about the '09 draft. "Obviously, you want to draft really well year after year. That creates the most competition on your team really throughout the roster.

"Then when you have some holes on the team, you address those holes in different ways, whether it's in the next year's draft or through young free agents that we bring in."

You could consider the first couple rounds of April's draft to be the Cowboys trying to make up for their biggest whiffs two years earlier.

Workout wonder Jason Williams was supposed to be Kevin Burnett's replacement as a nickel linebacker while being groomed for a starting role. Williams never got a clue in Wade Phillips' defense, much less earned a role, before the Cowboys cut him early last season. Now, the hope is that 2011 second-round pick Bruce Carter can recover from knee surgery and be a nickel linebacker who develops into a starter.

The Cowboys needed offensive tackle Robert Brewster, the Cowboys' other third-round pick in 2009, to be ready to replace Marc Colombo by now. If that didn't work out, the thought was Brewster could move inside to guard. But he was so bad that no team claimed Brewster when the Cowboys cut him last fall. He spent the rest of the season on the practice squad and is out of football now.

The secondary misses in the 2009 draft sting almost as much, considering the Cowboys' critical lack of quality depth at cornerback and safety.

Jones called DeAngelo Smith the key to the draft due to his position flexibility after drafting the cornerback/safety in the fifth round. He was cut at the end of the preseason, and his time with the Cowboys is memorable only because he lost a 40-yard race to a kicker. (Too bad David Buehler, another fifth-rounder, can't kick as well as he runs. If that were the case, the Cowboys wouldn't be turning over every rock trying to replace him.)

The Cowboys thought fifth-round safety Michael Hamlin and seventh-round cornerback Mike Mickens -- who set their schools' career records for interceptions -- were steals who could help fill the team's desperate need for playmakers in the secondary. Not so much. Mickens didn't survive final cuts his rookie year; Hamlin was gone by the middle of last season.

Sixth-round pick Stephen Hodge was supposed to be a special-teams ace, but knee problems prevented him from ever playing a down for the Cowboys.

Other than the three reserves expected to make the roster, fourth-round outside linebacker Brandon Williams, fifth-round kicker Buehler and seventh-round receiver Manny Johnson are all that's left from that draft class. Williams appears to be on the verge of losing his spot to undrafted rookie Alex Albright. Veteran Shayne Graham's arrival probably spells the end for Buehler. And Johnson, who spent most of the last two seasons on the practice squad, is an afterthought at receiver.

It's a draft the Cowboys wish they could forget, but the holes on the roster won't let that happen.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.