Cowboys can't afford draft whiff

IRVING, Texas -- The 2012 NFL draft for the Dallas Cowboys has to be about finding players who can produce now.

Failures with first-round picks are no longer an option for a proud franchise that has failed to reach the postseason the past two seasons.

It doesn't matter if the Cowboys trade up or down with the 14th overall pick on Thursday night. Jerry Jones suggested either could happen in a 30-minute chat with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

"I don't think that the draft alone will be the thing that causes us to have a better record and play better," Jones said. "But I think the combination of what we've done, when I really look frankly at the new faces we are going to have on our roster, I think all of that will put us in a better shape to compete and have a better time of it than last year."

Tom Ciskowski, the assistant director of player personnel, talked about finding players who can challenge the Jay Ratliffs, DeMarcus Wares and Jason Wittens of the world.

Coach Jason Garrett visited Alabama's Pro Day and said he wanted to see players from an elite program. He noted there could be at least five first-round picks from Alabama.

The Cowboys can't afford to have another draft like the one in 2009, when they traded out of the second round and now have only one player out of 12 selections who gets significant playing time.

Victor Butler, a fourth-round pick in 2009, was mentioned Wednesday as someone who can help with the pass rush.

In the same draft class, there was a third-round pick named Robert Brewster out of Ball State. Nothing personal against Ball State, but Brewster didn't look or play like the man who officially retired Wednesday, Marc Colombo.

The Cowboys brass made a point of mentioning how special Colombo was during Wednesday's pre-draft news conference. When Stephen and Jerry Jones along with Garrett posed for a picture with Colombo, somebody said this is how a tackle is supposed to look. Big. Imposing. A player who makes an impact in the game.

The Cowboys need that in this draft.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Garrett talked about finding the right fit, but sometimes just because a player looked good in workouts doesn't mean he can play well for your team.

Last year, the Cowboys hit on three draft picks, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray and Bill Nagy. All started during the 2011 season.

But the problem with that draft class was fourth-round pick David Arkin from Missouri State. He physically wasn't ready to play last year. So he got a redshirt year, so to speak.

No more redshirts.

Get some ballplayers.

In 2010, the Cowboys did that with Dez Bryant and Sean Lee. Even seventh-round pick Sean Lissemore is still around and expected to be a contributor this season.

But there was fourth-round pick Akwasi Owusu-Ansah. He was a safety, or cornerback or wide receiver or something.

He just couldn't play.

Stop wasting time on experimental players. Garrett made two powerful statements without saying anything the past two years.

He attended USC's pro day last year.

The Trojans produce NFL players. USC has had 16 offensive tackles drafted in the first round, twice as many as any other school. The Cowboys got one in Smith, who will play left tackle this year.

This year, Garrett went to Alabama after the NFL owners meetings. He wanted to see players molded by coach Nick Saban, a man he respects. In 2010, Alabama had four players drafted in the first round.

You see the Cowboys trying to do the right things for their franchise.

Now they must pick the right players.

"Our objective independent of this year would be to in the first round, the second round and the third round have guys who can be starting players for you," Garrett said. "Now, are they day-one starters? You can't say that. Nobody can say that, but at some point in their careers you would like to think that they're a starter, and the sooner the better."