O.K., I'm a newbie when it comes to analyzing football. Last year's draft was the first draft I paid attention to (knew ANY of the prospects in ANY rounds). I learned a few things, and I want to suggest that we apply them to this draft:
1) Players will fall. Don't get your sights set on the 18th most valuable player and hope he's still there when the Cowboys draft. He might not be--but that means someone better will be! Drafting value means that, at 18, there will be someone that was top-10, that we didn't expect to get that far down, but somehow did. Yes, other teams passed on that player for some reason (maybe he has a question mark; maybe he's at an underdeveloped position). But I say, take the fallers and not the risers. If he was top 10 on your board, rejoice, and grab him.
2) Teams will trade. Maybe not as much as last year, if this is a draft with less tempting prospects. But it will still happen. Which will throw off all predictions and, again, throw you back to the players you value on your board.
3) Draft for good players, not to fix whole units. Example: Mo is a good player, the top-rated defensive player on our board last year, but his play did not improve our secondary. (This year he may break out and do better.) DeCastro is a good player, the top-rated guard on most people's boards, but his play did not fix anyone's offensive line. (This year he may stay healthy and do better.) All the people who pretend that one or two rookies who have never played a down in the NFL will start, stay healthy, AND fix our O-line, are dreaming. By all means grab good football players, in all rounds; an infusion of talent never hurts. But even if they start, rookies tend to struggle.
4) The real improvement of the team doesn't come from this year's draft, but last year's. The most valuable player "new" Cowboy this year? Hopefully Mo--who was only a so-so corner last year, but may have a really good year this year. The most valuable "new" players the last couple of years? Dez (but not his first year) and Lee (but not his first year). You get the picture.
Conclusion: If the Cowboys improve this year, I predict that this year's draft will have little to do with it. Instead, it will be because we reap improvement in Mo but also in Costa or Arkin, in Crawford or Wilbur, in Matt Johnson or Bruce Carter. Not that this year's draftees won't contribute, but they won't be the difference between an ailing unit and an elite unit. Not their first year.