Just over four hours away from the start of the NFL Draft, here’s Cowboys Mock Draft 7.0…the final version of the 2012 Cowboys Dream Draft.

It starts with the two most feared Draft Day words amongst many Cowboys fans…but have no fear:

1st Round – 14 – TRADE DOWN

DALLAS trades 1st round pick (14) to SAN DIEGO for 1st round pick (18) and 3rd round pick (78)

1st Round – 18 – TRADE DOWN

DALLAS trades 1st round pick (18) to CLEVELAND for 1st round pick (22), 4th round pick (100), and 4th round pick (118)

So, it’s time for the Cowboys to make their pick and deliver the first of several shockers on this night:

1st Round – 22 – DONT’A HIGHTOWER – LB – Alabama

Four year starter…2-time captain…defensive play caller…leading tackler on national champion defense… graduated in 3 ½ years …Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said, “He is the kind of special talent you never want to take off the field.  He’s our leader out there.”

While there has been much pre-draft talk about Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw.  Truth is, Hightower is the better player.  In fact, when Saban had the opportunity to choose between the two for a starting OLB job their sophomore season,  he chose Hightower (6-2 ¼, 265) … While Upshaw is certainly a very good football player, Hightower possesses more speed, running a 4.65 forty with a Demarcus Ware-like 1.59 10-yard split.  In contrast, Upshaw, who weighed in at 279 pounds at his Pro Day workout, clocked in the high 4.7s with a 1.67 split.

Former Alabama QB Greg McElroy:  “Dont’a is so big and fast that he’s almost unblockable.  I was concerned after the (2009) ACL injury, but Dont’a worked harder in the weight room than anyone  I’ve ever seen.”  As a testament to his work ethic, after tearing his ACL in the 4th week of the 2009 season, Hightower rehabbed the knee so quickly he was able to participate in 2010 spring practice less than six months later.

Hightower brings great position flexibility in that he has played three different positions (ILB, OLB, DE) in Alabama’s 3-4 defense…Former teammate Rolando McClain of the Oakland Raiders:  “Dont’a can play any position.  He’s a freak to me.”

After the Cowboys signed veteran ILB Dan Connor to a two-year contract in free agency, some thought they would be out of the market for Hightower, but at 265 pounds, he has the ideal size and  edge rushing explosion to play the Sam OLB and rush DE position with the Cowboys.  That combined with terrific intangibles makes Hightower a perfect fit in Dallas, just as he would have been in Pittsburgh or Baltimore, two teams that reportedly had targeted him with late 1st round picks.  If the Steelers and Ravens want Hightower, then the Cowboys should too!

And that brings us to the second shocker in this Dream Draft:

2nd Round – TRADE UP

Dallas trades 2nd round pick (45), 3rd round pick from SD (78), and 4th round pick from Cleveland (118) to New England for 1std round pick (27)

1st Round – 27 – COBY FLEENER – TE – Stanford

Best tight end in the draft… Jason Witten clone with 4.45 speed…Jason Garrett now has the two tight end “matchup nightmare” that he thought he was getting when the Cowboys drafted Martellus Bennett four years ago.  Fleener (6-6, 247) averaged 20 yards a catch and scored 10 touchdowns last year… graduating from Stanford with a master’s degree…used at Stanford as an in-line blocker, slot receiver, h-back, and flanker…prototype height and reach the Cowboys look for in their tight ends…has the frame to add an additional 10 pounds or so…will complement Witten, adding a rare ability from the tight end position to stretch the field and create mismatches much like what the Patriots are able to do with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, who combined for 169 catches and 24 TDs last season.

3rd Round – 81 – RYAN BROYLES – WR – Oklahoma

All-time leading receiver in NCAA Division I history…quickly rebounded from a November ACL injury to run a 4.57 forty for pro scouts this month, just 150 days after surgery…Broyles (5-11, 192) is a high character, competitive, tough player who runs great routes and has very reliable hands…doesn’t have great long speed but really good quickness and body flexibility…Oklahoma’s passing game completely fell apart after he went down with an injury…ideal slot receiver but has the potential and strength (21 bench reps) to get off the jam and play outside as well…was projected to be an early 2nd round pick prior to the injury…middle of the 3rd round is about where he will probably be taken.

4th Round – 100 – RON BROOKS – CB – LSU

A product of Irving MacArthur High School, Brooks (5-10, 190) was used primarily as the nickel cornerback on LSU’s talented defense…did see quality playing time behind 1st round talent starters Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu…opened the eyes of scouts with a speedy 4.40 forty time and a 38 vertical…flashed playmaking ability, scoring 3 defensive TDs the last two years…figures to be a dynamic gunner on special teams and could develop.

4th Round – 113 – PHILIP BLAKE – C – Baylor

1st team All-Big 12 center who fits the mold of what the Cowboys are looking for in a player…6-3, 311…started at right tackle in 2009 before becoming starting center his last two years at Baylor…a native Canadian, he started his collegiate career at Tyler JC…earned Sociology degree last August…older, mature player (turns 27 in November)…should be able to compete for starting center position immediately.

4th Round – 135 – KEITH TANDY – CB/FS – West Virginia

As analysts learn more and more about Tandy, his stock continues to rise…2-time 1st team All-Big East cornerback who can deliver a hit like a safety which is where we project him in the NFL…13 career interceptions…one of the fast rising sleeper defensive backs in this draft…smart, hard-working, vocal, confident…while looking at tape of another West Virginia player, Tandy leaped off the screen at me, “Who’s that number 8?”…academic honor roll…ran 4.43 at his pro day…Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel:  “He’s like having another coach on the field.”…he will be an immediate key special teams player, a top gunner on punt coverage as this video suggests…has the makeup and ball skills to become a playmaking free safety and eventually could become the quarterback of the defense.

5th Round – 152 – JAYE HOWARD – DE – Florida

Howard (6-3, 300) is projected as a mid-round pick despite the fact he ran a 4.82 forty at the combine with an explosive 1.66 10-yard split…registered 65 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 5 ½ sacks his senior season…good athlete…played on state champion basketball team in Apopka, Florida.

6th Round – 186 – JACQUIES  SMITH – OLB – Missouri

South Oak Cliff Golden Bear…former Mizzou QB Chase Daniel told me last week Smith’s a lot like former Tiger Aldon Smith, the #7 overall pick last year who had 14 sacks his rookie season in San Francisco…a 6th round steal?  Ran a 4.59 forty with a 1.66 split at his Pro Day…Leadership Award…Smith (6-3, 253) provides added depth at OLB as Victor Butler enters his free agent year and with Anthony Spencer’s time here coming to an end.

7th Round – 222- JOE BANYARD – RB – UTEP

Love this kid…grew up in the West Texas town of Sweetwater…good size (5-11, 213), strength (25 bench reps) and speed (4.46 with 1.47 split)…to compare, Felix Jones ran a 4.44 with a 1.46 split at the 2008 combine with 13 bench reps…began his college career at TCU…in two seasons at UTEP, ran for 1455 yards on 216 carries, 6.7 yards per attempt, with 29 receptions…also played special teams…older brother of Nick Banyard, a New Mexico basketball recruit who played for Flower Mound Marcus’ 2-time state champion basketball team.