By Bill Jones

This week-long mock draft exercise has examined the various strategies the Cowboys could employ in this NFL Draft. Previous mocks have included scenarios where the Cowboys used their 1st round pick on S Mark Barron, DE Michael Brockers, OG David DeCastro and CB Dre Kirkpatrick.

Now, buckle your seat belts, hold on tight! We bring you the 2012 Ultimate Cowboys Mock Dream Draft 6.0, and we start with what some Cowboys fans consider the two most dreaded Draft Day words:

1st Round – 14 – TRADE DOWN

Dallas trades 1st round pick (14) to San Diego for 1st round pick (18) and 3rd round pick (78).

Chargers, reportedly, are willing to move up to take Mark Barron.

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).

Browns clearly have become antsy, waiting for their QB to fall to them at 22. So, they give up two of their 13 draft picks to move up four spots and take Brandon Weeden, who they believe can compete right now with Colt McCoy for their starting QB job.

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) and OLB Anthony Spencer to Indianapolis for 2nd round pick (34).

With the selection of Hightower to play OLB, the Cowboys can now trade their “franchise player” Anthony Spencer to the Indianapolis Colts, who are willing to move down 11 spots in the 2nd round with hopes of signing Spencer to a long term contract. Spencer would be a perfect fit in his hometown team’s 3-4 defense.

2nd Round – 34 – 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.

To the 3rd round now, and remember those two 4th round draft picks the Cowboys acquired from Cleveland in the 1st round?

3rd Round: TRADE UP

Dallas trades three 4th round draft picks (100, 113, 118) to St. Louis for 3rd round pick (65).

The Rams are desperate for players… as many as they can get their hands on… they gladly do this 3-for-1 swap.

3rd Round – 65 – BRANDON BOYKIN – CB – Georgia

One of the most electrifying, enthusiastic and engaging players in this draft… winner of college football’s Hornung Award as the most versatile player in the country… Boykin (5-9 ½, 182) can jump out of the gym, as evidenced by the national slam dunk contest he won as a high schooler… Georgia Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham, an ex-Cowboys assistant, says Boykin “has mental toughness and leadership qualities. He took control of our team.” Boykin was used primarily as a slot corner at Georgia, much in the same way LSU uses Tyrann Mathieu, which is not to say he can’t play outside… excellent kick returner (4 career TDs)… Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt also used Boykin on offense in critical situations where he excelled. Richt: “He’s a dynamic player and a great person, a guy who loves his team, loves Georgia, and loves football” … exactly the kind of guy Jason Garrett is looking for.

Eight picks later, time for another TRADE… and this one is another shocker.

3rd Round – TRADE

Dallas trades its 2013 2nd round pick to Miami for the Dolphins’ second 3rd round pick (73).

And, with this pick, the Cowboys jump on a player they didn’t expect to be available in the 3rd round.

3rd Round – 73 – KIRK COUSINS – QB – Michigan State

Projected by some to be an early 2nd round selection, when Cousins (6-2 ½, 214) is still on the board in the 3rd round, the Cowboys can’t resist pulling the trigger on a player they hope will be their future starting quarterback… the winningest QB in Spartan history… a rare 3-year captain, Cousin’s leadership and intelligence are off the charts… graduated with a kinesiology degree (3.68 GPA)… finalist for the Campbell Award, college football’s “Academic Heisman”… Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award winner, which is given to the college football player who best exemplifies the qualities of high character, community service, and classroom and competitive achievement… Michigan State’s career passing leader… never lost to archrival Michigan… passed for 9,131 yards… 8.1 yards per attempt… 64 percent completion percentage… possesses a commanding presence and clearly earned the respect of his teammates, having been named a captain as a sophomore even before he was named the Spartans’ starting QB… with veterans Tony Romo and Kyle Orton on the roster, the plan with Cousins would be to groom him to be the eventual heir to the throne. Not convinced? Then click here and check out Cousins’ speech last summer at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon.

3rd Round – 78 – MIKE MARTIN – NT – Michigan

With the pick acquired from San Diego in the 1st round, the Cowboys draft a player who is cut from the same leadership cloth as Boykin and Cousins… team captain… graduated in 3 ½ years… the most athletic defensive lineman in the draft and strong as an ox… benches 500 pounds, can squat 700 pounds… Martin (6-1 ¼, 306) does not have the kind of height and long arms the Cowboys normally look for in a nose tackle but he more than makes up for it with an exceptional motor and off the charts intangibles… 4.83 forty with a 1.66 10-yard split, remarkable for a 300+ pounder… 36 bench reps.

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 – 135 – KEITH TANDY – 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 – JAKE BEQUETTE – OLB – Arkansas

This would be considered a 5th round steal if he’s still available… only reason he would be is because he is a little bit of a tweener… is he a 4-3 DE or can he convert to 3-4 OLB?… played at a very high level as a 4-year starter in the SEC… 1st Team All-SEC… 17 sacks the past two seasons… Bequette (6-5, 274) displayed enough athleticism in LB drills at the combine to lead you to believe he can be a OLB… with the drafting of Hightower, who can ILB or OLB, and with 2nd year OLB Alex Albright on the roster, Bequette would provide the edge rusher depth they’re looking for… has all the intangibles… finance degree… his 4.07 shuttle and 6.90 cone drill times are similar to what Demarcus Ware posted at the 2005 combine (4.07/6.85)… his dad and uncle were college teammates with Stephen Jones at Arkansas… ’nuff said.

6th Round – 186 – RONALD LEARY – G – Memphis

Bill Callahan worked out Leary (6-3, 315) in Memphis last month… fits the profile of the type offensive linemen Callahan seems to prefer… strong and big enough to provide a push inside and keep the pocket from collapsing… started 2 ½ years at left tackle before moving to right guard for six games last year… projects inside in the NFL but has long enough arms (34 ¾ inches) that he might be able to fill in at tackle in an emergency situation… Team Offensive MVP… Leadership Award.

7th Round – 222 – TRAVIAN ROBERTSON – DE – South Carolina

Was as productive as 1st round prospect Melvin Ingram last year… Robertson (6-4, 302) possesses tremendous strength (30 bench reps) and can shed blockers… a run stuffing 5-technique in much the same mold as 1st round prospect Michael Brockers, though he’s slightly shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Brockers… like Brockers, he won’t rack up many sacks but would affect the passing game with his inside push… team leader… criminal justice degree… academic honor roll… 18 tackles for loss and 6 ½ sacks the past two years.

So, there you have it. Instead of drafting just 3 of the top 81 players, the 2012 Ultimate Cowboys Mock Dream Draft gives you 6 players in the top 81, 5 trades, and a total of 10 new players: 2 OLBs, TE, CB, QB, NT, WR, FS, OG, and DE.

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