IRVING, Texas (AP) — Byron Jones sensed in his conversation with Dallas owner Jerry Jones that the Cowboys had some anxious moments before their late first-round pick Thursday night.

The cornerback from Connecticut, who went 27th to the defending NFC East champions, was right.

"The most important thing is that we thought we could live if we didn't strike well at pass rusher in this draft," said Jerry Jones, also the team's general manager. "We thought we could live if we didn't strike well at running back. The place where we did not think that we could feel good and sleep right is if we didn't do something there in our secondary at corner."

Keep in mind, this is a franchise that just lost NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray to division rival Philadelphia, and a team that recently found out it might not have free agent defensive end Greg Hardy for the first 10 games because of a suspension related to a domestic violence case.

"You could tell that they were really eyeing me and hoping that I'd fall to their pick," Byron Jones said. "I'm happy that I did."

The Cowboys figured to be out of the mix for a running back in the first round when Georgia's Todd Gurley went 10th to St. Louis and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon was taken five picks later by San Diego.

It's the second time in four drafts that Dallas has taken a cornerback in the first round. The Cowboys traded up to get Morris Claiborne at No. 6 in 2012, but he has underperformed in three seasons and isn't expected to be ready for training camp because of a knee injury.

Dallas signed Brandon Carr to a $50 million contract in free agency the same year that Claiborne was drafted, and he had a subpar 2014 season. Orlando Scandrick, who emerged as the team's best cornerback last year, is skipping voluntary workouts in hopes of reworking his contract.

Coach Jason Garrett sees Jones as a cornerback first, though he spent two seasons at safety to start his UConn career.

"I do believe that it's realistic for him to play corner in this league and also play free safety in this league," Garrett said. "He has the ability and he has the experience."

Jones was among the top 15 on their board, Jerry Jones said. He was a standout at the combine with a spectacular broad jump of 12 feet, 3 inches and one of the best vertical leaps in the event. He also had a 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds at his pro day.

The strong combine performance was important for the 6-foot-1 Jones because he was coming off surgery from a recurring shoulder injury that kept him out of the last five games of his senior season. He had eight career interceptions at UConn.

"You see the trend moving toward bigger, stronger, more physical corners on the outside," said Jones, who weighs almost 200 pounds and has been cleared medically. "I think I fit that mold pretty well. Of course whatever they want me to do ... I'll do it all."

Executive vice president Stephen Jones has said Dallas wasn't surprised by the length of ban for Hardy, so it didn't change the team's draft plan with pass rushers. The Cowboys also are just a year removed from trading up to early in the second round for DeMarcus Lawrence, who broke a foot in training camp and missed half of his rookie season.

The Cowboys lost linebackers Bruce Carter and Justin Durant in free agency, but re-signed former top 10 pick Rolando McClain after he revived his career with a solid season despite some issues with injuries. Sean Lee also is expected back after missing 2014 with a torn knee ligament.

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