Earlier this week we looked at the roster churn the Cowboys have had over the last two years and found that only 24 players who were on the 53-man roster on opening day of the 2010 season are still on the roster today.
And that list of 24 players didn't just feature the current franchise players like Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jason Witten or DeMarcus Ware, it also featured some of the names that will likely be the Cowboys franchise players in a couple of years: the recent rookie classes.
In five years or so some of the young guns on the current roster will be the faces of the Dallas Cowboys. So today, I'll look at who the top ten guys under the age of 25 are. In a remarkable synchronicity of events, Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com had a very similar idea a few days ago and ranked the league's top ten players under the age of 25. Predictably, not a single Cowboy made the top ten list compiled by the former Eagles scout, with only Dez Bryant getting an honorary mention in a group of players who just missed the cut.
I don't know whether Jeremiah's list is good or bad. What I do know is that on my list, Dez Bryant is not the top-ranked Cowboy under 25.
When I initially set out to compile this list, I thought it'd be a piece of cake. Before I even started compiling names, I thought that I'd have to add an addendum with the players not making the list. Turns out, that wasn't the case, for two reasons. Firstly, the magical disappearing act of the 2009 rookie class reduces the number of available players. Secondly, some of the players that I was thinking of for this list will turn or already turned 25 this year: Sean Lissemore, Felix Jones, Orlando Scandrick , Victor Butler, John Phillips and even Phil Costa. Heck, Sean Lee, whom I wanted to place number one on this list, turns 26 in July this year.
So without further ado, here are the top ten young guns on the Cowboys' roster, all of whom will still be under 25 years of age in this calendar year:
|Rank||Name||POS||Exp.||Age on Opening Day 2012|
|1||Tyron Smith||LT||1||21 years, 8 months, 24 days|
Since 2008, 45 offensive linemen have been picked in the first two rounds. Despite their high draft pick status, only ten of the 45 (22%) delivered an above average performance in their rookie season, as measured by the PFF grades. Tyron Smith's +13.7 grade for 2011 is the fourth best grade over the last four years among this group, behind only the rookie seasons of Jake Long (2008: +20.1), Sebastian Vollmer (2009: +21.4) and Alex Mack (2009: +19.6).
Many took his play for granted and failed to see what an extraordinary rookie season Smith played. If he can keep it up on the left side as well, Smith will be a cornerstone of the franchise for the nxt decade, and he won't even be 22 when the 2012 seasons starts.
|2||Dez Bryant||WR||2||23 years, 10 months, 1 days|
Bryant is easily the most polarizing figure on this list, and arguably on the entire Cowboys roster. But there is no denying his athletic ability, and he is electrifying to watch. Seeing Bryant in action and watching him fight, scratch and claw for that extra yard adds a level of adrenaline to the game that I see from very few other players in the league. Other players may have more receiving yards or more receiving TDs, heck, some may even be able to run more routes, but very few bring such a level of raw energy and intensity to the game.
As Garrett would say, "Passion. Emotion. Enthusiasm." Nobody has more of it than Dez Bryant. If Bryant doesn't flame out early, he has the stuff to be the emotional leader of this team. He may never be the type of vocal leader that the other 88 was, but Bryant can be the guy who'll provide the emotional spark when the Cowboys need it.
|3||RB||1||24 years, 6 months, 23 days|
DeMarco Murray eclipsed an Emmitt Smith franchise rushing record with his 253 rushing yards against St. Louis. He rushed for 897 total yards and caught 26 passes for another 183 yards before his season was cut short by a fractured ankle.
Murray burst onto the scene over an eight-game stretch between week seven and week 14, and started in seven of those games. In the first four of those games, he averaged 8.0 yards per rushing attempt for 601 yards on 75 attempts. In the next four games, that average dropped to a much more pedestrian 3.5 Y/A on 64 attempts for 223 yards. In 2012, Murray will have to show not only that he has fully recovered from the ankle injury, but also that his initial performance was no fluke.
|4||CB||Rookie||22 years, 6 months, 30 days|
Ranking a rookie who hasn't done squat this high may be a bit of a stretch, but you can't ignore Claiborne's pedigree. The 2011 Jim Thorpe Award winner was unanimously rated as the best defensive prospect in the draft, and the Cowboys foolishly drew comparisons to Deion Sanders right away. There's no doubt that Claiborne could turn into one of the elite corners in the league, but that won't happen overnight. The Cowboys would be well advised to ease him into the rotation as the season progresses.
|5||ILB||1||24 years, 6 months, 16 days|
Carter will face competition from Dan Connor for the starting spot at ILB, but his sideline-to-sideline speed and pass coverage skills will make him one of Rob Ryan's favorite players as Carter will become the ultimate multiplicity weapon, be it in a 3-4, 4-3 or even 4-6 alignment.
|6||Tyrone Crawford||DE||Rookie||22 years, 9 months, 13 days|
Crawford is the second and last rookie on this list, and only by virtue of being the second pick in the 2012 draft. It's hard projecting rookies on such a list but Crawford has everything he needs to become the much sought-after pressure five for the Cowboys. Crawford has the prototypical NFL athletic ability and speed for a 3-4 DE. Also, he had a college production ratio of 1.62, the highest number of any defensive lineman in this year's draft class.
|7||K||1||24 years, 7 months, 10 days|
Dan Bailey’s 133 points through 16 games were fifth in the NFL last year, tops among all rookies and the second most of anyplayer since Emmitt Smith scored 150 in 1995. Bailey connected on all 39 of his extra point attempts and made 32 of 37 field goals. His 26 straight successful field goal attempts obliterated the previous NFL rookie record of 14. Bailey was deservedly named to the Pro Football Weekly / Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team.
|8||RB||1||24 years, 0 months, 28 days|
If you're familiar with Chinese numerology, you can't help but expect great things from Phillip Tanner, who was born on 8-8-88. In an injury-prone Cowboys backfield, Tanner will get his chances in 2012. Tanner saw only limited action in a four-game stretch from week six through nine last year before a hamstring injury sidelined him. He ended the season on IR, where he was placed to make room for WR Andre Holmes.
|9||OC||1||23 years, 8 months, 3 days|
Killer K was the only UDFA lineman to make the team last year, and he has grown into something of an underdog fan favorite. He saw spot duty in seven games last year, subbing in at all three interior offensive line positions, and generally conducted himself well in the 114 snaps he played. Kowalski will compete with Costa for the starting job in camp, and could also be a depth option at guard.
|10||OLB||1||24 years, 7 months, 7 days|
Alex Albright makes the list for no other reason than that he was something of a pet cat for me last season. He only played situationally on 44 snaps last year, but was a regular on special teams. Unfortunately, his only highlight from last season was McBriar's blocked punt against the Jets, where Jets running back Joe McKnight ran untouched through a gap between Albright and TE John Phillips to block the punt. Defensive back Isaiah Trufant recovered the ball and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 24.
In the NFL, there are a couple of premier positions that you absolutely have to have locked down because they are almost impossible to acquire in free agency. How often do quality left tackles or a pass rushing five technique make it to free agency in the NFL? Almost never.
The premium that teams pay to have a quality player at those positions on their roster is reflected in the 2012 franchise tag numbers by position:
|Position||2012 Tag Value
||Position||2012 Tag Value|
|Quarterback||$14.436 million||Defensive tackle||$7.96 million|
||Running back||$7.742 million|
|Cornerback||$10.281 million||Safety||$6.212 million|
|Wide receiver||$9.515 million||Tight end||$5.446 million|
|Offensive line||$9.383 million||Kicker/Punter||$2.654 million|
The Cowboys players under 25 at virtually all the premier positions, a sign that bodes well for the future of the franchise. They have arguably the best young left tackle in the league. They have one of the most promising corners league-wide, a premier receiver with height, a defensive end who may be able to rush the passer. The only positions missing are a young, developmental quarterback and a 3-4 outside linebacker. But that's what the 2013 draft is for.
Who's missing on this young guns list, and who would you slot differently?