Earlier this week, we tried to take a wild guess at the playing time of the 2014 rookie class in the upcoming season. A review of the contribution of each Cowboys rookie class resulted in the following table:
|In % of total snaps in 2013
|Players remaining on 2013 roster||- -||Scandrick||Free , Spencer||- -||Witten, Romo|
Excluding Spencer, whose status this year is up in the air, the Cowboys will have only four players on their roster in 2014 who were brought in as rookies by the Cowboys between 2003 and 2009. Or phrased differently, almost the entire home-grown talent on the Cowboys roster was acquired in the last four years.
For years the most recognizable Cowboys faces have been Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware and Miles Austin. Ware and Austin are no longer with the Cowboys, and regardless of how long you think Romo and Witten will keep on playing, there's no denying that the clock is ticking on both of them. Which means that the future faces of the Dallas Cowboys will come from the last five draft classes.
Dez Bryant and Sean Lee may be the most recognizable of the rookies brought in since 2010, but there must be plenty of other young talents waiting in the wings who will likely be Cowboys franchise players in a couple of years: the Cowboys' young guns.
In three to five years, some of the young guns on the current roster will be the faces of the Dallas Cowboys. So today, we'll look at who the top ten guys under the age of 25 are. When I set out to compile the list for the Cowboys, I thought I'd have it done in no time. But then I realized that Dez Bryant turned 25 in November last year; three-year veteran DeMarco Murray turned 26 in February, as did Bruce Carter; Dan Bailey also turned 26 at the beginning of the year. Other players who'll be 25 at the start of the 2014 season include Matt Johnson, James Hanna, Cole Beasley, Ronald Leary, Chris Jones, and Kyle Wilber. But the greatest shock: by the time Sean Lee picks up the football again in the 2015 season, he'll be 29.
Without further ado, here are the top ten young guns on the Cowboys' roster, all of whom will still be under 25 at the start of the 2014 regular season on September 7, 2014.
|Rank||Name||POS/Status||Experience||Age on Opening Day 2014|
|1||Tyron Smith||LT / Starter
||3||23 years, 8 months, 26 days|
|You cannot imagine the satisfaction I take from the fact that Pro-Bowler and three-year veteran Tyron Smith is on this list. This is the third consecutive year that I've written a post on the top 10 players under 25 (2012 version here, 2013 version here), and Smith makes his third appearance on this list. Best of all, he'll be topping next year's list as well. Look for great things from Smith this year.|
|2||Travis Frederick||OC /Starter
||1||23 years, 5 months, 21 days|
|Pete Prisco of CBSSports picks Frederick as one of 25 players he expects to break out in 2014:
"When the Cowboys picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, there were snickers. But it was the right move. He showed last season as a 16-game starter that he has a chance to be a really good center. He is smart and athletic, two musts for the position these days."
||Rookie||23 years, 9 months, 17 days|
|Including a rookie who hasn't done squat on this list may be a bit of a stretch, but Martin projects as a starter and as such I'll include him on this list, and no other rookies get that treatment just yet. You may notice that the top three guys on this list are all offensive linemen, which is why some fans are calling this iteration of the Cowboys O-line "The Great Wall Of Dallas," in reference to the original GWOD which paved the way to three Super Bowls as well as Emmitt Smith's rushing record.
||WR / Starter
||1||24 years, 11 months, 29 days|
|Williams makes this list with the tiniest of margins, as he turns 25 on the Monday after the season opener. With Miles Austin in Cleveland, Williams will enter the season as the starter opposite Dez Bryant. He showed great promise in his rookie season, stepping up to the No. 2 wideout spot when the president of the Cowboys Hamstring Club had to attend to club duties, and recorded 44 catches, 736 yards and five touchdowns in the process.
|5||J. J. Wilcox
||S / Starter
||1||23 years, 6 months, 23 days|
|Wilcox is penciled in as the starter at safety opposite Barry Church, and Church expects Wilcox to make a "big leap" in his second season:
"He’s making leaps and bounds," Church said. "I feel like he’ll make a big leap in his second year. He’s moving to free safety this year and I feel like he’s going to do a great job at it."
||DE/DT / Backup
||24 years, 9 months, 15 days|
|The Cowboys feel Crawford will be a breakout star in 2014. Shortly before leaving for Washington, Jason Hatcher endorsed Crawford to Jerry Jones:
"He said, ‘That guy is going to be a perennial All-Pro,’" Jones recalled. "That’s Hatcher telling me about Crawford. He said, ‘He’s the real deal.’"
And Tony Romo has a similar opinion, calling Crawford a " breakout candidate":
"I think Tyrone Crawford is going to be a guy that will be shocking to a lot of people," Romo said on 105.3 The Fan [KRLD-FM]. "I think if we would have had him last year, it would have been a very different defensive unit. I think without people knowing it, we’re getting a couple of first or second-round guys with him coming back from injury. I think he’s the guy that stands out to me as the first guy that’s going to be very, very difficult to deal with for offenses."
||CB / Backup
||24 years, 6 months, 29 days|
|Claiborne has a lot to prove this year, a trade pedigree to live up to, and needs to earn back his starting spot as the first order of business. But Claiborne is up to the challenge: "I feel better than I’ve ever felt."|
||TE / Backup
||1||23 years, 7 months, 3 days|
|There is no shame in being the backup guy to Jason Witten. Escobar came on very strong at the end of the year, and has used the offseason to work diligently on his strength, particularly his legs, impressing new tight ends coach Mike Pope in the process.
"He’s got a flytrap for hands," Pope said. "He has tremendous catching ability. He’s got those basketball-type skills. He can contort his body and make the acrobatic catches. He’s a very, very high percentage catcher. If the ball gets to him, he can adjust to it. And he’s very brave running down the field. Because he’s a big target, they can hit about any part of the three feet on him. He’s courageous."
||ILB / Backup||1||23 years, 6 months, 25 days|
|The Cowboys are looking hard at Holloman as a possible injury replacement for Sean Lee at middle linebacker, and there's a chance Holloman could be elevated to starter when the season opens. Holloman started two games at MLB last year after Lee suffered a neck injury, and Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com thinks Holloman is the Cowboys' best option in the middle:
"The best option, in my opinion, is playing DeVonte Holloman at the middle linebacker spot. Holloman might not have the quickness of Lee, but he does play with power at the point and has a keen nose for the ball. There were also snaps where he was right where he needed to be when it came to pass coverage. It wasn’t always perfect, but he did show some awareness. What Holloman was able to gain from last season was experience and that is really what he was lacking. Knowing it is his job, he has an even better chance to build off that experience."
||DE/DT / Backup
||2||24 years, 10 months, 25 days|
Last summer, Jason Hatcher said that Ben Bass was ‘going to be the reason I’m playing on a different team next year.’
"Bass has it all," Cowboys starting defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said. "Bass is going to be the reason I’m playing on a different team next year. He’s coming on. He’s coming on. I just have to keep my job security, keep playing my butt off."
Hatcher was right about leaving, will he be proven right about Ben Bass?
That's my take on the top guys under 25 on the roster. Here's a brief overview of non-rookie players who narrowly missed the top ten list:
||Experience||Age on Opening Day 2014|
||RB / Backup||3||24 years, 4 months, 29 days|
|B. W. Webb
||CB / Backup
||1||24 years, 4 months, 5 days|
||S / Backup||1||24 years, 11 months, 5 days|
||RB / Depth||1||22 years, 8 months, 9 days|
||RB / Depth||2||24 years, 7 months, 12 days|
||S / Depth||1||23 years, 3 months, 25 days|
||CB / Depth||3||24 years, 7 months, 3 days|
Who's missing on this young guns list, and which player would you slot differently?