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Cowboys Under-25 Talent Is Ranked #1 In NFL

Jason Garrett's youth movement has the team set up for long-term success.

Tyron Smith may be the best player on the Cowboys - and he's the head of the youth movement.
Tyron Smith may be the best player on the Cowboys - and he's the head of the youth movement.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL is a young man's game. With the average career for players somewhere around four years (depending on how things are calculated), there is a premium on finding players that can come in and contribute early. Not only do those young stars pay off early in their careers, they are also the players who tend to be productive longer. When Jason Garrett became head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the team was weighed down with aging, expensive players whose performance levels were declining. He immediately implemented a plan to make the roster younger and more talented. It was not a quick process. This is one of the reasons it took four years for the team to break through to the playoffs. But sticking to the plan is starting to pay off.

ESPN and Football Outsiders have put together a ranking of the entire league based on the players on the roster under the age of 25 (as of September 10, 2015). It is behind the paywall for the ESPN premium site, but you can follow the link to see the criteria that were used to determine the results. And according to this, no team in the NFL is in better shape than the Cowboys.

1. Dallas Cowboys

2014 ranking: 11

Of the six first-team All-Pro players in the study, the Cowboys have two: left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin. Center Travis Frederick makes for a third Pro Bowl selection on the offensive line, and Dallas even snagged guard La'el Collins, considered by many to have first-round talent, after he went undrafted following unusual circumstances. Last season the Cowboys' offensive line ranked first in adjusted line yards and Joseph Randle could be the next running back to take advantage of one of the league's most stacked units.

There are reasons for optimism on defense as well. DeMarcus Lawrence, who missed the first eight games last year with a broken foot, should be a Week 1 starter after notching a sack in both playoff games, including a huge forced fumble to clinch the win against Detroit. First-round pick Byron Jones should be the team's nickel corner, which is basically a starter in today's game. The Cowboys took a risk on Randy Gregory this offseason, but he's a very talented pass-rusher who should see the field on third downs. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens is also a likely starter after he showed as a rookie he was capable of playing each position in Rod Marinelli's defense.

If you looked at the way the rankings were derived, you can see that this was a serious attempt to take opinion out of the equation and rely on performance and production. Seeing the Cowboys vault to the top spot in this has some very good implications for the future of the team.

One of the best things is that there are now four offensive linemen in the under 25 category, and offensive linemen are players that are often able to have long careers, still playing at a very high level past the age of 30. The Cowboys have made the line the true foundation of their offense, and having such excellent young players here offers not only the best chance to extend the career of Tony Romo as long as possible, but will help the eventual transition when he is finally no longer able to helm the offense. I know we don't want to think about that day, but it will come eventually. Dallas has built a line that will allow them to maximize the talent of whoever becomes his eventual successor.

The defense is in similar shape. In addition to the names listed in the article, the team has added under-25 players like Ryan Russell, Damien Wilson, Davon Coleman, Ken Bishop, Tyler Patmon, Ben Gardner and Efe Obada, all of whom have at least the potential to play significant roles in the future.

Young players not only offer a better chance of being crucial pieces on the roster for years to come, they also are cheaper since they are playing on their first contract. This does mean that there is a lot of decision making to be made as they come to the end of those deals. Not all can be kept, but that is why there has to be constant churn. Wise drafting is the key to this, and with the number of picks the Cowboys anticipate having thanks to the supplemental selections they should have in 2016, they are set up very well to keep bringing in more new talent. Will McClay and his staff have been very successful at this, with the current rookie class perhaps their best work to date. It is, as you may have heard, a process, and one where Dallas is getting to be very, very good.

It will be hard to stay on the top of this ranking from year to year, because everyone on the list gets a year older by the next time this exercise is run. But as the article notes, teams like the Seattle Seahawks rated poorly, but with a core of players that were just over the age 25 cutoff - and they seem to be staying very competitive.

There are many who still think the Cowboys were a flash in the pan last season, but this list is not just based on age alone. It is based on production at a young age, and Dallas is getting a ton of that. It should equate to success both now and in future seasons. Get yourself some quality shades, or at least some cheap sunglasses, because the future looks very bright for the Star.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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