It’s an exciting time for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. The playoffs are here, Dallas is right in the thick of things, and we all know about the thrilling story of what they overcame to get here. None of the potential opponents going forward should look at them as an easy opponent.
But if they look like a tough out now, just consider: They are likely to be even better in the future.
The reason for that is simple: They are one of the youngest rosters in the league, with a lot of very talented players that are at a point in their career where the arrow is pointing up.
Here are some of the best examples.
QB Dak Prescott - 25
Quarterbacks often have long and productive careers - look at Tom Brady and Drew Brees, for example. And they often have their peak years from their late twenties into their early thirties.
With the way he has played and led this team, Prescott has already proven he is a winner and a leader. And he is only in his third season. He is still learning about his position. With what he has accomplished already, he is likely just getting started.
RB Ezekiel Elliott - 23
He has led the league in yards per game every season of his short career. Running backs tend to peak sometime around age 27 or 28 - which means Zeke has four or five years of top-notch performance left, even with his heavy workload. He has certainly demonstrated durability this season. Despite his heavy workload in the regular season (381 touches), he had plenty of gas in the tank in the wild-card game, with 30 more carries and receptions and a total of 169 yards of offense, not to mention a key block or two. Look for him to eat a lot more in the coming years.
DE Demarcus Lawrence - 26
Let’s switch to the defense. Lawrence has hit his stride the past couple of seasons, and with his disruptions and tackles for a loss against the Seattle Seahawks, he showed he is a force to be reckoned with. Defensive linemen often have longer careers as experience comes into play. He is going to get paid, and he is almost certainly going to be worth every penny.
DE Randy Gregory - 26
He might be the same age as Lawrence, but due to suspensions, he is what you call very low mileage. And as he finally begins to accrue some time on the field, he is becoming a worthy bookend for Lawrence, having made a couple of big plays against Seattle. He also influenced others with some incredible hustle, forcing Russell Wilson to have to get rid of the ball before he was ready.
DT Antwaun Woods - 26
Just like Gregory, Woods is a player who has seen very little action, having played in only 16 regular-season games. But he has emerged as a real find at 1-tech, and could be manning the middle of the defensive line for years to come.
DT Maliek Collins - 23
Despite having to play through injury this season, Collins has been very good at the 3 tech, getting Dallas’ lone sack against Seattle. If he gets fully healthy, he is the final piece in what promises to be a fearsome front four for several years to come.
CB Chidobe Awuzie - 23
He had probably the best game of any member of the secondary on Saturday. He has been criticized for his ball skills, but don’t forget that he is only in his second year. He has a lot of time to learn.
CB Anthony Brown - 25
2018 was a nice rebound year for Brown as a slot corner.
CB Byron Jones - 26
He is the old man of the cornerback room, and emerged this season as one of the best in the league. When you have a trio of starters like this, you have a good shot at three or four years of very solid coverage.
S Xavier Woods - 23
He has become a solid part of the secondary, and remains one of the hardest hitters on the team.
LB Jaylon Smith - 23
In his second year on the field after missing his entire rookie season, Smith has emerged as a truly outstanding middle linebacker. He possesses phenomenal speed and great knowledge - and his ceiling is likely still a ways away.
WR Amari Cooper - 24
Back to offense. The man who is justly credited with a tremendous contribution toward saving the Cowboys’ season cost them a first-round pick - and at that age, has years of embarrassing defensive backs ahead.
WR Michael Gallup - 22
The rookie is already developing into a strong WR2 to pair with the experienced and polished Cooper. It has taken a while for the connection between him and Prescott to develop, but we saw signs of it on the touchdown in the wild-card game. Getting another offseason to develop alongside Cooper is tantalizing, especially with the historical trend of wide receivers growing so much in their second and third years.
TE Blake Jarwin - 24
He’s just been a one-hit wonder so far, but that great game against the New York Giants offers real hope that the tight end position is not in such bad shape even without adding new talent.
TE Dalton Schultz - 22
The rookie has been more of a run-blocking specialist, but is showing promise. Like Jarwin, he offers a lot of hope for growth.
G Connor Williams - 21
He has not had the best season, but in the wild-card game, he was more than serviceable when Xavier S’ua-Filo was unavailable. And the belief has always been that he will benefit greatly from a full off-season to put on muscle and gain strength.
T La’el Collins - 25
Like Williams, he is seen as a bit of a weak link on the offensive line. But when there are three All-Pros comprising the “old” heads there, it is hard to be a standout. And his play has generally been improving over the course of this season/postseason.
That is 16 starters plus a TE2 that are 26 or younger. And none of the All-Pro offensive linemen are 30 yet, so they may have several very good years ahead.
This doesn’t even consider some backups who could play a much bigger role going forward, like Taco Charlton, Jourdan Lewis, Dorance Armstrong, and the injured Cedrick Wilson.
Oh, and there is one other name that I saved for last, because he is something special.
LB Leighton Vander Esch - 21
All he has done is make second-team All Pro while leading the team in tackles with 140. And he famously has very little experience playing 11-man football. Already one of the best defenders in the league, his growth potential is still through the roof.
He just isn’t impressive. When you look at him from the perspective of other teams, his potential is downright terrifying.
This is not just a young bunch. It is one that is littered with impressive talent all over the place. The Cowboys may be having one of their most successful seasons in a quarter century, but the future should be even better, and likely for years to come.