Top 25-and-under Cowboys players

Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders ranked the NFL teams with the best players who are 25-and-under on their rosters.

The Cowboys didn't rank in the top three. Prior to the start of the season, Football Outsiders wasn't complimentary of young talent that the Cowboys had -- ranking the Cowboys at No. 31.

These comments from Football Outsiders are based on what happened in 2010:

The loss of Tony Romo most impacted the Cowboys' fortunes last season, but their dearth of 25-and-under talent will have a much bigger impact in the long run. With a relatively healthy season outside of Romo's injury, Dallas still had a total of only 30 games started by young talent, 40 percent of which were courtesy of tight end Martellus Bennett. Felix Jones, Dez Bryant and first-round pick Tyron Smith are poised to become full-time starters in 2011, so that total should increase. However, if Smith, who played right tackle at Southern California, doesn't develop into the left tackle that the Cowboys envision, and Bryant's targets are limited by the presence of Miles Austin and Jason Witten, Dallas will be as unlikely as any NFL team to find Pro Bowl-caliber contributions from its young players.

In 2011, the Cowboys had 30 players 25-or-younger on their roster. Five of the seven practice squad players were in the same age demo.

The Cowboys' roster is getting younger by the day, as it should when older players are not as productive.

Here are my top five players 25-and-under who could have the most impact on the roster in 2012. (This doesn't take into account potential draft picks. We also eliminated Sean Lee from the list. He turns 26 in July):

5. Dan Bailey. The baby-faced 24-year-old was clutch for the Cowboys in 2011. He tied a franchise record with 26 consecutive field goals. The ending of his season wasn't as pretty, missing kicks and having field goals blocked in late-game situations. Overall, however, the kicking situation is solved.

4. Bruce Carter. He turns 24 in February. While his defensive snap count was limited due to his recovery from knee surgery, the Cowboys expect Carter to replace Keith Brooking at inside linebacker. Lee become the new anchor to the defense and Carter, with his speed and athletic ability, is a good compliment to the linebacker position.

3. DeMarco Murray. The starting running back didn't finish the season because of a fractured ankle, but he did rush for 897 yards on 164 carries and had five games with at least 20-plus carries -- a first with Jason Garrett as the play-caller. Murray, 23, gives the Cowboys something they haven't had a in while, a reliable running back who can take the pounding over 60 minutes.

2. Tyron Smith. The starting right tackle is expected to move to the left side in 2012. Smith had a solid season at tackle and made the necessary adjustments during the season to handle all sorts of pass rushers. His adjustments within the division was steady because he learned the pass rush moves of the people he was facing. By the way, he turns 22 in December.

1. Dez Bryant. Mr. Bryant will be 23 when he begins his third NFL season, and he finished his second season strong. He's become a better route runner and is recognizing defensive schemes faster. A physical threat in all areas most likely will have a bigger impact in 2012. If he gets his off-the-field issues solved, Cowboys will have an elite receiver.