The Dallas Cowboys passed up more popular choices to pick Taco Charlton 28th overall in the NFL Draft, so now what are the expectations for his rookie season?
There seemed to be a collective groaning amongst Dallas Cowboys fans when the team made their first-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. On the clock at No. 28, the Cowboys could have made some headlines by picking either cornerback Kevin King from Washington or Wisconsin edge rusher T.J. Watt — both of whom were heavily favored by fans as the top choices.
Instead, the Boys went with Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, which wasn’t the flashy name many wanted. It wasn’t so much that anyone thought Charlton was a bad prospect, but rather he didn’t have the upside of the other two mentioned.
Since the pick was made, it was easy to see that Dallas believed a stacked corner class allowed them to wait on selecting a defensive back. They later did pretty well in that department by getting Chidobe Awuzie out of Colorado in the second and the talented Jourdan Lewis from Michigan in the third — although he did fall some thanks to red flags about off field domestic violence issues.
Those choices calmed some of the frustration over passing on King, but that just made fans more upset about the team passing on Watt. Will McClay, the team’s senior director of college and pro personnel, went on 105.3 The Fan and tried to explain the rationale behind the move.
“I think going after Taco in the first round gives us a defensive end that we feel like has upside, that’s athletic but can also be multiple,” McClay said. “He played right end, left end, can play inside, can mismatch guys on the inside. He had four different positions at Michigan. The right kind of kid. He’s got size, he’s got length – that helps us there.”
The key point McClay mentions is the player being “multiple.” Dallas likes players who can move around on defense, like Byron Jones, who has played corner and safety. David Irving is another player fitting that bill, as he’s been able to help at left defensive end and the three-technique tackle spot.
Without saying it, though, he also mentioned why the team passed on Watt — because he never played end at Wisconsin. Watt was talented, for sure, and could very well have blossomed as a hand in the dirt pass rusher. But McClay likes to see things done rather than base first-round picks on projections.
Any expectations for Watt as a defensive end would be exactly that, purely projection. In Charlton, they have seen him on the edge of the line and they truly believe they know what they got. Our question then is, what exactly is that?
The best player to look at when thinking of Taco Charlton may very well be Greg Ellis. The North Carolina defensive end had almost identical size to Charlton. Ellis was listed at 6-6 and 271 pounds whereas Charlton is the same height, but tipped the scales at 277 pounds.
While Ellis was picked much higher back in 1998, the eight-overall selection was greeted with a similar annoyance as Taco. The fans at the time wanted wide receiver Randy Moss, who the team passed on for character concerns. Although Moss turned out to be one of the best receivers ever, Ellis at least proved to be a dependable player.
In 11 seasons with the Cowboys Ellis had 84 sacks and 372 career tackles. He only topped double digits in sacks one time — in 2007 when he had 12.5 — but was a consistent presence who averaged close to eight sacks per season throughout his career.
If Charlton becomes a similar player to Ellis, it wouldn’t be the worst bargain for someone taken near the end of the first round. As a rookie, he could very well start from Day 1 at right end, which also allows the team to let Demarcus Lawrence spend time at that spot as well, where he was able to record eight sacks in 2015.
Charlton should be strong against the run as a rookie thanks to his size and smarts, but don’t expect his pass rushing to be great right out of the gates. Even the legendary J.J. Watt had just 5.5 sacks as a rookie for the Houston Texans, proving pass rushers usually need time to figure out the next level.
However, Charlton helps in other ways too by allowing more freedom for people like Lawrence to move. He also can keep 2016 sack leader Benson Mayowa on the sidelines during running downs, which helps keep him fresh as he hopes to improve upon his six sacks from his first year wearing the star.
Eventually,fans may learn to love this pick, as long as they judge Charlton for his work alone rather than looking in the rearview mirror at what other players end up doing in a different system and situation. Taco is ready to put his hand in the dirt in Dallas right now, which is exactly what the Cowboys coveted.