Dallas Cowboys banking on Taco Charlton’s potential

Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton speaks to the media during the 2017 combine at Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys’ management expects first round pick Taco Charlton to develop into a quality defensive end by taking advantage of his athleticism.

The 2017 NFL Draft was an exciting event that led to a solid but unspectacular pick by the Dallas Cowboys. Their selection, Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, had respectable pass rush numbers during his college career but ultimately comes across as a work-in-progress.

This is to be expected from a player taken late in the first round. Players chosen with a top 10 pick are usually asked to immediately assume full-time roles. Examples from the 2016 draft include San Diego Chargers’ defensive end Joey Bosa and Jacksonville Jaguars’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Players taken near the end of the first round typically have special talents but are associated with clear concerns.

The concerns surrounding Charlton revolve around his uneven play in college. He wasn’t named a starter until his senior year and seemed to disappear at times on film. He did manage to flash during big games against big-name opponents (including Ohio State and Florida State), but he never displayed the same consistency of earlier selected defensive linemen such as San Francisco 49ers Solomon Thomas or Philadelphia Eagles Derek Barnett.

The Dallas Cowboys are not bothered by this because his strength clearly revolves around his athleticism. The coaches hope to take advantage of that athleticism with excellent coaching. In the post-draft press conference, this was brought up multiple times.

"“We dream of a player that can be an all-down player … You have visions of a guy with this kind of size,” said owner and general manager Jerry Jones. “What we have seen clearly in the environment that we have with our defensive front is that we unquestionably escalate passion. We escalate effort and just create an atmosphere of playing above your level. Well, he’s got such athletic ability that that would be something to get excited about.”"

Jones is counting a lot on defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli to develop Charlton into a quality player. Charlton’s long arms (34.25 inches) and weight (277 pounds) coupled with his technical abilities that he displayed against big-name opponents are signs of immense potential.

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An example of a player already on the Cowboys’ roster who has benefited from Marinelli’s coaching is defensive lineman David Irving. He was raw coming out of college in 2015 and kept on the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad before being picked up by Dallas.

Irving’s freakish long arms (85 inch wingspan vs. Charlton’s 82 inch wingspan) and weight  (273 pounds) were seen as major assets to Cowboys’ coaches who hoped to develop him into a rotational lineman. Last season those attributes helped Irving become a NFC Defensive Player of the Week and become one of the team’s best linemen.

Two players not on the Dallas Cowboys that Charlton is compared to is Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap and Arizona Cardinals’ defensive end Chandler Jones. They have similar sizes and comparable combine results. Dunlap (drafted in 2010 in the second round) would end up with 9.5 sacks in his rookie year and has made it to the Pro-Bowl in 2015 and 2016. Jones (drafted in 2012 with the 21st pick of the first round) had 6 sacks in his rookie season and 10+ sacks in three of the next four seasons.

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It’s unlikely that Charlton reaches the level of former Dallas star defensive end DeMarcus Ware, but history suggests he should be a dependable player for years to come under the tutelage of this coaching staff. As long as he puts forth the effort to hone his skills (and nothing suggests he has questionable work ethic), Charlton can be a big key to the Cowboys becoming a Super Bowl contender for years to come.