Taco Charlton: A possible outlier to a successful draft

DALLAS - I don’t particularly care for Draft Grades and the idea of summarizing an entire team’s new crop of players with a single letter, but I do tend to listen to elaborated explanations as to why said team either hit the nail on the head or failed in its approach.

Bob Sturm of the Dallas Morning News, for example, wrote following Day 2 that the Cowboys “were able to grab two of the highly coveted corners…and were able to solidify their secondary nicely with several rounds remaining in the draft.”

Corner, of course, was the need when taking into account the departures of both Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. The Cowboys addressed that need with aplomb on Saturday, taking Colorado CB Chidobe Awuzie and Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis with back-to-back picks.

Other notable selections made throughout the weekend included return specialist Ryan Switzer, who Mike Mayock openly stated “believing in despite his size” (5’8, 181 lbs.), and safety Xavier Woods, who Evan Silva of Rotoworld said “belonged in the fourth round, if not the third.”

The Switzer pickup may have been more about desire than need for Dallas, but Woods, much like Awuzie, is expected to fill the void left in the wake of Barry Church’s and J.J. Wilcox’s absences right out of camp. That’s four picks of notoriety who should all be able to make an impact immediately after being drafted over the course of Day 2 and Day 3.

The outlier and elephant in the room is the Day 1 selection of Taco Charlton, the 28th-overall pick and large defensive end from Michigan who Stephen Jones freely admitted didn’t receive a first-round grade from Dallas. (He also stated the Cowboys left someone on the board who did have a first-round grade, though that name is still being speculated.)

An edge rusher was a pressing Day 1 need for the Cowboys. That’s no secret. The team even used eight of their 30 visits prior to the draft on defensive ends.

Combine that with the fact that 1) DeMarcus Lawrence’s successor need be found before the former inevitably receives $20 million guaranteed elsewhere in free agency next season and 2) how forgettable it is that Randy Gregory is even on the team at this point (no, really, I forgot he was on the team until the television mentioned him Thursday evening) and it’s clear what Dallas’ intentions at the end of Day 1 were: an elite edge rusher.

Hence why the selection of Charlton, rather than a true rushing end like T.J. Watt or a 6’3 corner like Kevin King, was a befuddling one. In fact, Charlton ‘only’ profiles with average athleticism for an edge rusher.

Size clearly isn’t an issue. Standing 6’6, Charlton towers over 91 percent of ends in the league and checks in heavier (277 lbs.) than 76 percent. Listed primarily at right end, however, one would think Dallas envisions him as just that, or perhaps the replacement for Lawrence (a left end who ironically stands three inches shorter and weighs 26 lbs. less than Charlton) in 2018.

You have to wonder, though, how someone who comps this poorly to other edge rushers around the league battles left tackles — the anchors of the trenches — week in and week out.

Or, better yet, why they list him primarily at right end when his athleticism truly shines when he’s kicked inside as a nose tackle.

Charlton’s weight clearly doesn’t compare to that of the 295-lb. brutes sealing gaps on the inside every Sunday, but his speed places him in a class of his own there. But the question then stays the same: If Charlton roams inside (and he absolutely will from time to time), who rushes from the outside?

The Cowboys ideally wouldn’t want to answer that question hoping for another season of Rod Marinelli’s magic. A concrete and optimal selection addressing that need seems fitting. And I’m not sure Dallas’ response actual fit the bill.

Let’s ignore that the team didn’t have a first-round grade for Charlton for just one moment. Perhaps Watt’s knee and medical clearance didn’t check out with the Cowboys, or his lack of size (236 lbs.) sealed his fate before he even had a chance to make Dallas’ board.

That’s understandable if you’re grading certain characteristics. Charlton, after all, has zero medical history to fret and can flash on all three downs. (And this isn’t an apples-to-apples conversation once Watt inevitably morphs into a terrific player for the Pittsburgh Steelers: he fits Pittsburgh’s 3-4 system perfectly and will undoubtedly shine in it, whereas his ceiling is at least questionable ‘to some’ under Marinelli and his 4-3 defense.)

Let’s extend that even further and assume the Cowboys knew sought-after corners would fall right into their lap. It was obviously a gamble at the time, but with that line of thought, they figured they could pass on King, grab a defensive end (on the surface), and follow that up with two players at a position of need that, frankly, shouldn’t have been there in the first place (Awuzie and Lewis). It’s two scenarios that Dallas would need to view simultaneously, sure, but it’s plausible.

If everything prefaced falls into place, does it make sense to take Charlton at No. 28? That’s the real question.

As we’ve seen time and time again, Marinelli isn’t your everyday defensive coordinator. He’ll make it work with Charlton as a rotational player, as he’s made it work with nearly everyone on the line during his tenure with Dallas.

Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain might make an impact with the Atlanta Falcons and Washington this upcoming season, but it wouldn’t be shocking to discover Marinelli’s scheme was the key to their success. I would go as far to say I’d take the field over Benson Mayowa to lead Dallas in sacks this year because that’s what this scheme dictates.

Even so, I’m not sure the Cowboys have that premier edge rusher their looking for. If Charlton’s size doesn’t prevail in his development — a trait Dallas is counting on — then it seems as if the team will be looking for an elite edge rusher on Day 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft, as well.

Do you like the Taco Charlton selection by the Cowboys? Share your thoughts with John on Twitter @notJDaigle.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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