When it comes to the NFL Draft, two of the most important things teams must do to set their board right is properly evaluate their own roster beforehand and have a vision for any potential draft picks in their schemes. While nobody had a problem with the Dallas Cowboys addressing their pass rush in the first round of the 2017 Draft, their selection of Michigan DE Taco Charlton has been criticized from the start – mainly because of the failures it has presented in both of these crucial areas.
Taco Charlton has yet to record his first sack with the Cowboys, seeing a decrease in playing time each week as he's seemingly been left without a spot in Rod Marinelli's rotation of defensive linemen.
I graded Taco Charlton as a second round left defensive end, a safe player that could make an immediate impact as a tough run defender at LDE. Instead, the Cowboys passed on rushers with much higher ceilings like T.J. Watt or Tyus Bowser to draft Charlton and immediately try to sell Cowboys Nation on his ability at RDE.
It is this void at RDE that has forced the Cowboys to throw Taco into a position where he has little chance to succeed. Rookie pass rushers often face an uphill battle adjusting to the next level, but asking Charlton to beat left tackles to the quarterback right now is a lost cause for Dallas.
Taco Charlton completely lacks the change-of-direction skills or lower body bend to pressure the quarterback from this weak side. Overall, there are very few consistent positives on tape for Taco through five games.
Charlton's strengths have been his upper body power and ability as an inside rusher on twists. This is why he is an ideal LDE, where the Cowboys have their best defensive player in DeMarcus Lawrence wrecking games at 8.5 sacks on the season.
It was this lack of faith in Lawrence off of another back surgery that has put the Cowboys in a position to see Taco Charlton essentially red shirt his rookie campaign as the 28th overall pick.
On the above play, Charlton is able to stack and shed against the tight end from the RDE position, making a strong play against the run. Notice the way #97 lines up prior to the snap, shadowing the TE in a position that is rarely seen from any weak side linemen.
This is yet another part of Taco Charlton's game that would translate ideally to the LDE position, where the snaps simply haven't been there for an under-performing first year player.
As we look at another example from Charlton at Michigan, we are reminded again that winning off the edge has been a rare occurrence ever since his days in the BIG 10 – where Taco looked the part of a menacing DE and ultimately had the Cowboys take the bait. Lined up again at RDE here, Taco's patented clunky spin move does allow him to get into the face of the QB thanks to his length.
Utilizing this length has been an issue for Charlton in taking the next step at a position that does not fit his skill set. The Dallas Cowboys lack a true penetrating 1T DT, meaning that once LTs work inside of Charlton on the move there is little room for him to fight off blocks and get to the football.
It is very difficult to understand what the Cowboys' vision for Taco Charlton has been all along. DeMarcus Lawrence's resurgence is not the issue here, as he'll hit free agency after the season. By the end of 2017, the Cowboys may feel they have his replacement at LDE in Taco Charlton – where he will have a real chance to become a completely different player in year two.
The snaps are not there at either LDE or DT for Charlton right now though, and misusing the physical run-stopper on the weak side of the line has potentially only damaged his confidence and heightened the issues this Cowboys team has getting to the quarterback at the defensive end position.
It is big runs like these allowed by Dallas that warrant every bit of frustration towards the decision to overdraft Taco Charlton. Lined up at RDE just to catch another block turning towards the football, Lawrence loses leverage at LDE to leave Sean Lee against two blockers as a last line of defense before this run busts down the sideline.
Taco Charlton is a Dallas Cowboy. While there are still followers of this team that do not want to accept this, the hope that the Cowboys can continue their terrific run of hitting on first round picks in 2017 with Charlton will rest on how well they put him in position to succeed.
The most sacks ever recorded by a rookie defensive lineman in Dallas is 4.5, as Russell Maryland reached this total in 1991 as that season's first overall pick. With defensive ends, these investments take time – and more importantly they take commitment.