This is the second of a five-part series looking at decisions the Dallas Cowboys made during the 2017 offseason that they may now regret. On Monday, we looked at the changes on the offensive line.
“With the 28th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select… Taco Charlton… defensive end, Michigan.”
Those words from Lord Roger caused immediate debate and even despair among Cowboys fans. Many had clamored for Dallas to take a different pass rusher, T.J. Watt, and they felt Dallas erred by taking Taco Charlton when Watt was still on the board. He went two spots later to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Watt-wanting crowd will quickly tell you that T.J. has five sacks this season compared to just two for Charlton. There’s no denying that, but it’s worth nothing that Watt has been on the field for 562 snaps compared to just 283 for Taco.
Don’t let anyone tell you that Taco Charlton is a bust based on the first 12 games of his NFL career. That’s stupid analysis for any player, and especially one who was known to need some time and development when he was drafted.
Greg Ellis, who was taken eighth overall in 1998, started all 16 games as a rookie and only had three sacks. This was a Top-10 player and the guy that Dallas chose over eminent Hall-of-Famer Randy Moss. Ellis got hit with even harder criticism than what Taco’s had this year.
Ellis finished his time in Dallas in 2008 with 77 career sacks, putting him third all-time in team history behind DeMarcus Ware and Jim Jeffcoat.
The book is hardly written for Taco Charlton as a Cowboy. He could develop into a double-digit sack man and wind up somewhere around Ellis and Jeffcoat one day on that list (I think D-Ware is safe). He could wind up being great value for a late first-rounder.
But really, this isn’t about Taco’s future, T.J. Watt, or the price of tea in China. It’s about the undeniable fact that the Cowboys, who didn’t have the cap space to bring in a high-impact free agent, used their first-round pick on a project player. That’s what’s hurting them right now.
Taken three picks after Taco Charlton went to Dallas, the 49ers’ Reuben Foster is a great example of a guy who could be helping the Cowboys as we speak. After missing the early part of the year with injuries, Foster has recorded 14 and 10 tackles in recent weeks and has taken over the role that Navarro Bowman held for many years.
The Cowboys sure could’ve used a guy like Foster while Sean Lee’s been out. Even if you think Jaylon Smith will eventually be the guy, Foster could help right now and become another star in the middle of the defense in the near future.
Or how about OT Ryan Ramczyk, who has started all 12 games for the Saints at right tackle? Dallas could’ve replaced Doug Free and kept La’el Collins at left guard. Less moving parts might’ve helped the run game’s efficiency early in the year, perhaps helping Dallas win those close games against the Rams and Packers.
If nothing else, taking Ramczyk or maybe Cam Robinson would mean paying a first-round talent an average of $2.5 million to be their starting right tackle for the next four years. You’d have a key position covered, on the cheap, until the 2021 offseason.
In either case, Dallas would be getting far more immediate benefit from that 28th pick than what Taco Charlton is giving. For a 6-6 team trying to scrape their way into the playoffs, anything that might’ve tipped a game or two in their favor would have been preferable.