Since being drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Taco Charlton has been a much-maligned player by the Dallas Cowboys fanbase and by many of those who cover the team. With the Steelers selecting T.J. Watt and him having immediate success as one of the better young 3-4 outside linebackers in the league, it’s only fueled the frustration coming from Cowboys Nation.
Charlton’s first two years in the NFL have been mixed. As a rookie, he started off slow, as most rookies do, but came on strong over the second half of the season providing optimism for his sophomore season. In his second season, Taco Charlton started the season strong as a rotational end, before suffering an injury and losing snaps to Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong in the second half.
In the first five weeks of the season, Charlton recorded a sack, seven hurries, one quarterback hit (Pro Football Reference has him down for two), nine solo tackles, four assisted tackles, a batted pass, and eight stops, which Pro Football Focus defines as a play made by the defense, which constitutes a loss based on down and distance.
Against the New York Giants in week two, Charlton recorded a sack, two quarterback hits (per Pro Football Reference), three tackles, and three stops (per Pro Football Reference). In week three against the Seattle Seahawks, he again had three tackles and recorded a stop. In week four against the Lions, he tallied three tackles and had three stops. In week five against the Houston Texans, Taco ended up with four quarterback hurries against the elusive DeShaun Watson.
Though he played 73% and 80% of the defensive snaps in the first two weeks of the season, he never didn’t top more than 60% in the next three weeks. It wasn’t until week 17 with the Cowboys resting some starters did Charlton play more than 60% of the snaps again that season. In that game, he had five total pressures in the Cowboys 36-35 victory.
The depth along the defensive line is as good as it’s been in as long as I can remember. This team has two legit pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn. The quality of player they have as their starting defensive ends will push Randy Gregory — when he’s eventually reinstated — into a backup role and Tyrone Crawford will rotate at both defensive end and 3-technique defensive tackle. Throw in players like Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder, who’ve had really good offseasons for the Cowboys and you have six defensive ends that will contribute to the Cowboys in 2019. That doesn’t even begin to touch on Taco Charlton.
Because of the depth along the defensive line, it’s led many to speculate, including this writer, if Taco Charlton has a spot on the Dallas Cowboys roster in 2019. Being that this is just his third season in the league, I have a hard time believing that the Dallas Cowboys are going to move on from him. Sure, getting snaps is going to be a challenge with the talent the Cowboys have on the defensive line, but when you consider that Kerry Hyder and Robert Quinn are only on one year deals and Tyrone Crawford could be a cap casualty at any time, it makes sense to keep Charlton around as a flexible defensive lineman.
They haven’t really toyed with him much as a 3-tech defensive tackle, but he offers size and strength that could allow you to play him on the interior similarly to how they’ve deployed Tyrone Crawford.
The Dallas Cowboys have contractual control on Charlton for two more years and while it’s unlikely they’d pick up his fifth-year option next offseason at this point, there’s no reason for the Cowboys to move on from Taco in year three. He only costs you $2.73 million for 2019 and while that number isn’t bringing the return you like, it isn’t killing your cap to hold him through year three and you won’t save any money on the cap this year even if you release him, while carrying more than $4 million in dead money on this year’s cap. If after the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys are done with Taco, that would certainly be a better time to move on.
Though year two was an up and down season for Charlton, he certainly provided some good games for the Cowboys and should give them a bit of optimism about his trajectory. As he heads into year three, a little competition for snaps may bring out the best in the former first round pick. If he’s able to make it onto the field, it’s going to be because he earned it and that will make the Cowboys defense even better.