In the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Cowboys decided to address arguably their biggest draft need by selecting former Oklahoma Sooner Defensive End Charles Tapper.
When evaluating Tapper, the first thing you notice is that he is an athletic freak. At 6’3″ 270 pounds Tapper ran a 4.59 40-yard-dash at the combine, the fastest time of any defensive lineman who ran.
Tapper’s combine performance generated a lot of buzz around him, as he had previously been flying under most radars due to the defensive line depth in this draft class, especially in the interior.
It is tough to really evaluate Tapper’s film and stats his last two seasons due to his poor scheme fit in Oklahoma’s defense. Tapper shined as a Sophomore in 2013 as a traditional 4-3 pass rushing defensive end. He was named to the All-Big 12 Team and tallied up 9 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks; second in the Big 12 as only a Sophomore.
Tapper made a name for himself nationally during the 2014 Sugar Bowl when he chased down Alabama’s Wide Receiver, Amari Cooper from behind and brought him down. Yeah, he is that fast.
Charles Tapper vs. Alabama (2013)
This game was also the last time we saw Tapper in the traditional pass-rushing role which he will play in Dallas, however.
For his Junior and Senior seasons, Tapper was asked to be a two-gap player, a role which he was never really comfortable in or suited for. However, he was once again named All-Big 12 in 2015, even when playing out of position.
The million dollar question for the Cowboys becomes, what can Tapper’s ceiling be as a 4-3 edge rusher? By drafting him, they seem to think that the ceiling is higher than others do, and the film shows that he does possess some raw skills which Rod Marinelli can cultivate.
Let’s take a look at the tape.
I have already mentioned Tapper’s top of the line athletic ability. He has the size and build to play at the next level, showcases a strong bull rush at times, and has very long arms which help him keep offensive lineman’s hands off, and keep them off balance as well.
Tapper vs ISU
Here, we see an example of that arm length and strong bull rush. Tapper is given the rare opportunity in Oklahoma’s defensive front to line up in a 3 point stance, pin his ears back and get after the passer. He immediately gets hands on, gets his inside arm extended, keeps his outside shoulder free, and utilizes his strength to put the offensive tackle on skates.
Against Kansas here, we see more of this freakish athletic ability and arm length being put to use. When Tapper is put into these type of situations, he shows a ton of potential and he thrives.
On both of these plays, we see Tapper show off some pass rushing awareness as well.
He is able to sense that he is getting up-field, and instead of simply rushing past the quarterback he makes a move inside and gets home. This type of awareness is important in edge rushers, and while Tapper shows it in these instances, he displays too many inconsistencies on film to say that he has it for sure.
Once again against Kansas, Tapper shows off his powerful bull rush after getting his arms extended. He doesn’t get the sack here, but he does force a roll out and an incompletion. You would like to see him keep his balance here, though, and his balance is an issue we see quite a bit.
Tapper will probably be used as a situational pass rusher during his rookie season in Dallas. But what gives him hope to one day become a 3-down player are plays like this. Once again his arm length and strength allows him to immediately get hands on, and drive the offensive lineman back into the backfield. Then, he sheds the blocker and makes the play.
Charles Tapper vs. Texas Christian (2014)
Tapper plays a stand up defensive end role here, which he will not do in Dallas. I included this clip to show off his speed, however. When Tapper is told to get off the ball and rush, he is able to get there in a hurry. Unfortunately, he was asked to read and react a little too much for my liking in Oklahoma.
But with all of these strengths come some question marks as well.
First and foremost, Tapper’s pad level is a problem. He plays way too high at times, and it contributes to him getting knocked off balance by backs who may be chipping him, or other offensive linemen who may be uncovered and giving help.
While his bull rush is impressive at times, he will need to develop better hand play and develop his other pass rush moves to be consistently successful in the league. He won’t be lining up against offensive lineman for Kansas anymore; these are professionals now and beating them with your bull consistently is a lot tougher to do.
As I just mentioned, Tapper’s hands need some work. His arm length and power are huge bonuses, but he will have to refine his hand play for the next level.
Lastly, I would like to see Tapper use his speed around the edge much more than he did on tape. Of course, this has a lot to do with the scheme he was playing in at Oklahoma, and hopefully he can learn how to use his speed and leverage to his advantage more consistently.
I see Charles Tapper as a situational pass rusher early on during his rookie season, with a chance to crack the starting lineup in 2017. Overall, I like the pick and I think Tapper can be productive in the defensive end rotation from day 1.