The Dallas Cowboys should have one of the better defenses in the league, but they still have a few positions up for grabs. The Cowboys have a genuine pass-rushing stud in Demarcus Lawrence and a serviceable starter in Robert Quinn. However, the depth behind those two is up in the air. As of this posting, Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Joe Jackson are the frontrunners to win the top rotational edge defender position. Each player has a decent shot at the job and this should be one of the most exciting Cowboys camp battles to watch throughout the off-season.
Rotational Defensive End: Dallas Cowboys Camp Battles
It’s safe to say Taco Charlton has not lived up to expectation since joining the Cowboys. Initially selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Charlton has struggled to make an impact when on the field. Through the first two years of his career, Charlton has compiled just four sacks, 46 tackles, 11 quarterback hits, and eight tackles-for-loss. Pro Football Focus rated Charlton as the 62nd-best edge defender in football last year, which obviously isn’t great.
It’s possible to make excuses for Charlton’s lack of production if one so desired. Charlton was considered a raw prospect coming out of Michigan, so a lackluster rookie season didn’t cause for alarm. The former first-rounder was supposed to make a leap in 2018, but Charlton battled through a shoulder injury for the majority of the season. The shoulder cost him five games and the defensive end underwent surgery following the conclusion of the season.
The good news is that Charlton should be ready for the start of off-season training activities. Charlton is still a freak athlete who has been plagued by bad luck since entering the league. Now that he’s finally healthy, he has a chance to finally earn a spot along the Cowboys defensive line. That said, if he still can’t figure it out in Year Three, it’s probably time to chalk him up as a bust.
With Charlton nursing a shoulder injury for most of the year, fourth-round rookie Dorance Armstrong saw a decent amount of time on the field. The Kansas product didn’t do anything that exciting but wasn’t an active liability either. In total, the rookie played in 15 games, making one start while recording 0.5 sacks, 13 tackles, one tackle-for-loss, and three quarterback hits.
Theoretically, Armstrong should continue to grow as he gets more and more NFL experience. However, his ceiling is relatively low compared to that of Charlton. Armstrong has elite arm length and wingspan, but the rest of his measurables leave a lot to be desired. His fundamentals and strong technique will give him a home in the NFL, but his lack of athletic prowess will probably prevent him from being anything more than a situational player.
Armstrong could easily make the roster, but he’s nobody’s idea of a top depth option. Robert Quinn has a long history of injury, so it’s likely that whoever wins the backup job will see a big role in 2019. Armstrong will need quite a bit of development if he’s able to handle that big of an assignment.
Joe Jackson is the biggest wild card on this list. The fifth-round pick out of Miami doesn’t have the best measurables or the highest upside, but he gets the benefit of the unknown. Jackson has yet to play an NFL snap, so nobody knows exactly how his skill set will translate to the NFL.
Based on his college tape, Jackson was something of a steal in the fifth round. The former Miami Hurricanes product has a good football IQ and is capable of recognizing plays and diagnosing rushing lanes. He can hold his own on the edge and force runners back inside where Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith can take them down.
However, he’s far from a perfect prospect. Jackson will need to add muscle if his work in the run game is to translate to the NFL level. Additionally, he’ll need to work on keeping his pad level low and recovering when an offensive lineman makes first contact. On top of that, Jackson is slow off the line and doesn’t project as much of a pass rusher.
Last Word on Cowboys Defensive End Camp Battles
Taco Charlton has one more year to prove that he’s worthy of sticking around on this roster. With underwhelming options behind him, look for Charlton to start the season as the first pass rusher off the bench. Charlton still has the chance to develop into an impact player, although this will be his last year earning the benefit of the doubt.
Dorance Armstrong and Joe Jackson might be fighting for one roster spot. Armstrong looked like a decent role player as a rookie but wasn’t irreplaceable by any means. Jackson could easily usurp him if he puts together a strong training camp and preseason. Of course, the Cowboys could also hold on to both players at the expense of depth at a different position.
Seventh-round pick Jalen Jelks will also be a part of this competition, but it’s hard to imagine him having any shot of winning the job. Jelks fits the build of a Cowboys pass rusher but is a very raw product with limited athleticism. Jelks will probably spend the year on the practice squad before fighting for a roster spot in 2020.
No matter how you slice it, this should be one of the most interesting Cowboys camp battles of the off-season.
Embed from Getty Images