Five of the Dallas Cowboys last six first-round picks have made a Pro Bowl. The one who hasn’t is Taco Charlton. Charlton entered the NFL back in 2017 but hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft standards. Entering his third season in the league, Charlton is at something of a crossroads in his career. He still has the ability to be a good defensive lineman, but he needs to put something on tape or else he’ll lose the benefit of the doubt.
Dallas Cowboys X-Factors: Taco Charlton
The first thing that jumps off the page with Charlton is his athletic build. At 6’6” and 277 pounds, Charlton has the ideal build for the position. When factoring in his 34 ¼” arm length, Charlton has everything you’d want to see, physically speaking, from a pass-rushing edge defender. He put that ability on display in 2016 when he recorded 10 sacks, 40 tackles, and 13.5 tackles-for-loss en route to winning First-Team All-Big 10 honors.
Charlton is probably fighting for the third edge rusher position on the Cowboys depth chart. Demarcus Lawrence is a stud and is the clear top option while the recently acquired Robert Quinn will start opposite Lawrence. The depth behind those two is completely up in the air, although Charlton should be the frontrunner entering camp.
Charlton won’t ever be better than Lawrence, but he has the raw ability to usurp Quinn. Quinn hasn’t recorded double-digit sacks since 2014 and typically slows down as the season goes on. Charlton could develop into a starting edge defender, but he’ll need to make a big leap in Year Three.
Taco Charlton needs to show that he’s capable of translating his athleticism and build into on-field production. So far, the Michigan product has recorded just four sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and 46 tackles in 27 games played. This obviously isn’t ideal production from a player with such high draft pedigree.
Fortunately, it’s possible to explain away Charlton’s early-career struggles. Charlton was a one-year wonder in college and a raw prospect in the NFL Draft. Nobody expected immediate production as a rookie, so nobody panicked over a three-sack rookie season. However, concern rose when Charlton took a step back in his second year.
The reason for Charlton’s regression could be due to a nagging shoulder injury. Charlton battled through said injury for the majority of the 2018 season, limiting him to just one sack in 11 games (seven starts). The defensive end had off-season surgery following the end of the season and should be fully recovered for the start of 2019. If he can maintain his health while improving his pass rushing moves, he could develop into a solid starter.
Last Word on Taco Charlton
Taco Charlton hasn’t played up to his draft status, but still has time to develop into a good player. The defensive end was a raw product coming out of college and dealt with a shoulder injury throughout the majority of the 2018 season. Now presumably healthy, Charlton has a chance to be the first edge defender off the bench behind Demarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn.
Quinn is a significantly safer bet than Charlton, but Charlton has more upside. If Charlton can stay healthy, the former first-round pick could steal a starting job midway through the season. However, if 2019 brings more of the same, he might have to get used to the bench.
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