When the Dallas Cowboys selected Taco Charlton with the 28th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, not everyone in Cowboys Nation was happy. Arguments were made that he isn’t the ideal “explosive, quick twitch” edge rusher with the bend to consistently capture the corner against NFL left tackles. That the Cowboys will again be in the market for pass-rushers come April 2018 (who won’t be?). That he isn’t going to be a consistent 10-12 sack player. Those are all valid concerns that should be part of the debate.
He doesn’t have ideal twitch, he doesn’t bring elite speed off the edge, and his ability to reach double-digit sacks throughout his career is certainly an unknown. The counter-argument, though, is that identifying a player at #28 that fits all those criteria is almost impossible, because players that fit all those ideals go much earlier in the draft. Myles Garrett went number one for a reason. Sure, someone will get lucky and hit on a guy later in the draft that becomes a sack machine, but they will have mis-scouted him just like everyone else, or that player wouldn’t have fallen out of the first round. If there was that ideal player with the ideal traits to fit the ideal need with a pick at the very back end of the first round, the Cowboys would have taken him.
If teams are looking for the perfect fit with the 28th overall selection, they will be quite disappointed for years to come because 90 times out of 100 it just isn’t happening.
The Cowboys weren’t locked on upgrading one of their weakest positions on the roster with a player who fits an extremely rigid description. If Charlton turns out to be a Michael Bennett, Carlos Dunlap, or Cameron Jordan, it’s likely no one will be upset. The first round isn’t reserved only for 250 lb guys who run sub-4.6 40’s.
So while many are upset with the Taco Charlton pick because he doesn’t fit their ideal as a pass rusher, it was never especially realistic that you’d find that type of prospect at the end of the first round to begin with.
Another argument is that they could have looked elsewhere to a different position. Again, valid point. The counter to that is that any prospect available at 28 has a hole or two in his game, just like with Charlton. Yet a decision must be made, so with that in mind let’s take a look at the other options available to the team at 28 and really try to figure out if Charlton was the best option.
A few weeks before the draft I wrote that Watt was a better fit as a 3-4 OLB and the fact that he has almost never played with his hand down in college had to be cause for concern for teams projecting him as a 4-3 defensive end, and it seems that Will McClay and the Cowboys front office agreed:
"I think T.J. Watt's deal was we felt like he could potentially play defensive end for us, but it was a projection. It was a projection of a guy that had converted from tight end, now he's going to try to play defensive end in this scheme, and probably a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker because they do different jobs than 4-3 defensive ends. Not to say that he wouldn't will himself to being [a 4-3 end].
"He's going to be a very good NFL player. But when you put all those things together and you're making a first round pick, you want to go for the guy that has done it, that you think has the potential and the upside to play the way that you want to play."
He would’ve made for a fine selection at 28 and possibly could have transitioned into becoming a full-time 4-3 defensive end in time, but the key is that it would have been a transition. He is not ready to play 30-40 snaps a game as a pure defensive end, and to start off he would have likely played as a SAM linebacker in the base who moves around in pass-rushing situations, either standing up or with his hand down.
You can’t fault the Cowboys for erring on the side of caution in this scenario and going with the player with ideal size, as well as experience playing both right and left defensive end (and also standing up on occasion). Furthermore, Charlton’s athleticism is underrated, likely because of his Combine numbers and that it manifests itself in ways that some fans aren’t used to seeing. When you’re nearly 280 lbs. and have the ability to change direction and track down Curtis Samuel, or lay a spin move on Ryan Ramczyk that leaves him lunging, or accelerate into a left tackle and knock him off balance with a powerful “long arm” move while working back to the quarterback, that’s athleticism. It’s just not the athleticism a lot of Cowboys fans had in mind when they envisioned selecting a speed demon off the edge at 28.
After the draft Stephen Jones said that there was one “first-round” prospect left on their board, although they decided to go with Charlton instead partially due to the depth at cornerback. Many took this to mean that King was the remaining “first-rounder” and the story took on a life of its own.
“Reached for need!”
“Passed up a better prospect when we still need a cornerback!”
Until it came out that the remaining first-rounder was a running back, likely Dalvin Cook, and not King.
With that said, King was still a very strong consideration at 28 and the pick likely came down to him or Charlton.
It seems that for a short time many idealized King as a prospect because they thought he was the “last first-rounder” on the team’s board and given how he tested at the Combine, when in reality there are plenty of holes in his game just like there are with Charlton’s. Despite his height he lacks bulk and doesn’t play with a physical edge, especially in the run game, but also in coverage against stronger receivers. He struggles with changing directions in space and doesn’t have the quickest feet/ability to transition with his extremely long legs. He also doesn’t project as being able to play in the slot at the NFL level.
There is no doubt that he would have been worthy of the 28th pick but how can you fault the decision making when the team was able to nab a cornerback who is arguably just as good (Chidobe Awuzie) at 60?
Heck, a few weeks before the draft I suggested that while King would be a strong choice at 28, I’d rather trade down about 10 slots, grab an extra pick, and select Awuzie, Adoree Jackson or Tre’Davious White. Obviously Jackson and White were gone, but to get Awuzie at 60 has to at least somewhat justify the decision to select Charlton over King.
Of course the ends don’t always justify the means and you have to judge decisions at the time they’re made without the advantage of hindsight, but considering the depth at cornerback and the fact that Charlton and King were generally equally-ranked prospects, it’s hard to be upset that the gamble paid off.
McDowell flashes big time talent but if you want explosiveness or bend off the edge, this is not your guy.
At 295 lbs McDowell only put up 7.5 sacks in 32 games while playing extensively, compare that to Charlton who put up 9 sacks as a reserve during his sophomore and junior seasons in just 20 games. He also is extremely raw as far as technique and is likely a better fit on the inside of a 4-3 defense.
And the maturity or motivation issues that many teams were concerned with have to be brought into the equation.
A questionable fit with raw technique, a lack of production, and questionable work ethic?
That’s a risky first-round pick.
After spending the 34th pick in 2016 on a linebacker who had to sit out his rookie season I’d like to see a show of hands for who would have liked to spend the 28th pick in 2017 on a linebacker who reportedly still needs shoulder surgery, who wasn’t medically cleared by several teams, who failed his Combine drug test (for one reason or another), and was dismissed from the Combine all together.
High reward, sure, but let someone else take that risk.
Immediately after the Charlton selection the Cleveland Browns traded up with the Green Bay Packers, giving up the top picks of the second and fourth rounds (33 and 108) for the 29th selection. Presumably this same deal would have been available to the Cowboys at 28, although we don’t know that for sure.
Beyond any other players available I think this is the best argument to be made for passing on Charlton at 28. You move down five spots, add the first pick in the fourth-round, and even if Charlton is gone you still have plenty of strong options to choose from, including Watt, King, Awuzie, Tyus Bowser, Budda Baker (who the team may not have liked), and Obi Melifonwu.
Possible trade down aside, I don’t see any other prospects who were clearly better values than Charlton at 28.
You can say he will never be a 12-15 sack a year, elite speed/athlete, DeMarcus Ware-type presence off the edge, but the idea that the Cowboys should only invest a first-round pick in a player who meets that criteria would leave the defensive line depth chart woefully thin and lacking in talent for years to come, because those types of players don’t come around often.
At the end of the day Charlton is an upgrade, a big one, and he could easily end up being the best edge-rusher over a 7-10 year period that the Cowboys have had since Ware. And considering the premium on pass-rushers in today’s league there would be absolutely nothing wrong with spending next year’s first on yet another pass-rusher. Perhaps next time someone with a bit more speed and quick twitch is there, and just imagine what the defensive line will start to look like then.