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Will Taco Charlton Break The Cowboys Rookie Edge Rusher Injury Curse?

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It’s been a struggle for the Cowboys’ rookie defensive ends to stay healthy in recent years, but can this year’s prospect buck the trend?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-OTA Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In each of the last three years, the Cowboys have had one player suffering a season-ending injury in training camp that’s had a significant impact on the season. In 2014, the team lost their defense star, Sean Lee, to a knee injury when he was shoved to the ground by rookie monster Zack Martin. In 2015, the team lost their best cornerback for the year on the very last day of training camp when Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL and MCL while trying to bring down rookie receiver Unlucky Whitehead. And then last year, Kellen Moore was lost for the year when an offensive lineman rolled up on him and broke his right ankle. Now, the loss of Moore’s services wasn’t as significant as what the team gained from the player who stepped in and replaced him, so the impact was huge.

The Cowboys have been able to survive these injuries for the most part. Twice during this three-year span, they won the NFC East. The one time they didn’t, they not only lost Scandrick, but Tony Romo and Dez Bryant each missed significant time during the season.

While those are big injuries that can shake up your team, the Cowboys have also suffered some other losses that aren’t quite as notable. In each of the last three seasons, the Cowboys have lost their top defensive end draft pick due to an injury their rookie season.

2014 - DeMarcus Lawrence

The Cowboys selected Tank with the 34th overall pick after they traded away their third-round pick to move up to get him. So it was disappointing when Lawrence’s rookie season would be put on hold after fracturing his right foot in training camp. Lawrence started the season on the PUP list and didn’t make his Cowboys debut until midway through the season.

In seven regular season games, he did not record a sack.

2015 - Randy Gregory

Before all the hoopla of drug suspensions damaging Gregory’s career, there was a lot of hope stirred up for the young edge rusher. Gregory was selected 60th overall, late in the second round, and was thought to be a steal for the Cowboys. While he did show promise in preseason, he endured a set back when he suffered a high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of the season opener against the New York Giants. He would miss several weeks and wasn’t able to make an impact when he returned.

He also did not record a sack his rookie season.

2016 - Charles Tapper

The Cowboys drafted Tapper early in the fourth round with the 101st overall pick. And just like these other defensive end draft picks, his rookie season would be stymied as well. To be fair, Tapper didn’t suffer any type of injury last year. Instead, during training camp last year, it was discovered that he had a pre-existing back condition known as pars defect. This sidelined him and ultimately put him on injured reserve for the rest of the year.

He did not play a single down, so like the others - no sacks.

Like the three seasons before, the Cowboys drafted another defensive end in 2017. Taco Charlton was selected with the teams first-round pick, 28th overall. This is the highest investment the team has made on an edge rusher since a decade ago when the team selected Anthony Spencer with the 26th overall pick in 2007. The Cowboys are counting on Charlton to contribute and cannot afford to see him fall victim to another rookie injury.

What makes these rookie season injuries so unfortunate is that it delays the teams ability to see what they have in a player. And for a team that has been searching for a good edge rusher every year since the departure of DeMarcus Ware, these delays keep prolonging the search. This is a big season for Lawrence who may not be on the team this time next year if he doesn’t make some real progress this season. That would be a four-year experiment that didn’t work out. And with all the drug issues going on with Gregory, he looks like a lost cause.

Fortunately, the Cowboys have continued to throw resources at the position. Tapper will finally get a shot to show what he can do. And then there’s Taco. That is, if he can avoid the same fate as his fellow defensive end teammates before him. Maybe this is the year the rookie stays healthy. And maybe this is the year that the Cowboys finally got themselves a real edge rushing threat.

Fingers crossed.