With training camp almost over and only the final preseason game left for the Dallas Cowboys, we are starting to get a pretty good idea of what the team has. This is the most valuable time for the newest additions to the team. Most of the starters were entrenched coming in. It was the rookies and a few new free agents that had their work cut out for them. And if you only look at the players that Dallas invested draft picks in, it is pretty clear: Taco Charlton is the star of the bunch and his inventive post sack celebration was a tasty delight for us.
Not many expected that to happen, outside of a minority of fans he had all along. Immediately after the draft, the excitement was all about players taken after him. But things did not go as we all wanted. Chidobe Awuzie started fast, just missing a pick-six in the Hall of Fame game. Then he started nursing a hamstring problem. Jourdan Lewis had to clear up a legal issue before he could practice. Then he started nursing a hamstring problem. Ryan Switzer was the early star of OTAs and training camp this year. Then he started nursing a hamstring problem. Xavier Woods was seen as a real steal in the sixth round. Then he started nursing a hamstring problem. Marquez White had a real shot to make the team despite being taken so late due to the openings in the secondary. Then . . . sorry, I just can’t type it again.
Outside Charlton, only wide receiver Noah Brown has really stood out at times, and he is basically competing to try and force the team to carry a sixth WR, so he can be inactive for just about every game. Neither Joey Ivie or Jordan Carroll has done much. They are likely fighting for a chance at the practice squad now, with a real likelihood the team won’t have room there for both of them.
Of course, UDFA Cooper Rush has been the biggest story of camp. And he has been rather incredible. But the hope for him is that he will stand on the sidelines and cheer Dak Prescott on for 18 or 19 games, with his only real work perhaps coming in a meaningless week 17 game after the Cowboys have their playoff seed locked up.
Unlike Rush, Charlton has a real shot to contribute this year without unthinkable things happening, and as the preseason has progressed, he has really started to come into his own. He is tied for the preseason sack lead with Damontre’ Moore at two, and only seven players in the league have more. He has four total tackles, including another for a loss. That is a very good showing for a rookie who is having to split snaps with the rest of the crowded DE group in Dallas. With the rotational approach Rod Marinelli takes with his defensive line, Charlton has an excellent opportunity to be a real contributor once the games start to count. The first game of the season against the New York Giants will let him work against a rather shaky offensive line, which may give him a real chance for a fast start.
Admittedly, the multiple injuries to the other draftees has made it much easier for Charlton to stand out. But given the widespread skepticism about his ability to make his skill set work in the NFL, his showing so far is highly encouraging. Even if he is mostly going against second- and third-string players, he is still demonstrating that he belongs at this level. While he may not become a starter his first year, that is not such a big knock on him. He was taken late in the first round and should not be judged as if he was a true blue-chip selection.
The Cowboys came into 2017 needing answers on the defensive line and saw fit to finally invest their first-round pick there. That decision is starting to pay off. It still is early, but Charlton has improved steadily, which is all you can really ask of a rookie.
And he is one of three additions to the defensive line group that is showing real promise, along with Moore and Stephen Paea, who is starting to thrive now that he is playing in Marinelli’s system again. If the Cowboys do have a more effective pass rush in 2017, they deserve a lot of credit for going out and getting these three.
Pass that Taco over here and let’s eat.