I don’t know if you heard the hype at the beginning of preseason, but rookie pass rusher T.J. Watt had himself a nice NFL debut.
The sacks may not have been the most impressive, but T.J. Watt was solid all-around last night pic.twitter.com/Tz42EdwtQf— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 12, 2017
Of course that sent the hindsight GM’s into a frenzy and fueled those who were hard selling the idea of the Cowboys selecting Watt with their first round pick. Dallas had a plan in this year’s draft and that plan included taking advantage of the talent pool of pass rushers early in the draft and capitalizing on the deep cornerback pool on day two. Things worked nicely for them as they were able to do both things, landing a good up-and-coming defensive end in Taco Charlton and two good corners in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis.
While the cornerback selections have been applauded, the selection of Taco has been met with criticism. Everyone had their own favorite pass rusher they wanted the Cowboys to select. And after T.J. Watt broke on the scene in his preseason debut, it got some wondering - did the Cowboys draft the wrong guy?
Today, we look at four edge rushers whose name came up quite a bit before the draft and examine how each of them looked in preseason. Clearly, what’s happened in such a small sample size isn’t an end-all be-all to what the future holds, but it’s something and right now we’ll take it.
Also, even though Charles Harris and Takkarist McKinley were selected before the Cowboys had a chance to pick, we’ll still include them as there could be several fans curious in how they’ve performed in preseason.
22. Charles Harris, Miami Dolphins: C+
His tackle total is nothing to brag about, and he failed to record a sack for the Miami Dolphins. Still, defensive end Charles Harris was effective in pass rushing and the more reps he gets the better he will get at finishing off the plays.
26. Takkarist McKinley, Atlanta Falcons: A+
This guy is a lightning rod. Teams looking for pass rushers may have missed out on UCLA edge rusher Takkarist McKinley. The worry was that he would miss a lot of time this year due to shoulder surgery, but he was practicing as soon as the Atlanta Falcons opened up camp. He was also in the backfield from the word go.
28. Taco Charlton, Dallas Cowboys: C+
Fans of the Dallas Cowboys were not happy with the selection of Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton. He wasn’t the flashy pick they were hoping for, but fans need to give the team some credit. They’ve avoided flashy moves in the past by skipping out on quarterback Johnny Manziel in favor of guard Zack Martin. That one worked out and they hope this will too.
Charlton so far hasn’t been explosive, but he has been what the Cowboys hoped for: solid. He recorded two sacks, although those were more of mistakes by the blockers. He still is slow off the snap and needs to use better instincts.
30. T. J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers: C+
The little brother of J.J. Watt went off in his first preseason game with two sacks. After that, T.J. Watt slowed down some in that regard but had 11 total tackles for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As good as he looked in the opening game against the New York Giants, he was that bad for the them against the Indianapolis Colts. Neither team has a good offensive line, so that’s a worry, but the first game showed he can make an impact.
That provides some insight, but let’s check another source. Here are the dress rehearsal reviews for each of them according to Pro Football Focus:
Though he didn’t record a sack against the Eagles, Harris did notch a hit and a hurry on the quarterback across his 16 pass-rushing snaps, and ended the game with a solid grade of 77.0 rushing exclusively from the right side. He also saw three snaps lined up inside at defensive tackle in sub packages.
McKinley had a strong game against the Cardinals this week, scooping up a fumble, but also recording a hit and two pressures on his 14 pass-rushing snaps. Much of his work came against some suspect second-team blocking by the Cardinals, but he took advantage of the mismatch well.
Though he got the sack to keep the highlight reel ticking over, Charlton actually had a far quieter game this week against the Raiders. That sack was his only pressure over a dozen pass-rushing snaps and the only evidence that he played on the stat sheet. His overall grade of 70.3 was almost exactly average.
Working primarily against a solid veteran LT in Anthony Castonzo, T.J. Watt struggled starting for the Steelers against Indianapolis this week. He didn’t generate any pressure on eight pass-rushing snaps, but was also handled in the run game, particularly by the Colts’ tight ends, who were able to collapse him into the line on more than one occasion.
All of these rookie pass rushers have flashed some signs of nice potential, but at the same time exhibited things they need to work on. This is what you’d expect from a late first-round defensive end. If there is any player that has really dazzled people with a sign that he could be an immediate impact player - it’s Takkarist McKinley.
Takk McKinley looks ready to be the elite pass rusher the Atlanta Falcons need him to be pic.twitter.com/mJfWgUZSV3— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 7, 2017
Of course, you can’t blame the front office on missing out on him. The Atlanta Falcons traded away their third- and seventh-round picks to Seattle in order to jump up a few spots to get Takk. That would be like the Cowboys giving up Jourdan Lewis and Noah Brown. Would the Cowboys have even drafted Takk if he was still available at 28? Who knows. They figured that one of the pass rushers they liked would still be there and didn’t need to surrender any draft stock to get him. The worst part of missing out on Takk is that he went to the Falcons who are one of the elite teams in the NFC that the Cowboys will have to go against.
Charlton is a player that is only going to get better with more reps. While the preseason buzz is nice, patience is key here. The Cowboys have to be pleased with what they’ve seen from him so far and there is no reason to have any buyer’s remorse for this pick. We’ll revisit these four again after the season is over and see how things look. The thing I am most interested in seeing is how they perform down the stretch. This could give us a good idea as to what the future holds for these guys.
But at this point in time, let’s hear what you think...
With preseason over, which rookie pass rusher do you think the Cowboys should have drafted?
This poll is closed