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Reviewing the rookies: Taco Charlton improved as season progressed

Taco wasn’t flashy, but he got better during the latter parts of the season

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

How did each rookie perform in 2017? Did he out-perform his draft value, or did he struggle? This series will take a look at how each first-year player performed for the Dallas Cowboys in their first professional season.

When Taco Charlton was the choice for the Cowboys’ first selection (28th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft, there were definitely mixed reactions. Charlton had a strong collegiate career in Ann Arbor for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines, but there were real concerns how he would translate to the professional level. The questions and concerns only increased when Taco clocked in an unofficial 4.92 in the 40-yard dash at last spring’s NFL Combine. Would he be able to overcome that hurdle and grow into a pass rusher off of the edge, or would his lack of speed and explosion prevent him from becoming anything but a JAG?

Despite the concerns surrounding the 6-foot-6, 277-pound defensive end, the coaching staff opted to select Charlton in the first-round — instead of fan-favorite T.J. Watt.

Taco played well in the preseason against opponent’s backup offensive linemen, but in the first few weeks of the regular season, we saw Taco struggle mightily. Other than a TFL against the Broncos in a week two blowout, Charlton never really made any kind of impact for Rod Marinelli’s unit. As the first-rounder struggled to transition to the professional level — combined with Watt’s seven tackle, two sack debut against the Browns and his six tackle, one sack performance versus the Jaguars within the first five games of the season — many fans grew more and more frustrated with the player that the staff went with with their first pick in April. In fact, here is what we wrote following the Packers game as the Cowboys entered their bye week.

Taco Charlton has played 109 snaps this season. He has only recorded three total tackles and has yet to record any quarterback pressures on the year. When his spin move isn’t working, he is largely ineffective at getting anything going. To make things more troubling, Charlton is beginning to see less and less playing time for the Cowboys — only seeing eight total snaps against the Packers in week five. Our own OCC wonders if Charlton could be benched.

There were numerous Taco Charlton critics. Many questioned if he would ever show any kind of promise and worried if he would turn out to be a waste of a selection. His only highlight of the first part of the season was when he pulled out some pretty cool taco-themed cleats in week one. Other than that though? Nada. I decided to give him an ‘F’ grade for his lack of production and impact, combined with the fact that he was a first-round selection.

Fortunately for the Cowboys’ defensive line, Demarcus Lawrence was in the midst of a career season. The 2014 second-round selection finally showed the potential so many saw in him. The Tank was getting after the quarterback and creating havoc week-in and week-out. David Irving also became a force when he returned from his four-game suspension. This allowed a little extra time for Charlton to transition to the NFL.

Taco finally began to show signs of what he can do during the back half of his rookie season. He was understanding Marinelli’s scheme more and more and his confidence grew. Beginning with the first Philly game on, Taco really matured.

Over the last seven games of his first season in the NFL, the rookie out of Michigan totaled 12 total tackles, 10 solo tackles, and two of his three sacks on the year — one of which was a strip-sack on Kirk Cousins on Thursday Night Football.

The rookie also showed some promise on the Sunday Night battle against Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders.

While they are not video game numbers, it was nice to see the 28th overall selection begin to show some production. His confidence was at an all-time high, he started to use his hands when battling an offensive tackle (as opposed to just using his spin move), and he began to make a little bit of an impact for the Cowboys’ defense.

I am intrigued about how Taco continues to progress in Marinelli’s scheme and how he develops over the course of this offseason leading up to his second professional season.

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