I was high on Taco Charlton going into 2017. I liked the talent. And the draft capital the team spent on him. I loved the fact that Rod Marinelli would have the opportunity to mold a talented young pass rusher.
His real name is actually Vidaunte Charlton. No wonder he uses his nickname.
Taco went to Michigan after growing up in Ohio. He played four years in college and managed to have two very productive ones with 15.5 sacks across his last two seasons.
He’s certainly an imposing man at 6’6” and 277 lbs. That is pretty much what you’d ask for when designing a DE from the ground up. He tested out as a medium-to-good athlete but let himself down at the combine with pedestrian results. He performed again at his pro day and improved slightly with his three-cone, 40 and jump measurements. They weren’t bad but the lack of elite athleticism certainly dampened enthusiasm.
Come the draft, he was ultimately selected 28th overall by the Cowboys as the fifth DE off the board. The Cowboys lacked a clear lead dog at pass rusher and I was among those who thought he could instantly become their top option.
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Taco played 26 snaps in week one (the team faced 56 snaps as a whole). This was indicative of how his whole season would go as he managed a total of 401 snaps in 16 games. As I’m sure you’ve worked out already, that’s 25 snaps per game. He played eight snaps in week five but between 18 and 37 snaps in each and every other game.
As a comparison, Demarcus Lawrence managed 704 snaps as the team’s top end. It seems clear that Taco was given a fairly restricted role very deliberately by Marinelli. It’s no coincidence that several other highly-drafted rookies played a very similar weight. Takkarist McKinley played 400 snaps. Derek Barnett 424. Jordan Willis 360.
Looking slightly wider, 74 DEs played more than Taco. Chris Smith of the Bengals played exactly the same at 401. Brooks Reed managed 412 in Atlanta. Charles Johnson 390 in Carolina.
I’m not worried that Taco played what he did – but he’ll need to step it up a lot to have a chance at being a top option. I’d like 700 snaps from a player who has hopes of being at DE2 level or better.
Taco rushed the passer 222 times as a rookie. He turned that opportunity into three sacks, four QB hits, and 14 pressures. His 21 total pressures were the same as Barkevious Mingo, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Wes Horton. Mingo even managed to record them off just 133 pass rush snaps.
In efficiency terms, he managed about the same amount of pressure per snap as Connor Barwin, Josh Martin, Pernell McPhee and Dee Ford. That’s not an exciting list. The Bears just cut McPhee.
There’s a disconnect here. When I was thinking of Taco before writing this I thought “he had a promising season given his low volume” but do we think the same about Mingo or Horton? I certainly don’t. Which makes me think that maybe my optimism is misplaced. I think there’s a good chance that because he was taken early and he’s young, my brain thinks he is a candidate for improvement and ignores the fact that he was not productive.
Taco managed to record 15 solos and four assists for 19 total tackles in 2017. That’s equivalent to a tackle on 4.7% of his snaps.
In pure numbers, 82 other ends in 2017 managed to beat that tackle number. Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Jason Pierre-Paul, Calais Campbell, Trey Flowers, Cameron Jordan and Jurrell Casey all managed three times as many with over 60 tackles each. Even Henry Anderson (22 tackles), Carlos Watkins (21) and Cornelius Washington (23) managed to beat Taco.
In terms of efficiency, he was sandwiched between Carl Nassib and Deatrich Wise (both 4.8%) and Matt Ioannidis and Chris Jones (both on 4.6%). Ioannidis and Jones are both prototypical 3-4 ends and so this is extremely worrying.
Many rookie ends struggle with amassing tackles, so it’s not too worrying, but it’s certainly a factor to be aware of. Emmanuel Ogbah managed 53 as a rookie in 2016. Joey Bosa had 41 the same season. This year Myles Garrett had 31 (from 519 snaps) and Solomon Thomas 41 (701 snaps). Against most measures, Taco was a poor player in the running game – way below the acceptable level of a starter in my eyes.
Last year was a little bit unusual for a Rod Marinelli defense. Not only was Demarcus Lawrence a black swan event (in that he was amazing but came out of nowhere) but the spread of production was really odd. Lawrence had twice as many tackles as any other end and 11 sacks more than any other edge player. Eleven!
I expect this to bounce back to much closer to normal. I’ll be surprised if Lawrence is on the same level as his 2017 season and I expect a bit more from the other options – Taco included.
Taco undeniably had a poor season. He was flat out bad in the run game, was unimpressive as a pass rusher, and couldn’t mitigate either issue with playing time.
Of course, he’s young and he was a first-round pick, but going back to my earlier point – I’m worried that those factors are influencing my overall feeling of “he can turn it around”. When I look at this situation rationally I see a very disappointing season and a player I’m not interested in investing in. If he can be obtained for free then he’s a good bet but realistically he was probably taken relatively early and his owner will be bullish on him improving. If you’re looking at a startup then you won’t have that issue but he’d only be a flyer. You should not be adding Taco in the understanding that he’ll be a reliable starter for you.
Thanks for reading.