Friday, April 28, 2017

The Morning After - Round 1 - Taco Charlton

On the morning of Day 2, it is best to write down as many thoughts as possible on the events of Day 1 before the bullets start flying again. So much happens on an NFL draft weekend that if you don't write several times before it is over, it will all start to blur in your memory: what happened, when it happened, and why.
The event that will be written in the history books is that the Cowboys stayed put at pick No. 28 and took Taco Charlton, the big defensive end from Michigan. They were able to secure one of the biggest and most menacing defensive ends in the draft, and a guy who certainly looks the part of a real big presence.
They did indicate after the fact that they did not have a first-round grade on him and left someone on the board who did. We believe that is Kevin King (edit, 10:30 a.m.: I now believe that this is not correct. According to sources, the remaining first-rounder was not at a position that fit the needs), the cornerback from Washington, which does make you wonder about following the board, but you can also understand their position that they considered how Round 2 would play out when making their first pick.
This basically means they thought carefully about wanting to get one edge rusher and one defensive back with their two premium picks and tried to reverse engineer things to see what had the best odds of being there at No. 60. They correctly (in my estimation) ran the numbers and found that the defensive ends who had a chance to be special were in much shorter supply than those corners and safeties. This is true every year, as the Lord made many more athletic marvels at 205 pounds than he did at 275. So, if you want one of the big boys, you better get in there when your chance is presented.
Anyone who follows this blog knows I was a bit nonplussed with Charlton as it pertains to finding a guy who would be a routine menace in collapsing the pocket, smashing quarterbacks and sack totals. I don't think he is a right-side defensive end who can duel with NFL left tackles. I don't see the explosion on his tape, nor in his combine workouts, that is required on Sundays. I don't see a high-end sack guy, and I have said that now for two months or so.
But I do see a very useful part to a defensive rotation. There is no doubt he can help them plenty and there is no doubt he has room to grow. There is also no doubt that Rod Marinelli has a real reputation for making George Selvie and David Irving remarkably better players than they were when they arrived. If he can do that with them, I would love to see what he can do with Charlton. Because I think Charlton is only scratching the surface of what he could be. He battles his tail off and has a real size element to him that is rare and potentially special.
I have been asked quite a few times what I would have done at No. 28, and this "Morning After" blog always serves as a historical record, so in 10 years, when Charlton is continuing his Hall of Fame career, you can point to this and have a laugh at me. I would not have taken him, because I don't think he is the edge pass rusher that you so desire. He has a chance, but this isn't about the either/or that he is either a great player or a horrible one. The draft is about getting the best decisions down at the right moment. It is not a deal in absolutes. It is about a series of "A" or "B" decisions and trying to improve your team as much as you possibly can. I will say that I thought they already had his type, in David Irving, and I prefer Irving as present commodities. They must think he can be better or they can play together.
So, let's go back and discuss a few of the other names the Cowboys might have left with, too, and how it all relates back to their big defensive end, Taco Charlton:
ADOREE' JACKSON: Tennessee took him at 18, which matched up with my information from yesterday that indicated the Cowboys were very likely grabbing him if he was on the board. The mood changed over the weeks in the buildup to the draft and it turned from locking in on him to fearing there was no way he would get to them. He was someone they really admired and were not willing to pay a second to go get him, most likely, but really thought he was the best guy who had a chance of getting to them.
CHARLES HARRIS: I am less certain of my information on Harris and the Cowboys' interest level, but he does have a fair amount of supporters at The Star, and he went off the board to Miami at 22, so scratch him off their list.
GAREON CONLEY: Taken at 24 by Oakland, there was growing belief that Dallas really liked him as well and he also might have been the guy if he slid a bit further. For obvious reasons (last year), the Cowboys have plenty of intelligence in Columbus, Ohio, and felt good about his current mess and think he was a real strong corner.
TAKK McKINLEY: This is the very interesting one. Once he got to 26, the hopes started rising because it seemed pretty safe the Seahawks were going with offensive line. Buffalo would take a corner at 27, then you could have McKinley and dance the night away. I have it on pretty good authority that they liked him slightly better than Charlton, but now it doesn't matter. Atlanta dove in front and took the best edge rusher left right off their plate. The Falcons and Seahawks have quite a relationship between Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll and friends, and according to this report, they had this trade in place long before the draft. Atlanta knew it had to jump Dallas, Green Bay and Pittsburgh to get McKinley, and they pulled the trigger by sending pick No. 31 and their third- and seventh-rounders to go get their guy. Hat tip to the always-aggressive Atlanta Falcons.
That is when the Cowboys went on the clock, after Buffalo took Tre'Davious White from LSU, leaving Charlton, T.J. Watt and Kevin King as their principal considerations.
From there, we can put the pieces together pretty easily. They just didn't like Watt's knee history and odd fit in a 4-3 defense. He is a perfect fit with Pittsburgh as a fall-back to McKinley (we guess) and Green Bay apparently locked in on a corner and decided to move back, letting Cleveland move up for its second and fourth-rounders. 
I can't tell you for sure if I would have taken Kevin King or T.J. Watt over Taco Charlton, because I would have taken both.
KEVIN KING: For King, he plays at 6-foot-3 and would be a great weapon at corner to lock up at the goal line with the beasts at wide receiver in this division and conference. He was a first-rounder and at a position of massive need. They are comfortable seeing what pick No. 60 brings them, but I would have looked at the defensive end group and taken my best corner available.
They did not, and they make the decisions around here. Not only that, but they have quite a winning streak in Round 1 going, so we give them the benefit of the doubt to make it work.
I had no problem with Watt, but I also do not know the results of their medical testing, and Jerry pontificated three things about Charlton that stuck out for him:
1. Charlton can play all three downs, and that is very important to them.
2. Charlton can play right defensive end, left defensive end and defensive tackle. I agree that he has positional flexibility and that helps considerably. I am not sure it would decide the pick, but they value it a lot.
3. Charlton has no real medical history of note at all -- McKinley and Watt do.
T.J. WATT: Watt would have a weird fit on first down, but since the Cowboys are in nickel 70-plus percent of the time these days, I don't have a problem with a smaller edge rusher. Especially since the sack leaders every year are guys between 250-265 pounds, not 275-290. Of the top 12 pass rushers last year, how many weighed more than 265? Zero.
Watt does not have flex. He had one spot -- pass-down defensive end -- in this scheme. Not ideal. But, again, he fit the profile of a legit edge rusher.
And yes, Watt has a history of knee injuries. He is healthy now, but I understand the reluctance when you look into 2014 and 2015.
There are seven corners or so who I would feel great about at pick No. 60, and another handful of safeties, too. If they can get one of them, this will look like a very solid draft in terms of staying there and plugging a hole.
I don't know that Charlton fits the ideal profile of what many of us were looking for: A guy who could dip and bend and use speed to power around the edge to threaten the passer, like those 12 sack leaders. He isn't that.
But Charlton is a very solid prospect who I liked at the right price. Just because I liked a few other players more doesn't mean he didn't instantly improve their defensive front.
I think he needs to play stronger. He is large, yet there are plays when it doesn't appear he knows it. But he has room to grow and develop. His profile is close to some amazing big men, but also similar to a bunch of guys who looked like Tarzan and played more like Jane in the NFL. So, time will tell. But there aren't many humans his size with his talent. Now, it is up the Cowboys to make it fit and work.

Here was my write-up on Charlton from February:
POSITIVES: Charlton has size that makes him a focal point of the defense and battles his tail off from the snap on. He bulls through traffic and makes himself at home in the backfield on a regular basis. He comes up big in big games. He has an impressive get-off as well and really has a skill set that offers plenty to like. I really love his traditional skill set in terms of looking how defensive ends always did. He can carry 280 pounds and play a style that will hold up well on the edge in terms of crashing a pocket with brute strength. I really like his compete level and his bull rush. He was getting a lot of clean runs at quarterbacks, which is a credit to Jim Harbaugh's scheme up there.
CONCERNS: The biggest concern about a player like Charlton is simply his short-space quickness and ability to change direction. This is a very fast league with very athletic tackles, and while Charlton is impressive for sure, the reason you may prefer someone with a bit more fluidity to their game is that it seems like they are generally the high-production players on Sundays. He moves well on rails, but if you ask him to circle and change directions quickly, he appears to lack those hips, comparatively speaking. You get a bit concerned when a player is this young and looks that way, because it seldom improves with age in the trenches.
-- There is no question he is a fine prospect, but you have to put the proper value on him.
The Cowboys took him over a first round-graded player on their own board and some corners they really liked. Whether he was a better pick than a solid corner may never be fully determined. They saw their guy and they have made a sizable bet on a sizable man in Taco Charlton because they think the next 28 picks will break right for them. A gamble, for sure. But a reasonable one on the surface.
And now, we see how Day 2 can complement their Day 1 decision-making process.

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