The Dallas Cowboys drafted Michigan’s Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick of April’s NFL draft earlier this year. Charlton was only a one year starter in Ann Arbor, but his size, length and athleticism give him the physical tools necessary to be a weapon on the Cowboys defensive line one day.
There are also many question marks surrounding Charlton entering his rookie year, though. He did not play much for the Wolverines during his first few years with them, which leaves many asking why. When he did start in his senior year he showed flashes of brilliance, but also tended to disappear at times. He did not use his size or length to his advantage as much as he should have and even got bullied at times by some of the better tackles he faced.
He got his first taste of NFL action last Thursday during the league’s annual Hall of Fame Game against the Arizona Cardinals in Canton, and it was a little rough.
Charlton played for almost the entire first quarter and into the second quarter. Both teams benched many of their key players and the rookie was lining up across the Cardinals backup offensive line. He played on both the left and right defensive edge.
He was held at bay for much of the game on both sides of the line by the Cardinals linemen.
On all three of the above plays he got little to no defensive penetration. He was simply out-muscled repeatedly. Charlton has a habit of just lazily diving into a blocker and just trying to shove him off instead of using his longer arms and athleticism to his advantage. Despite his 6’6”, 280lb frame Charlton still does not have the strength to just bulldoze an NFL offensive lineman. He does not leverage his weight well, and it leads to him getting pushed around while defending both the pass and the run.
He did manage to make good use of his spin move that was one of his most feared tactics while at Michigan.
Charlton does a good job balancing his weight while approaching the man blocking him. He squares himself then leans into the block with one shoulder. The rusher then quickly swings his hips and whips around to spin by his man. If done correctly, like Charlton did in the plays above, it can leave a blocker being left in the dust.
If Charlton does not leverage his weight well and fails to really get his feet planted before going into his spin then the move becomes ineffective.
On this play, he comes off the snap and instantly tries to beat the tackle around the edge. He is held at bay, and decides to try to spin back towards the inside to get around him. Charlton stumbles through the spin though, and loses his footing. The tackle is easily able to deal with his spin and force him around the quarterback, removing him from the play.
Charlton was unable to get his footing in the first place because he was simply outmatched by his opponent. It looks like he tried a rip move towards the beginning of his rush, and almost entirely whiffed. He never truly settles his feet or even squares himself and stumbles the entire way while getting bullied by a backup offensive lineman.
The NFL is a much stronger and faster league then anything Charlton has played in the past. Many of his struggles on Thursday can just be attributed to the fact that he is not accustomed to playing at that speed yet. This is an issue many rookies face, and one that he should probably be able to put behind him a few weeks into the regular season if he gets regular playing time.
Arizona tested him late in the first quarter, and Blaine Gabbert left him in the dirt.
The Cardinals are running a read option with Gabbert and running back Kerwynn Williams. They let Charlton run free into the backfield. He initially seems to bite on the fake to Williams, but quickly realizes that Gabbert kept it and is scampering towards the sideline. His mind seems to react, but his body can’t keep up. He can’t get fully turned and ends up losing his balance and just falls to the ground untouched in the Cardinals backfield.
He clearly read the play properly, but got too far ahead of himself and could not adjust in time to chase out Gabbert. The play went for minimal gain anyways, and he did do a great job recovering as he would have been the first man to the ball carrier had Gabbert not just stepped out of bounds.
Charlton did not impress much in his first NFL appearance. It could have gone better, but he did show some flashes of the potential he was drafted on. He has around a month left before week 1 to work on his craft and adjust to the higher level of play. He should only get better from here, and Cowboys fans should keep close watch on his development over the next few weeks of preseason.
For more NFL news and breakdowns follow me on Twitter!
More from Bird Breakdowns: