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Taco Charlton, Dallas Cowboys

Taco Charlton: The War Daddy that never was for the Cowboys

Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, Jerry Jones made it known the Dallas Cowboys would be going after what the owner dubbed a “war daddy” to anchor the defensive line. Only Jones knows for sure what a war daddy is, but the assumption is that it looks something like DeMarcus Lawrence, who at the time had yet to break out as the leader of the defense.

The comment would place high expectations on the team’s eventual first-round pick, but in truth, the Dallas war room itself would face equal pressure. If you’re going to proclaim that your next pick will be the future stud of your defense, you simply must nail the pick, a task made all the more difficult when picking at the back end of the first round as Dallas was at 28th.

Despite the less than ideal positioning, luck seemed to smile upon the Cowboys as Wisconsin’s TJ Watt, the younger brother of Houston’s JJ Watt, was still on the board when their pick finally came around. Instead, the team surprised everyone by selecting Taco Charlton out of Michigan.

Over the past few years, the Cowboys have drafted as well as anybody in the league, leading many to wonder whether the team saw something more in Charlton that his skeptics did not. Or, conversely, whether they saw something less in Watt. In the immediate fallout of the pick, Dallas expressed doubt as to whether Watt was capable of playing with his hand in the dirt, suggesting that question above all most influenced their decision. Because of this, as is often the case, Charlton and Watt’s careers would forever be linked to one another.

It took all of two games to see that Dallas had likely drawn the short end of the stick.

As a rookie in Pittsburgh, Watt started 15 of 16 games, recording 52 tackles, 7 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and an interception. He also defended 7 passes. Taco Charlton, on the other hand, recorded 3 sacks, 19 tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass defended. He started zero games and through much of the early part of the season was almost invisible on the field. While Dallas and Pittsburgh utilize different defensive schemes, meaning you can’t truly compare apples to apples in this case, it’s nevertheless safe to say Dallas ended up with the less talented player in the deal.

While year two was a little better for Taco, he would continue to struggle to find consistency. The occasional flash of ability would almost always be followed by a disappearing act in the weeks that followed, leading many to double back and trace over the penciled label “BUST” in ink.

Even coming out of college there were questions about Charlton’s burst, but the biggest knock seemed to be a lackluster “motor.” And for a Defensive Coordinator like Rod Marinelli, effort is king. If you don’t buy into his system and give maximum effort, you’ll quickly find yourself on the outside looking in, regardless of where you were drafted.

As such, Charlton’s stacking of subpar practices, poor body language, and wayward commitment left him at odds with the team entering his third Training Camp. Things got so bad, in fact, many expected Charlton to be a surprise cut at the end of camp, even with his two solid showings against the Rams and Texans.

In the end, Taco survived the cut but cryptic Instagram and Twitter posts soon made it clear that the defensive end’s relationship with the team had soured and that he was looking to find his next opportunity. Unsurprisingly, he would subsequently be inactive for each of Dallas’s first two games in 2019. For a team missing Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, that’s saying plenty.

Ahead of Dallas’s week two game in Washington, ESPN’s Ed Werder reported that the team had been attempting to trade the disgruntled former first-rounder for “weeks, if not months.” He then reminds us as to why so many teams were down on the Michigan Wolverine coming out of the draft.

With little hope seemingly remaining for the Cowboys to trade Charlton, it’s looking more and more likely the team will be forced to cut bait with their former first-round draft pick. The fact that he’s still on his rookie contract makes that pill all the more bitter to swallow.

From the moment Dallas drafted Taco Charlton, before he had so much as heard the term “war daddy,” he had, in a sense, been set up to fail. Despite being taken at the very back end of the first round, Jerry placed at his feet expectations that stretched beyond his ability. That’s not to say Taco couldn’t be a serviceable rotational player somewhere, however, as he’s shown enough flashes to suggest he could be.

But, shackled by his own limitations, as well as Jerry’s unique marketing phrase, he could never stand on his own as a true difference-maker with this team. Pair with that an attitude problem and an inconsistent motor and you’ve got an almost stunning first-round bust for a team that prides itself on building through the draft. Taco Charlton was never a war daddy, and soon enough, he won’t be a Cowboy anymore either.