Name: Taco Charlton
Position: Defensive End
Weight: 277 lb
Games Watched: 2016 – vs Rutgers, vs Ohio State, vs Florida State (Orange Bowl)
Overview: Real first name is “Vidaunte”, which means he has an excellent first name and an excellent nickname. Native of Pickerington, OH. A four-star recruit, he was seen as something of a project when joining. Sure enough, he debuted as a backup in 2013, then played a fuller part in the rotation in 2014 and 2015, before breaking through as a starter in 2016. Recorded 10 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a less in 2016, enough to earn First Team All-Big Ten honours.
Charlton uses his quick first step well to get outside tackles with his speed rush. Against Ohio State, he was consistently forcing tackles off-balance and scrambling outside to redirect his rushes, with…mixed results. Against Florida State, he combined this with fantastic drive for a sack, dipping down to get under and outside the tackle, squeezing through the tiniest gap to get an arm on the quarterback and floor him.
Charlton had a heck of a lot of fun using his agility to beat guards and centers, when the scheme allowed. He can get up to full speed quickly and squeeze through tight holes. He hasn’t got the size or power to regularly take on inside blockers, that is true. But, he’s got enough that you can wheel him in on stunts occasionally and crash the pocket from the inside.
I had been worried about his being one-dimensional as a pass rusher, but the Florida State game made me do a 180, as a brought out a pretty effective inside spin move to get to the quarterback repeatedly. The fact he looked more well-rounded as a rusher by bowl season compared to early season is massively going to work in his favour. Charlton has a lot to learn in terms of guile and technique but you look for that willingness to improve beyond the physical, and he’s demonstrated that. For example, with the spin move he needs to balance himself to maintain full control afterwards, and then he’ll be a terror.
My fear for Charlton is that his stat line seems to be padded by an astronomical number of unblocked sacks and pressures. I don’t know if it’s scheming or what, but so often he was left unabated to the quarterback, with hilarious results. I saw unblocked sacks in all three games – Rutgers deserve special mention for apparently not playing an offensive line. It makes tape study even more important for Charlton than some others.
I’ve also completely failed to mention the run game at all in my notes. It felt like Charlton was far too often nowhere near the running back, not making tackles and not scrambling to get involved. That’s not necessarily a weakness! We often forget when assessing tape that so much of it is scheme-reliant. If Jim Harbaugh told Charlton to leave tackling to the linebackers/interior linemen, we can’t criticise Charlton for doing so. It just means that it’s a little less we can glean from his tape. That said, there were a couple of occasions against Ohio State whereby he got out of position and left a huge hole. Choosing the wrong option on fake/fake-fake handoffs was often the cause of this.
My main concern with Charlton is that he’s good-but-not-great in too many areas. He has good strength, and we see that often. But there are a few occasions where he gets flattened by a guard, or completely stonewalled by a tackle. He’s got good handwork (and this improved during the season), but again, sometimes doesn’t extend his arms enough. The NFL will have plenty of armsier linemen, and they can dominate him. He looks quick on tape but he only ran a 4.92 at the combine. Though he had a decent, 1.73 10-yard split (that’s not bad, but compare him to other would-be first-round defensive ends). I’ve not seen anyone propose Charlton as a defensive tackle, and not many as a 3-4 defensive end, so that might just put a bit of a cap on him.
Charlton has a lot of the traits teams look for in pass rushers. He just doesn’t have any one of them in elite spades as yet. His first-step and quickness are his best trait, and he’ll give less athletic tackles kittens. He has good but not great strength, and will find himself stonewalled a touch more than is ideal. He’s raw in terms of technique, but has some of the arm-moves, footwork and pass rushing moves in his arsenal. With refinement, I think Charlton has a high ceiling, say at a Cameron Jordan level. But there’ll need to be some work to get there, and for me that puts a cap on his draft value.
Grade: Late-first round/early-second round