Time will tell if the Dallas Cowboys got the “war daddy” that owner Jerry Jones coveted.
But they got the best pass rusher left on their draft board when they selected Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton (6-foot-6, 277 pounds) with the 28th overall pick.
"From my perspective, he has real athleticism," owner Jerry Jones said measuredly when asked if Charlton was a “war daddy”. He has the length we are trying to get at the right defensive end, arm length. He gives you a real good player who can play the left side and play inside as well. You got a lot of flex here. His size is one of his greatest attributes. He looks like a defensive player and defensive end in the NFL.”
It was a never a secret that the Cowboys were taking a defensive player in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. They had major needs at defensive end, cornerback and safety.
But a Cowboys team that has consistently struggled to get pressure on the quarterback for more than a few years badly wanted an impact pass rusher, and they believe a still-developing Charlton can fill that need.
“I’m a guy who is very versatile. … I’ve been able to do a lot of different moves and make it successful,” Charlton said.
The Cowboys only had 18 players with first-round grades on their draft boards. Only three of which were defensive ends. Charlton was not among them. But the ends were gone when it was there turn to pick, though there was one cornerback left.
The Cowboys believe they can get a cornerback in the second round.
This was their last opportunity to get a pass rusher and they refused to let Charlton get away.
"We had a cornerback in the mix but we felt Taco was the right pick for us if he was sitting there," executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "We felt we could get a good corner at the bottom of the second. If we didn't get a pressure player with this pick we might not see one for a while. That had a big time effect."
Charlton, who was considered a mid-round selection heading into his senior season at Michigan, made a major leap with 9.5 sacks in 2016, including 5.5 sacks the final four games against the toughest competition.
Charlton, who didn’t start until his senior season, has the size and strength to play left or right end.
“It feels great. I couldn’t be happier,” Charlton said. “They (Cowboys) showed me a lot of interest, came for a visit. … it was a great time and I can’t wait to be in Dallas and be coached up.”
The Cowboys believe Charlton’s best football is in front of him.
And while he doesn’t have ideal speed, running the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds, he does have exceptional size and length to be a difference maker at right end.
“He is a big long, impressive looking guy,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He comes from a basketball background. He is a productive player who does a lot things right technically.”
Garrett said Charlton makes up of his lack of speed with his height and length. He has a signature long arm move that allows him to get by offenive tackles.
The Cowboys also like that Charlton had a lot of his success at Michigan playing against big time programs like Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa, schools that consistently put out quality NFL offensive lineman.
The last time the Cowboys drafted a defensive end in the first round was in 2005, when they took DeMarcus Ware 11th overall out of Troy.
The Cowboys haven’t had a dominant pass rusher since they cut Ware before the 2014 season, though they drafted DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in the second rounds of the 2014 and 2015 drafts, respectively.
“I am my own man,” Charlton said. “But I do watch a lot of great players ... Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, that’s something I aspire to be.”
The Cowboys hope Charlton can live up to those expectations.
The draft fell right for a Cowboys team with a number of options and targets at defensive end and cornerback because of an early run on quarterbacks.
Of the 29 pre-draft visitors, the Cowboys brought in 12 cornerbacks and nine defensive ends.
Of those players, Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett went off the board to the Philadelphia Eagles at 14. Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) and Adoree Jackson (Southern Cal) went 16 and 18 to the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans, respectively.
The Cowboys then lost out on Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, who was taken by Miami at No. 22.
The Atlanta Falcons traded up to take UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley at 26th.
The Buffalo Bills then took LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White at 27, setting the stage for the Cowboys to get their man, even though Washington cornerback Kevin King, Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson and Wisconsin defensive end T.J. Watt were still on the board.
The Cowboys need Charlton to come in and have an immediate impact as a starter and every-down player.
With an offense already loaded with talent, led by quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, receiver Dez Bryant and the league’s best offensive line, the Cowboys believe they can improve on last season’s 13-3 record and possibly compete for a Super Bowl with impact improvement on defense.
That’s been the focus of the entire offseason, considering the number of starters and contributors they let walk in free agency. Those include cornerbacks Morris Claiborne (New York Giants) and Brandon Carr (Baltimore Ravens), safeties Barry Church (Jacksonville Jaguars) and J.J. Wilcox (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and defensive tackle Terrell McClain (Washington Redskins) and defensive end Jack Crawford (Atlanta Falcons).
Charlton was the first step.
The Cowboys have six picks left in the NFL Draft and will most certainly target a cornerback in the second round.
82nd NFL Draft
Friday and Saturday
Museum of Art, Philadelphia
Selections: Rounds 2-3, 6 p.m. Friday; and Rounds 4-7, 11 a.m. Saturday
TV: ESPN/ESPN2 and NFL Network
Round 2 (pick 60), Round 3 (pick 92), Round 4 (pick 133), Round 6 (pick 211), Round 7 (pick 228), Round 7 (pick 246).