Improving the pass rush has always been a priority for the Dallas Cowboys and they addressed it Thursday by selecting Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick in the NFL draft.
The Cowboys didn’t have a first-round grade on Charlton, but are optimistic he’ll bolster what has been a lackluster pass rush in recent years. He had 9.5 sacks for the Wolverines last season, and is expected to compete for the starting right defensive end job.
If he wins that job, that could allow the Cowboys to move DeMarcus Lawrence back to the left side – where he thrived in leading the team with eight sacks in 2015. Lawrence had only one sack in nine games last season, and underwent back surgery for the second consecutive offseason.
Tyrone Crawford has also battled with injuries in recent years, undergoing a more extensive shoulder surgery this offseason than he did after the 2015 season. Crawford also lost his starting under tackle job to Maliek Collins in the middle of last year, forcing him to left end where he finished with 4.5 sacks.
In light of the injury history of Lawrence and Crawford, owner Jerry Jones made it a point to note Charlton’s health during a post-draft news conference.
“This guy was as healthy as any defensive lineman we looked at,” Jones said. “That has a lot to do with his measurables, that has a lot to do with his size, but he is very, very healthy. That was important to us.”
So is competition.
Charlton is going to compete to start at right defensive end along with Lawrence and Benson Mayowa, who led the team with six sacks a season ago. Mayowa, though, drew the ire of defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in the middle of the season by being a healthy scratch for three games.
Charlton is known as a high-motor, high-energy defensive end.
“We want to give him every chance to be a right end for us. We feel like he has the traits to do that,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We believe strongly in competition. We have some guys on our roster right now who are going to fight for that spot. That’s a good thing for our team. That’s going to bring the best out in everybody. That’s part of the environment we talk about.
“Rod Marinelli is going to do a great job getting the most out of him, Leon Lett, but also the other guys competing for a spot, and that’s a healthy thing for your football team.”
Garrett and executive vice president Stephen Jones refused to say whether this selection would force Crawford back inside. Garrett mentioned the versatility Crawford has shown throughout his career, being able to transition from inside to outside somewhat seamlessly.
For his part, Crawford seemed open to moving back inside if the situation arose during a community appearance last month.
“Man, I have these questions every offseason,” Crawford said. “It seems I feel like I know what I’m about to do then it happens to change on me. I’m going to be ready for anything. It is what it is at this point. If I’m a jump around guy, I’m a jump around guy.”