Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton looks the part of an NFL defensive player and also comes from the right background, per the Dallas Cowboys new draft philosophy.
They like players from big-time college programs, especially in the first three rounds off the draft.
“I think there is no question when you put up their level of competition it’s a big determining factor,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said. “The guy has to overcome a lot, when you look at somebody like Taco who is playing against Ohio State and Iowa and big schools. You’ve got to look at that.
“When you see him going against guys like Wisconsin and [Ryan] Ramczyk and is having success against him, well he is going to be a first round draft pick, so you can see that this guy [Charlton] is doing it against the best. No question, when you look at the SEC and those schools and how those players fare against their opponents and who they are going against every day in practice. You improve when you are challenged every day. Not that these guys, and we all know them, can’t come from a smaller school, but I think if you get that good feeling and you get that consensus feeling that this guy can do it at our level, then it makes it a lot easier to pull the trigger on a guy when he comes from one of these Power 5 conferences.”
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Gone are the days when you see the Cowboys take flyers on the likes of linebacker Jason Williams(Western Illinois) and guard Robert Brewster ( Ball State ) as they did in the third round in 2009.
Or even a B.W. Webb (William and Marry), Matt Johnson (Eastern Washington), David Arkin (Missouri State) and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (Indiana-Pa) from small schools in the fourth round as they have done in past.
The same is probably the case with a Gavin Escobar from San Diego State in the second round now that his failed tenure is over.
Sure, the Cowboys drafted Connecticut safety Byron Jones in the first round in 2015 and Boise State defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round in 2014.
But those are the exception to the new rules put in place when Will McClay took over the scouting department following the 2013 season.
The Cowboys like players from Power 5 schools because they have played against best, practiced against the best and played under pressure in front of big-time crowds.
Of course, Boise State isn’t your typical non Power 5 because of their success and history.
But the Charlton pick was definitely in keeping with that big school philosophy.
“I don’t think there is any question about that,” coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s come from a great program. He responded well in that environment. It’s a competitive environment; there are good players there. It is hard to get on the field, and he competed through that and had a role even when he wasn’t a starter. When he became a starter, he was productive.
“All the reports we got from the coaches at Michigan were very positive about him. How he works, how he competes. I think he thrives in that kind of environment. That’s one of the things we value. When you play at big-time schools, with a big-time program, with big-time competition, you elevate, you benefit from that. That’s not to suggest that other guys who come from other environments can’t play, but we certainly do value a guy coming from that kind of environment, playing against the kind of competition, not only in games, but at practice each and every day.”
This isn’t to say the Cowboys won’t draft a player from a small school, but it will most likely come at the bottom of the draft.
Outside of Lawrence and Jones, the Cowboys have only taken four other small-school players in the past three drafts and they have all come in the sixth or seventh rounds _ Northern Illinois defensive tackle Ken Bishop in 2014, Wyoming linebacker Mark Nzeocha in 2015 and Eastern Michigan running back Darius Washington and Central Michigan safety Kavon Frazier in 2016.