Michigan DE Taco Charlton
6-foot-6, 277 pounds
Key stat: After collecting only 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks in his first three seasons combined, Charlton broke out in 2016 in a major way with 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.
The skinny: Vidauntae Charlton — “Taco” to his friends — was a four-star recruit out of high school who flirted with the idea of also playing college basketball before sticking with football. But he found himself lost in the shuffle with the Wolverines early in career, redshirting as a freshman in 2013 and playing almost entirely on special teams in 2014. Charlton started to crack the defensive rotation in 2014 and spent that season and in 2015 as a key reserve on a talented group that featured 2015 second-rounder Frank Clark, 2016 fourth-rounder Willie Henry and three other fellow linemen who could be drafted along with Charlton this year. In 2016, he was named all-Big Ten despite missing two games early in the season (UCF and Colorado) because of injury.
Charlton turns 23 in November.
Best-suited destination: There are teams that could view Charlton as a fit in a 3-4 system (see “Player comp” below for more on this), but we like him best as a base defensive end in a one-gap, 4-3 scheme. Teams that could value Charlton’s skills more than others include the New York Giants, Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks.
Upside: Ascending prospect who is just scratching the surface. Came back from injury in late September and started heating up. Saved his best games for his final two outings — against Ohio State and Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Has tremendous length and outstanding athleticism for his size. Just starting to learn how to harness his power and speed. Active, strong hands to disengage from blockers. Good tenacity as a rusher who can smell quarterback blood and close in a hurry. Built to withstand a heavy workload. Has a nice array of pass-rush approaches, including a strong bull rush and a club-rip move he started to master by season’s end. Good eyes — locates the ball pretty well on play action and read option plays. Has rushed from both sides effectively and could kick down inside with added bulk and strength. Can flip his hips nicely and maintain leverage. Doesn’t end up on the ground a lot.
Here’s Charlton working against Ohio State center Pat Elflein, a Day 2 prospect with good strength. Elflein pulls out to take on Charlton, who must be wary of the run on first-and-10 with the center kicking out to the backside. Charlton does a nice job keeping his hands off him, resetting and exploding for the sack (even if the running back likely should be helping there):
Downside: One-year wonder. Took four years in college to reach peak. Doesn’t have exceptional burst off the line. Even on talented front, he’s often seen on film as the third or fourth man off the snap many reps. By no means a pure edge rusher who can run the arc consistently. NFL scouting combine workouts paint a profile of a good athlete but one lacking great explosion. Will lose contain and overrun plays. Good but hardly dominant run defender at this stage. Can get washed up in the trash too often. Still needs to add base strength and continue to develop in the weight room. Will give ground to power blockers who lock in on him quickly. Might require a little more tough coaching to get the best out of him. Motor can run a bit hot and cold at times. Not clear if he can kick down inside consistently or hold up as a 5-technique end in a 3-4 front.
Scouting hot take: “The light finally came on, and I don’t mind a [one-year breakout player] if you can see the projectable skill set. It’s there, but you just have to wonder if that all comes together. He’s a 6- or a 7-[technique in our 4-3] defense.” — NFC defensive line coach
Player comp: Kevin Dodd, who was the 33rd overall pick to the Tennessee Titans in the 2016 following a similar career arc at Clemson. We admittedly liked Dodd more than some other analysts and he has a lot to prove entering Year 2 at age 24 coming off an ineffective rookie season and foot surgery. The Titans project Dodd to standing up in their 3-4 system, although that’s not where we liked him — or Charlton — best in the NFL. Charlton’s potential is based not only on improving but also with landing in the right place where he can flourish.
Expected draft range: First round
Nos. 51-100: Here’s who just missed the cut
No. 50: Indiana OG-C Dan Feeney
No. 49: Iowa DB Desmond King
No. 48: Vanderbilt LB Zach Cunningham
No. 47: Wisconsin pass rusher T.J. Watt
No. 46. Alabama pass rusher Tim Williams
No. 45. Washington CB Sidney Jones
No. 44. Alabama LB Ryan Anderson
No. 43. Ohio State WR-RB Curtis Samuel
No. 42. Florida DT Caleb Brantley
No. 41. Connecticut DB Obi Melifonwu
No. 40. USC CB-KR Adoree’ Jackson
No. 39. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
No. 38. Michigan State DL Malik McDowell
No. 37: Ole Miss TE Evan Engram
No. 36: Florida LB Jarrad Davis
No. 35: Washington S Budda Baker
No. 34: Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
No. 33: Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey
No. 32: Florida CB Quincy Wilson
No. 31: Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara
No. 30: Michigan DB-RS Jabrill Peppers
No. 29: Alabama OT Cam Robinson
No. 28: Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer
No. 27: LSU CB Tre’Davious White
No. 26: Missouri DE Charles Harris
No. 25: UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley
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