It isn’t that often that a 277-pound defensive lineman can run a purely awful 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine after an up-and-down collegiate career and still be considered a solid bet to be drafted inside the top 32 players in the draft.
Of course, it also that often that a defensive end comes along with the length and potential of Michigan’s Vidaunte “Taco” Charlton.
As Chris Burke wrote for Sports Illustrated, it’s that upside that has NFL teams interested in Charlton. “The team that drafts Charlton will do so because of what it looks like he can become, not necessarily what he is already,” Burke said. “There just are not a lot of athletic 6′ 6″, 277-lb. edge rushers out there, let alone those with the level of production Charlton had down the stretch. The improvement Charlton showed just from the start of the 2016 season to the end is reason enough for optimism. He improved his hand usage, became more potent converting his speed to power and at least hinted at a better understanding of how to diagnose run plays headed his direction.”
Charlton put up 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a year ago as a senior. Those numbers were easily the best of his time at Ann Arbor, but it’s in the season’s second half where Charlton really caught fire. Six of his 10 sacks on the season came over the last five games of the year.
As Lance Zierlein of NFL.com reported, many believe that hot second-half is just the tip of the iceberg — or taco, as the case may be.
“‘Inconsistent’ has been the buzzword that has followed Charlton since coming to Michigan, but he began the process of shaking it during his senior season,” Zierlein said. “Charlton is an ascending prospect with the size, length, athleticism and pass-rushing potential that NFL general managers dream of. What you see today might not be what you get. While his production coming out of college will be modest, he could become a substantially better player as a pro if he’s committed to the weight room and willing to absorb coaching.”
Zierlein isn’t just blowing smoke — an AFC executive seconded those sentiments. “Really, really talented player,” he said. “You won’t always see it on every play so that is going to be a coach’s job to get that out of him. Rushers with his size and athleticism are hard to find and they usually go very early in the draft.”
However, there are those, including Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier, who believe that some are trying too hard to overlook Charlton’s flaws. “Charlton obviously has potential to be an outstanding edge-rusher,” Tanier wrote. “But his combine results were unspectacular, he’s a mess against the run, and the quality of blocking he faced against opponents like Rutgers, Maryland and Michigan State was lower than you typically associate with the Big Ten.”
“There are too many excellent defensive ends in this class,” Tanier continued, “for Charlton to reach the top half of the first round based on tape-measure results, highlight footage and ‘he’ll get better’ hand-waving about his shortcomings. Look for him to remain on the board at least until late in the first round, when bargain hunters (Packers, Steelers) and big-name lovers (Cowboys) do their shopping.”
However, Pro Football Focus still expects Charlton to work his way into the draft’s first day. “Charlton has a well-built frame with enough strength and length to play defensive end in a 4-3 and enough athleticism to play off the ball in a 3-4,” they assessed. “While he lacks elite first-step quickness, he can be an effective rusher off the edge, due in large part to his hand usage. He does an excellent job of keeping blockers from locking onto him, and can set up a variety of moves. At times he will get caught peeking inside and can get sealed off the edge on cutbacks or washed down the line of scrimmage by side blocks. While he lacks the elite athletic skill set of a Myles Garrett to warrant a top-10 pick, Charlton’s size and hand usage puts him ahead of the curve, and should be ready to contribute more quickly than many other prospects at his position.”