Draft Journal: DE Taco Charlton Emerges as Potential Solution for Dolphins’ Pass Rush
The Miami Dolphins continue to get by with an aging and shallow position group at defensive end thanks to the superhuman abilities of Cameron Wake. However, with the emphasis Vance Joseph places on rushing the passer, and Wake and Mario Williams slowly but surely approaching the ends of their careers, Adam Gase has no choice but to bring in reinforcements. Considering the way Taco Charlton played in Michigan’s vital matchup against Ohio State this past weekend, he is becoming one of the more intriguing options in the 2017 NFL Draft…
Taco Charlton, Michigan (DE)
Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton was undoubtedly the most influential player on either squad during the Wolverines’ controversial loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. His best performance of the season came in an absolutely essential rivalry game with College Football Playoff implications on the line, and his draft stock should benefit immensely from it. Furthermore, it was Charlton grabbing many of the headlines despite playing on the losing team, and on the same field as first-round caliber prospects in Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Jake Butt and Raekwon McMillan.
At 6’5” and 270 pounds, Charlton accumulated an impressive 2.5 sacks and 9 total tackles during perhaps the most important game of the entire college football season. He was simply unstoppable. It may not look like much, but his sack in the second quarter of the game against the Buckeyes was one of the best pass rushing moves I’ve seen all season:
Charlton is extremely effective in using his hands and may have even better footwork. His swim move makes the left tackle look silly, and he soundly wraps up an extremely elusive quarterback in J.T. Barrett to ensure he doesn’t escape his grasp. He is also an extremely intelligent pass rusher. Take a look at the play from another angle:
From this viewpoint, we can see that Charlton hesitates ever so slightly at the initial point of attack to throw the offensive lineman off balance. This completely opens up the edge and perfectly sets the stage for Charlton to utilize his swim move. This is the type of attention to detail and football IQ that will have defensive coordinators enamored with Charlton and offensive coordinators cowering when they have to face him.
Charlton has a power/speed combo that will suit him perfectly in the NFL. While it is great to have a full arsenal of pass rushing moves as a defensive end prospect attempting to make it at the next level, it has to coincide with the necessary level of athleticism for a player to truly become special.
In the play above, Charlton comes with a straight speed rush off the edge. The right tackle does all that he can to keep up with the pass rusher, but his footwork ultimately fails him due to Charlton’s explosiveness
Furthermore, Charlton showed that he is more than capable of containing on the edge. The Dolphins have had their issues with stopping mobile quarterbacks as well as in run defense, and Charlton’s versatility could assist in these areas as well. In the play below, Barrett attempts to shake Charlton in space. However, Charlton doesn’t bite, remains persistent in his pursuit and collaborates with a teammate for the sack:
Charlton now has 8.5 sacks on the season despite missing two games due to injury. He may not be as well known as fellow defensive ends Jonathan Allen, Derek Barnett or Charles Harris, but he is undoubtedly primed to rise up draft boards with late season performances like these. Charlton has a couple of more opportunities to display his talents to NFL scouts and would seemingly benefit greatly from the exposure if Michigan manages to squeak into the playoffs. Regardless, he should be firmly in the conversation for the Dolphins in the back-end of round one.
Others to Keep an Eye On
Billy Price, Ohio State (OG)
While Ohio State’s offensive tackles were victimized by Charlton, right offensive guard Billy Price more than held his own against Michigan’s big men on the inside. Quenton Nelson is acquiring more and more consideration as the nation’s top offensive guard prospect, but Billy Price and Dan Feeney are right behind him. While we have discussed Nelson and Feeney previously in our draft journals, we have yet to delve into Price’s game.
The six-foot-four 315-pound redshirt junior has experience at both guard positions, but has played on the right side of the line this season. The versatility may be the most valuable aspect for Miami to consider, but it doesn’t hurt that the right guard and tackle positions remain two of the Dolphins’ biggest weaknesses.
Price’s calling card is his run blocking. He played an undeniable role in opening up holes for Ezekiel Elliott last season. In the example below, Price (#54) essentially removes his assignment from the play:
This year, he has done more of the same for Buckeye running back Mike Weber. As long as Jay Ajayi and Gase are in South Beach, the running game is likely to be the offensive focal point. Price would be a weapon in this regard.
Although Price is often lauded for his run blocking abilities, he has shown obvious potential in pass protection as well. In this next play, Price displays his impressive footwork:
Additionally, in the play below, he shows he has the necessary awareness to be successful in protecting his quarterback on the inside:
At the very end of the play, Price stops helping the center and picks up the defender who blitzes on a stunt. It is this type of recognition that should allow him to be a long time, reliable contributor in the NFL.
Miami is practically guaranteed to spend a pick on the offensive line within the first three rounds. Price perfectly fits Gase’s scheme and game plan and could potentially be had with a second round selection, which would allow the Dolphins to address another position of need in round one. It will certainly be interesting to see if Price is the next puzzle piece to be added to the Dolphins’ offensive line.
Evan Engram, Mississippi (TE)
Evan Engram is one of the more interesting prospects in college football, at any position. It is still sort of a mystery as to what Engram’s future position will be in the NFL, despite being listed as a tight end for Ole Miss. Some simply consider him a big wide receiver. Whatever the case, Engram may be the exact offensive weapon that Gase is currently missing.
The Dolphins have long desired a tight end capable of making plays up the seam. Jordan Cameron was supposed to be that guy, but his career has spiraled downward, and his time in Miami is all but over. We got a glimpse of how valuable the inclusion of this route can be for an offense on Dion Sims’ red zone touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers:
Engram has an unheard of combination of size and speed that makes him nearly impossible to cover up the seam or in the slot. At 6’3” and 227 pounds, Engram is undoubtedly slimmer than a typical NFL tight end. However, that doesn’t affect what Engram does best: catch the football.
If Gase is indeed looking for someone to occupy the seam, thereby freeing up the sidelines and taking pressure off the run game, there may be no better option than Engram. In fact, his first of eight touchdowns thus far this season came on a seam route:
Engram is a big play waiting to happen. He averages 14.2 yards per reception, for a total of 65 catches and 926 yards on the season. The senior tight end notched a catch for 33+ yards in all but two games so far in 2016, including this 63-yarder in which he simply outran the defense:
The Ole Miss standout is simply faster than pretty much everyone else at his position, yet opposing teams continuously underestimate his straight-line speed. He is a menace after the catch and consistently proves himself capable of taking the top off of defenses.
It is easy to assume that he is a weak blocker due to his stature and, while that may be somewhat true, he can be a weapon blocking for screens and in space. Although he will never look like a traditional tight end, he will assuredly add strength thanks to an NFL conditioning program, and he isn’t as much of a liability as he may seem. Plus, Miami already has several solid blockers at the tight end position.
Engram is having an unbelievable season from a statistical standpoint after a somewhat disappointing 2015. Adding him to Gase’s disposal, which already has Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker on the outside, would make this offense extremely scary heading into 2017; it is simply a matter of whether or not they will be able to pull the trigger.