2017 NFL draft prospect countdown, No. 37: Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
First thing's first: His given name is Vidaunte, but his mother and grandmother nicknamed him "Taco" as a baby and it stuck. His Michigan career was kind of a slow burn—he had a combined 9.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss over his first three seasons (two under Brady Hoke, one under Jim Harbaugh), then blew up for 10.0 sacks for loss and 13.5 tackles in 2016. He finished his career hot, notching 5.5 sacks over the Wolverines' final four games, including 2.5 in a signature performance at Ohio State. His numbers for the year likely would have been even better had he not missed two September games to an ankle injury. To cap it off, Charlton was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten honoree last season.
Strengths: The team that drafts Charlton will do so because of what it looks like he can become, not necessarily what he is already. 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 was a versatile piece up front for the Wolverines. He flipped from left end to right end, and back, without any issues. He also pushed inside for a 1-tech alignment and even stood up as a blitzing "linebacker" up the middle. But the wider, the better if he's going to be a pure pass rusher at the next level—he's explosive out of a two-point stance and his game is predicated mostly on turning the corner against OTs. If his speed doesn't clear him outside, he can work a spin move back inside, although he uses it a little haphazardly right now.
The motor doesn't stop. If the play is alive, Charlton's on the move.
Weaknesses: He profiles like a 4–3 defensive end—he spent the majority of his time at Michigan as a hand-in-the-dirt defender—but he'll have to show he can be more consistent setting an edge vs. the run.
He also doesn't have much experience dropping in coverage, nor did he test all that well athletically at the combine, so a 3–4 OLB move would take some work. (His 40 time of 4.92 seconds was particularly surprising.) And he doesn't necessarily have the strength, without bulking up, to be a 3–4 DE—playing there would limit his penetration some, too.
While Charlton did become more of a factor vs. the run as the 2016 season progressed, he often was victimized by misdirection. His desire to go zero-to-60 flying toward the action made him a target for cutbacks and read options.
He'll need to get quicker off the snap, too. Charlton may not always have been the last Michigan lineman to react, but he rarely was the first.
Player comp: Whitney Mercilus