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Why Taco Charlton believes he can find success in the Chiefs defense

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After being released from two NFL teams, the former first-round pick thinks he has found a home in Kansas City — one he’ll share with his old friend Frank Clark.

Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

New Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Taco Charlton hasn’t had it easy in the NFL — starting with the 2017 NFL Draft, when the Dallas Cowboys selected him in the first round (28th overall).

It wasn’t so much that Dallas fans thought Charlton was a bad player coming out of Michigan. Instead, it was that the Cowboys were also considering eventual NFL star T.J.Watt — and took Charlton instead.

Among fans, that’s the kind of a move that will tend to leave a bad aftertaste.

In a Draft Network article last September, Jonah Tuls explained that the stage was set when the Cowboys decided to pass on the more highly-graded cornerback Kevin King — believing there was lots of corner depth in later rounds.

This led Dallas to decide between Watt and Charlton — which created a divide between scouts and coaches leading up to the draft. Some scouts liked Watt more than Charlton because he showed more juice and bend as a pass rusher, while McClay and the coaches favored Charlton’s length and value as a run defender. In fact, the war room concluded Watt was the better overall player, but that Charlton was the better overall fit.

Washington Redskins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

But even though the Cowboys thought Charlton suited them better, it was hard for him to get playing time, according to an article last September by Danny Phantom of our SB Nation sister site, Blogging The Boys.

Charlton had trouble earning snaps his rookie season, which is understandable. Everyone was pleasantly surprised when DeMarcus Lawrence had his breakout year with 14.5 sacks, earning All-Pro honors. They also had 2016’s reigning team sack leader Benson Mayowa out on the edge. And when you add in part-time edge rushers Tyrone Crawford and David Irving, playing time was scarce, especially for a rookie who is still developing his game. Taco never started, but played in every game and logged 399 snaps. He finished the season with three sacks.

Things were even harder for Charlton in 2018. He was even a healthy scratch for a couple of the season’s final games, suggesting he had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. He made the team’s final roster to begin the season, but was inactive for two games before being waived on September 18 — and picked up by the Miami Dolphins.

Appearing in 10 Miami games in 2019 — including five starts — Charlton collected five sacks, 21 tackles (14 solo, three for loss) and a pair of forced fumbles on just under 400 snaps. But the Dolphins also decided to move on from him, waiving him on April 30.

On an Arrowhead Pride Editor’s Show podcast last week, Blogging The Boys’ R.J. Ochoa told our Pete Sweeney that from his perspective, Charlton’s effort has been the issue — saying he had acquired the nickname “Soft Taco” in Dallas.

“He has never seemed, at least during the majority of his career, like somebody who was willing to put in the work — whether that’s to be the star, let alone to be a rotational piece. So unless that disposition of his changes dramatically between the time he left the Cowboys in Week 3 of last year and now, I wouldn’t bet on it.”

But there is still at least one NFL player who believes in Charlton: his old Michigan teammate (and now Chiefs defensive end) Frank Clark.

“Me and Frank [are] real close — like my big brother,” Charlton told reporters during his first Chiefs media appearance on Wednesday. “He’s a person who at Michigan, kind of took me under his wing — guiding me. We continued our friendship and brotherhood when he left. We talk all the time. If I’m in Los Angeles, I’m usually with him — I go see him, meet with him or whatever may be. We try to train with each other sometimes during the offseason — or see each other — whatever it may be. So our friendship and brotherhood has always been there.”

As it turned out, talking to Clark about the Chiefs was an important part of what made Charlton sign a one-year minimum-salary deal to come to Kansas City.

“It was a place I was looking forward to coming right off waivers,” he said. “So once I cleared, me and Frank were on the phone talking. Nothing else really mattered to me; money-wise, nothing really mattered. I just wanted to play football — wanted to go to a good situation where I could play some good football.”

And Charlton said that Clark’s description of the Chiefs was what he was hoping to find.

“Just everything about the organization, from hearing how great of a coach Andy Reid is [to] — once I talked to Frank — [finding out] how great of a coach Steve Spagnuolo is, how great of a person he is and how I’d like to play for him. That’s all I really needed to hear. Once I’d seen that — once I’d had a chance myself to talk to him and talk to Brendan Daly — I was all comfortable with coming here.”

Charlton said that he and Clark have talked about becoming teammates again.

“We used to joke around about playing with each other again — and [it] ended up we have the opportunity. Now we have the opportunity to play with each other again — and do something special. So I was definitely on board with that — and I’m excited.”

While he was clearly unwilling to go into much detail about the circumstances that led to his departures from Dallas and Miami, he made it clear that for the Chiefs, effort would not be an issue.

“My foot’s on the gas on this one — all [the] effort,” Charlton said. “I gave my full effort everywhere I’ve been. In [those] situations, things came to a head; it was kind of mutual in both situations. So it really wasn’t much of surprise at either [team].

“God led me here,” he continued, “and I feel like this is the best situation for me to succeed. That’s why I wanted to come here. When Frank brought the idea, I was excited — just up-and-at-it — that this was the place I wanted to be.”

In a league where about a quarter of the teams change head coaches every season, it’s not surprising that a former first-round pick who has had trouble fitting in at two teams in three seasons would find the stability — and family atmosphere — of the Chiefs organization attractive. But Charlton said there was more to it than that.

“I like how much they let the guys attack. They let them go and play football a lot of the time. At the end of the day, they let the pass rushers rush the passer. They send up blitzers — whatever it is. It’s a fun, exciting attacking defense. Coach Spagnuolo does a lot of moving pieces around and creating mismatches.”

And Charlton believes he can thrive in his new team’s defensive scheme.

“I [have been] able to play in a lot of different defenses — from [a] 4-3 attacking defense in Dallas to more of a Patriots defense in Miami — [so] I’ve been able to play in different schemes in two completely different ways. I feel like I can adjust and [be] able to play whatever defense (or whatever scheme) you ask. I’m able to stand up or get into three point — whatever it is — and feel comfortable doing whatever task it is.”

It’s well known that Chiefs general manager Brett Veach likes to take chances on former early-round picks who have not yet found success — and so far, these moves have produced mixed results. But for a newly-minted championship team with limited resources available to it, such moves can pay off handsomely. For his part, Charlton — now just 25 — appears to understand that this could be his last chance to make it in the NFL.

“It’s definitely a chance for a year to prove myself — and prove what I can still do on the field. I feel confident in my ability. I just feel like with the right scheme, I could definitely show the right talent.”

And it won’t hurt to have Frank Clark in his corner, either.