In typical Kansas City Chiefs fashion, news that the team was making a move broke late Friday night, as it came to an agreement with fourth-year defensive end Taco Charlton on a one-year deal.
The initial question is simple: why?
Being a fourth-year player going to his third team and being passed off by two defensive line-needy teams doesn’t make a compelling case. The prevailing thought has to be acceptance of such a low-risk move based upon general manager Brett Veach’s history of going after other “failed” first-round picks.
The move makes sense for the Chiefs, who are quite thin at the defensive end position. After Charlton’s former college teammate, Frank Clark, the Chiefs have Alex Okafor coming off another injury, Tanoh Kpassagnon, who had a somewhat break-out year, Breeland Speaks, who may be as big of an unknown as anyone on the team, Demone Harris, Tim Ward and rookie Mike Danna.
That group doesn’t instill a ton of confidence. The Chiefs hope that adding a top-50, first-round talent such as Charlton goes the same route as Emannuel Ogbah did last year — depth and a borderline starter across from Clark.
The real question: What can Charlton actually provide if the Cowboys and Dolphins didn’t think his services were necessary any longer?
For that answer we head down to the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory:
Taco Charlton | defensive end
6’6” | 277lbs
It has to be noted right off the top that Charlton fits Steve Spagnuolo’s criteria for a defensive end perfectly.
Coming in at 6 feet 6, 277 pounds, with 34.25-inch arms while bench pressing 225 pounds 25 times, he hits every single criterion Spagnuolo looks for at the defensive end position. The play style doesn’t always match that profile, but the athletic makeup fits exactly what he’s historically utilized at the position.
There are some flashes with Taco that he's understanding how HE wins in the NFL.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 2, 2020
The skip-pull through was a nice change up to the club-rip he often attacks with.
There is obvious power in his hands when he drops his hips and it allows the rip to finish a soft corner. pic.twitter.com/RpjK63FQkQ
While there is use in the NFL for run-defending players, that’s not where the money is anymore. If Charlton wants to stay in the NFL, he has to keep developing his pass-rush plan. He isn’t the most explosive pass rusher, though there are instances in which he simply runs up the arc and bends an edge untouched for a sack.
Charlton has quality ankle flexion and hip fluidity to turn corners but just not the speed to pair it, meaning he has to soften the corners with his hands. Both of these plays above are nice changeups to his usual rush plan — a club and rip move — that easily sets that soft edge for him and allow his flexibility to take over.
Taco Charlton - newest Chief - may not be the speediest rusher to threaten up the arc but he's got quick, powerful hands— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 2, 2020
Working against a TE so he should generate quick pressure, but a quick club and rip gets the edge and he flashes good ankle flexion on the corner pic.twitter.com/p5uVWVt049
Here is the aforementioned club-rip move.
While he’s working on a tight end, he wins quickly and makes a tight corner. Utilizing his 34-inch reach and upper-body strength are where he finds most of his success as a pass rusher. It’s just his pacing, spacing and similar move set that causes inconsistency. Unless he is landing his hands first and countering with some form of up-and-under motion, he struggles to win in the first part of his rush.
It's all about the hands for Taco Charlton.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 2, 2020
Enough reactive athleticism to work off the inside jab by generating space to club the hand down and drop his shoulder into the RT's chest. Get leverage, force the OT to lean, then rips through. Just gotta tighten the corner pic.twitter.com/2wf7mhKV3r
The general concept of the move here: remove hands, get leverage and pull underneath the blocker’s hands. This path is strong and has proven success, but there has to be more.
Whether he can learn how to use his length in terms of a long-arm or bull rush, utilize a quality spin he has as the initial rush plan or re-learn his pacing off the line of scrimmage is yet to be seen.
Too many reps end with Charlton working to clear hands, but he is never able to take advantage when he does because he makes it too easy to mirror his routes up the arc. Long strides paired with below-average burst is a relatively easily mirror task for NFL tackles. Attacking the chest plate with his power and length could be a gold mine for Charlton as a pass rusher. Brendan Daly and Clark can help him in this regard.
To play for Spagnuolo and Daly, you have to be able to defend the run.
It’s often not even just enough to hold contain — the bare minimum — but to be able to play through offensive tackles or pulling blockers while maintaining your gap integrity. Charlton does a good job getting up field and setting his base low to take on the pulling blocker while still keeping his outside arm free to defend a potential bounce outside.
Once he stands up the blocker, he engages to get free, but he never lets his outside arm to get tied up — resulting in a tackle for loss.
Taco looked much more comfortable in his second and third seasons defending the run than as a rookie or in college.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 2, 2020
Does a good job landing inside hands and extending blockers off so he can track the ball and react.
Very aware of outside concepts trying to seal him off too. pic.twitter.com/HrLAmVdcmr
How good Clark is against the run sometimes goes under-appreciated. It’s not always about shooting gaps or blowing plays up but rather the ability to dominate tight ends one on one, locating the ball through a blocker and knowing when you are being targeted as the force player. Charlton is not close to Clark’s level in this regard, but you can see he has that same mindset.
He will be legend I promise that. pic.twitter.com/NtBlFPlaDz— Frank Clark (@TheRealFrankC_) May 2, 2020
Charlton is constantly fighting for extension when head up on blockers and will look to identify the ball and chase it down the line of scrimmage. He has to be careful his pad level doesn’t get too high in this process, but that ability allows him to affect plays away from him. When operating as the force player (or the end man on the line of scrimmage), he’s good at identifying down blocks or pullers trying to seal him on the inside of the play. Charlton does a good job spinning out or working through the block to force a cut-back or spill the play all the way to the sideline.
Charlton’s biggest enemy as a run defender is just a battle of being 6 feet 6 and losing leverage. He’s a relatively lean 277 pounds, so strong lower-half players can uproot him when he isn’t utilizing his length great.
Fit with the Chiefs
The athletic profile fits, the general concept as a power pass-rusher fits and the effort and IQ as a run defender fit, but the final nail in the coffin is...
Taco was quite effective on stunts throughout the early part of his career. Sounds easy but not every player understands them exceptionally well.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) May 2, 2020
Whether as the under player then working back through the gap or the looper cutting tight off the hip, he excels on stunts/twists. pic.twitter.com/yBU0nQNXh7
The Chiefs went from rarely stunting to one that utilized it to a high level of efficiency in 2019. This works great for guys like Ogbah, Okafor and Kpassagnon, who aren’t the most gifted one-on-one rushers. Charlton falls into this category as well, and like those three, he understands how to play both ends of the stunt.
As the under-man on the stunt, he doesn’t give it away off his first step but rather uses his lateral agility to cross-face and engage the interior linemen at the last second. He squares up and takes on the interior offensive lineman, using his length to give himself a potential rush path to the quarterback once the tackle chases the looper. When operating as the looper, he continues to disguise his stunts with a good upfield step before transitioning inside. With loose hips, he’s able to quickly redirect his momentum to cut off the hip of his teammate and slip behind the interior offensive lineman chasing them.
The bottom line
It has to be very clear that Charlton is still a complete work in progress that had two very defensive line-needy teams move on from him. His play is like a roller coaster with only moderate highs through three seasons, but there are highs. His physical profile and play style fit the Chiefs incredibly well and if they can continue to develop his hands as a pass rusher, he could become a lot more dangerous.
In 2020, even without a ton of improvement, Charlton can still be an effective run defender as the end man on the line of scrimmage and operate as a pass rusher during their twists and games.
With it being a virtual offseason, the chance to get hands-on work and development may be minimal, so some of the progress may not come until the later half of the season but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charlton’s role increase as the year goes on with the Chiefs.