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Taco Charlton could be primed for a breakout season in 2021

The former first-round pick now finds himself in an ideal situation for his second year with the Chiefs.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end Taco Charlton has yet to leave much of a footprint with the Kansas City Chiefs — but 2021 could be a breakout year for the fifth-year NFL veteran from Michigan.

As 2017’s 28th overall pick for the Dallas Cowboys, injuries kept Charlton from getting playing time, so his career never got off the ground. He spent two seasons in Dallas before he was released and picked up by the Miami Dolphins.

Charlton recorded four sacks in his first five games with the Dolphins — but finished with only five for the season after more injury problems arose. In the following offseason, he was waived for the second time in his career.

During his time with the Cowboys and Dolphins, Charlton had stretches where he looked like a first-round talent. In 2018, he was a weekly starter and regularly had his name toward the top of the stat sheets — but an injury midway through the season derailed everything. He never regained his footing in Dallas.

In Miami, Charlton once again came out of the blocks hot — but was again forced to miss time. In Dallas, he had played primarily with a hand in the dirt — but for the Dolphins, he played from a two-point stance far more often. He has looked the best when he’s lined up as a 5-tech — and that is why he could be in for a solid year with Kansas City.

Charlton’s injury history is long and frustrating — but when the former Wolverine is on the field, he impacts the game. There is plenty of competition among Kansas City’s defensive ends, but Tanoh Kpassagnon’s departure via free agency leaves the starting role opposite Frank Clark wide open. Charlton and Alex Okafor provide the most experience — but youngsters like Tim Ward, Mike Danna and 2021 rookie Joshua Kaindoh will push the seasoned pros for the starting job.

Charlton made his presence known in multiple games in 2020. But his biggest roadblock remains his nagging injuries. The ankle injury he suffered last season is reportedly still not 100%.

Defensive line play goes a long way towards a team’s overall success — and good pass rushers are at an all-time premium in the NFL. Former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed’s presence is allowing the Chiefs to sometimes move Chris Jones outside and rush the passer from multiple spots — which is a good thing for both the defense and Charlton.

If he is able to nab the starting job, he will benefit greatly from Jones’ newfound versatility. Due to his past health issues, Charlton’s reps must be limited so he can get through a full season. There is depth — and plenty of it — along the defensive line, but if there is an All-Pro player like Jones who can reduce the wear and tear on Charlton, that is a great situation.

This is because his pass-rushing ability was missed in the latter part of 2020. In the six games he played, he left a big enough mark for the front office to bring him back for another season.

In order to earn a contract for 2022 and beyond, Charlton must prove he can stay on the field.