Cowboys defensive end Taco Charlton had two sacks and forced two fumbles, recovering one, against the Texans on Saturday, Aug. 24. 

FRISCO, Taco Charlton did not receive much of a honeymoon period after the Dallas Cowboys selected him No. 28 overall in the 2017 draft.

When T.J. Watt, who went three spots after Charlton to the Pittsburgh Steelers, had two sacks and two tackles for loss in his first preseason game, criticism of the Cowboys’ decision to take Charlton instead grew louder and has not really stopped.

Is 2019 the season Charlton finally turns the corner for the Cowboys?

Charlton has not helped his cause by having four total sacks in two seasons. His body language — at times — has read more as being disinterested than anything else. After the Cowboys’ first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, he made hard-to-read comments about whether he wanted to be traded.

“It became a little misconstrued,” Charlton said. “My mindset’s never changed. Go out there and try to make plays for this defense and dominate the man I’m going against.”

Against the Houston Texans on Saturday, Charlton had two sacks and forced two fumbles, recovering one. He had two more quarterback hurries, a pass deflection and three tackles. He had a sack taken away on the defense’s first snap because of a defensive holding penalty.

Even that production has come with an asterisk to some because of the opponent; the Texans don’t possess a strong offensive line and one sack came in a one-on-one matchup against a tight end.

That is part of the fight Charlton has faced since he arrived in Dallas: If he fails to produce against lesser competition, he is ridiculed. It is a battle he can’t win.

“That’s why I don’t really get into that,” said Charlton, who limped to the locker room with a left leg injury that he didn’t believe to be serious. “I don’t fight that really. I just let it go. Whatever is said, I just show up, play football. That’s been my big mindset. Show up and play football and get better.”

Charlton has not only faced comparisons to pass-rushers the Cowboys did not take in 2017, but he also gets compared to a run of first-round success stories the Cowboys have had over the past 10 years.

Top picks Dez Bryant (2010), Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013), Zack Martin (2014), Byron Jones (2015), Ezekiel Elliott (2016) and Leighton Vander Esch (2018) have all played in at least one Pro Bowl.

Charlton, who has seven starts in two seasons, seems to carry the weight of his draft status.

“I’m sure every guy does,” defensive coordinator said. “Any guy I would think does, but he’s had a really good offseason, and he’s handled camp really well and the preseason games really well.”

That doesn’t mean Charlton is an absolute lock to make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster. Even though his $1.376 million base salary is guaranteed this year and $458,000 of his $1.832 million base salary is guaranteed next season, it is possible the Cowboys could consider a trade, depending on the compensation, because of their defensive line depth.

Charlton’s roster spot was helped by the indefinite suspension of Randy Gregory, who had six sacks last season, and the two-game suspension of Robert Quinn. The Cowboys also like second-year defensive end Dorance Armstrong and this year’s fifth-round pick, Joe Jackson.

“Yes, I think we have really good numbers, but you have numbers and then you have playmakers, like the last couple of passes that he has knocked down,” Cowboys owner and general manager said. “Well, some of the unique things about him allow you to do that. Having a sense of timing as well as the length to do it, so that’s a good one for him. Everything that Taco does in his repertoire is really outstanding. We just want him [to have] and he wants to have a bigger repertoire.”

It also has not helped Charlton that his best position is left defensive end, which is manned by DeMarcus Lawrence, whose 25 sacks the past two seasons is tied for fourth-most in the . Lawrence signed a five-year, $101 million deal this spring that included $65 million in guarantees.

Lawrence has seen Charlton, who also had offseason shoulder surgery, improve.

“His effort and demeanor to get better each and every day,” Lawrence said. “Just coming in as a rookie, how hard it is to perform under the lights and be able to perform against guys better or the same talent level as you, to see him in his third year develop as a player, understand the system and what he has to do is good for him.”

uses a Tom Landry approach to judge players — have to give them time to develop.

“I’ve been advised all of my life that you’ve got to give some of these, especially linemen, you’ve got to give them a couple years sometimes,” Jones said. “He has certainly started off at one level when training camp began … and he’s just gotten better and better and better right before your eyes and my eyes as well. That’s not a surprise to . He really thought he’s come on. You can imagine how Rod has stayed on him, stayed with him. He’s really getting rewarded and I’m proud of him because he’s had to really work to get to this point.”


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