INDIANAPOLIS — Taco Charlton has the size and attitude that endears himself to every NFL general manager.
But there’s one trait that the Michigan defensive lineman believes will vault him up draft boards in late April.
“The thing that sets me apart is I’m versatile,” Charlton said. “I play a little bit of every position, inside, outside. I’ve played heavy, I’ve played light. The thing about me, too, is look at my pass-rush moves, I’ve done a little of everything. My arsenal is wide, I can stab, I can bull, I can spin, I can speed rush. So, the arsenal I have and the combination of all the positions I’ve played: three-tech, four-tech, five-tech, weak-side end. All of those things kind of add up to separate me a little bit.”
Charlton, a first-team all-Big Ten defensive lineman last fall, has the perfect size to fit into any defensive system. He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 277 pounds. His arm length of 34 1/4 inches measures as one of the longest among defenders like himself. He displayed a rare blend of athletic ability by posting in the top 15 in four major categories at the 2017 NFL Combine. He’s considered a likely first-round pick in most NFL mock drafts. ESPN analyst Todd McShay lists Charlton as the No. 17 prospect in the upcoming draft.
At Michigan, Charlton registered sacks in seven of his final 10 games, including at least one in the last four. His 9.5 sacks led the Wolverines and his 0.9 sacks per game led the Big Ten. He also finished with 13 tackles for loss.
When asked to name his most difficult opponent, Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk thought for a second and then said, “Taco Charlton at Michigan. He’s a quick pass rusher and he backs it up with power. It was a good challenge.’’
Michigan tight end Jake Butt also touted Charlton — along with fellow Wolverines defensive lineman Chris Wormley — as the toughest he faced.
“It’s not going to get much harder than those guys with their long arms, their reach,” Butt said. “Taco’s 270, 280, Wormley’s 300-plus, a big, powerful guy, so that definitely helped me.”
Comparisons among players based on size are prevalent throughout the draft process. It appears many observers frequently reference Charlton’s football doppelganger as Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. In eight years with the Bengals, the 6-6, 280-pound Dunlap has 57 sacks and 15 forced fumbles.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock called Charlton “really gifted” and said “he looks like Carlos Dunlap.”
Charlton heard those same comparisons while at Michigan.
“Coach (Greg) Mattison was actually my D-line coach, coached Dunlap at Florida,” Charlton said. “So, I studied his game just because we had the same coach, and he always talks about how I remind me of Dunlap when he was a Florida. Like I say, I watched his game. He never stops. He’s a relentless pass rusher. He uses leverage. Like I said, I watched them guys at Cincinnati also.”
In a draft class loaded with defensive linemen, Charlton still stands out. He missed a pair of games early with an ankle injury from which he struggled to recover. By the end of the season, he said his ankle was 80 percent healthy and he produced his top games against the best opponents.
In the season finale at Ohio State, Charlton notched career highs with 9 tackles — including 3 for loss — and 2.5 sacks. In the Orange Bowl, he totaled 5 tackles — 2 for loss — a sack and a batted ball against Florida State.
For teams that want a defensive lineman, Charlton said, those games displayed what he can do.
“It probably helped tremendously just to show more of my talent, what I can do on the football field,” he said. “That’s probably the best I felt the whole season was those last two games. I was still kind of nicked up with an ankle injury all year. So I really wasn’t healthy until probably a month ago. So it felt good to be, I was probably, what, 80 percent? So getting close as possible to 100 percent the last couple of games was a very good feeling, and I kind of showed what I can do when I’m slightly healthy.”
As for selling himself, Charlton again went back to his versatility. That’s important in today’s era when NFL teams rarely align with the same front on consecutive plays.
“I’m a guy who’s played a lot of different positions,” Charlton said. “I have size, skill and speed, so adding all three of those combinations is something I’m able to do on the football field as well is something that a team may like. And also the fact that I’m just touching the peak of my potential. I’m only going to get better the more football I play, so the player you get now is going to be a way better player in the future.”