The Dallas Cowboys addressed one need on defense and think they still have a good chance to target another.
The Cowboys drafted Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton with the 28th overall pick on Thursday night, believing the options for a strong pass-rushing threat were fading while some cornerbacks they like will still be around late in the second round.
Charlton, who led the Wolverines with 9 1/2 sacks in 2016, is the first defensive end taken in the first round by the Cowboys in 10 years. Pass-rushing is the biggest need for Dallas, which was the top seed in the NFC last season but struggled to pressure the quarterback.
“As good as it was to help us get a good pressure player at the bottom of the first round, I think the draft sets up even better to get a really nice corner in the bottom of the second,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said. “I think if you see how that first round went, there were a lot of pressure players that came off the board. We might not see one again for a while.”
It’s the third time in four years that the Cowboys have taken a defensive end in the first two rounds, and both previous picks have fallen short of expectations.
DeMarcus Lawrence, a second-round pick in 2014, has been slowed by back injuries, although he led Dallas with eight sacks in his second season in 2015. Randy Gregory was a second-round choice two years ago, but his draft stock slid over off-field concerns. He is suspended for almost all of 2017 for multiple violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
The 6-foot-6, 277-pound Charlton, whose given first name is Vidauntae, was a first-team All-Big Ten choice by The Associated Press. His senior season was the only one as a full-time starter for the Wolverines.
Dallas has been looking for a dominant pass rusher since cutting franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware in a salary cap move in 2014.
“I think I can really be a dominant player,” Charlton said. “You watch a lot of the big games, I was able to take over those games and make big plays and be an impact player. I think I can I can do that in Dallas.”
The last time pass rushing was a first-round focus for Dallas, they were two years removed from taking Ware out of Troy with the 11th overall pick in 2005 and Marcus Spears from LSU nine picks later. Anthony Spencer was the choice out of Purdue as the 26th choice in 2007, when the Cowboys were in the 3-4 defense. They’re now in the 4-3.
A year after one of the best drafts in franchise history yielded two Pro Bowl rookies in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys had little doubt that defense would be the focus. And it was.
“If you happen to on the morning of the draft to have been working in that particular range or that particular player area and it really be fresh on your mind, then that was good,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “We had had a lot of conversation about this very player all day long.”
Dallas also has needs in the secondary after losing cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne in free agency along with safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. Church was perhaps the most significant of those departures because of his leadership role in the secondary. His absence was felt in 2016 when he missed four games with broken arm.
Anthony Brown is a promising young cornerback as a sixth-round pick from last year, and Orlando Scandrick being a year removed from a major knee injury should bolster a position that hasn’t produced many interceptions the past two seasons.
Stephen Jones made it clear that cornerback is the likely focus in the second round Friday. The Cowboys have the 60th overall pick in the second round and the 92nd selection overall in the third round.