Steelers Elevate Ex-Cowboys, Dolphins Edge Rusher

Taco Charlton sacking Dak Prescott

Tom Pennington/Getty Images Taco Charlton of the Miami Dolphins sacks Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys on September 22, 2019 in Arlington, Texas.

On Saturday the Pittsburgh Steelers ruled out Melvin Ingram III (groin) from Sunday’s AFC North showdown with the Cleveland Browns, opening up a spot in the lineup for an edge rusher. It appears that the Steelers will be filling that spot with former Dallas Cowboys first-round pick Taco Charlton, who has been elevated from the team’s practice squad for the game.

Charlton, 26, was signed to Pittsburgh’s practice squad on September 21, 2021, with just such an eventuality in mind. On Sunday he figures to serve as one of two backups behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, with Derrek Tuszka—a former MVFC Defensive Player of the Year—the other reserve at outside linebacker. Of course, Tuszka hasn’t been with the Steelers very long either, having signed to the practice squad on September 1, 2021, before seeing his first game action against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3.

Taco Charlton Was Drafted Two Picks Before T.J. Watt

Hindsight is 20/20, but the Cowboys no doubt regret selecting Charlton No. 28 overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, especially since T.J. Watt—now a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate—was selected by the Steelers just two picks later.

In the time since, Watt has accumulated 56.5 sacks (per Pro Football Reference) and produced a dizzying assortment of splash plays. Meanwhile, Charlton—who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds—has played in 44 games for three different teams (including the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs), producing 74 total tackles, with 11 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, per PFR. That’s enough to remain in the league as a practice squad player or backup, but not the kind of production that one expects from a first-round draft pick, especially one who was seen as having “All-Pro potential” coming out of the University of Michigan.

“Rushers with his size and athleticism are hard to find and they usually go very early in the draft,” said one unnamed AFC executive prior to the 2017 Draft, this according to NFL analyst Lance Zierlein, who also highlighted Charlton’s inconsistent play and production, not to mention his “inconsistent play speed.”

But with the Steelers’ lack of depth beyond Watt, Highsmith (and Ingram), there’s room for any edge rusher who can make plays, even if only occasionally. If Charlton performs well enough, he could eventually earn on a place on Pittsburgh’s active roster, especially if Ingram is dealt before the trade deadline. In the meantime, he will automatically revert back to the practice squad after Sunday’s game without having to pass through waivers.

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Tight End Eric Ebron Has Been Ruled Out, Too

In addition to the aforementioned Ingram, the Steelers have already ruled out one other player from Sunday’s game, that being co-starting tight end Eric Ebron, who didn’t practice on Friday as a result of a hamstring injury.

In Ebron’s absence, one can expect an even greater role for rookie second-round pick Pat Freiermuth, as well as third-string tight end Zach Gentry, the former of whom is mainly a threat as a receiver, the latter of whom primarily a blocker.

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