After the Dallas Cowboys wrapped up the 2016 NFL Draft, I realized something. I saw five of the Cowboys' draft picks in person, thanks to my freelance work as Editor-in-Chief of College Football America. So I figured, why not put that first-hand knowledge to use? With the help of scouting film and my notes from that day I put together this report on Charles Tapper, the Cowboys' fourth-round pick who says his disappointment from being drafted later than he'd hoped is erased by the identity of his new team.
"It doesn't matter that I wasn't drafted until the fourth round,'' Tapper said last weekend during rookie minicamp at Valley Ranch. "I'm with the best team in the country, the Cowboys, America's Team."
Charles Tapper, DE, Oklahoma
at Baylor, Nov. 14
His totals: Six tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack
What I saw: This was a prime-time showdown in Waco. It was a bit rainy that night, and the rain got heavy enough to have an impact on the game. We know Tapper has pure speed as he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the combine. So how does that translate on the field? We get a look starting on the second play on the tape at 20 seconds in.
Baylor's young quarterback Jarrett Stidham is in Baylor's standard pistol formation here, with a back to Stidham's left. This will be a play fake to the back and Tapper is actually an inside rusher on this play. He's lined up on the inside left opposite Baylor's right guard, Jarell Broxton. As Tapper rushes he ends up running into a double-team as center Kyle Fuller comes over to chip Tapper. Baylor's entire line slides to the right with the back coming to the left to chip any potential pass rushers from Stidham's blind side. Theoretically Stidham should roll left here, step up and find a receiver.
But that doesn't happen. I remember this play. Stidham was locked on Corey Coleman on the left side and OU wasn't giving him any space to work with. This was a third-down play and Coleman needed to get open quickly, but couldn't. You can see Stidham patting the ball, waiting for an open receiver. While this is happening Tapper is fighting off Broxton and Fuller and the pair finally have to release him. At 24 seconds you can see Tapper has peeled away from Fuller and has Stidham in his sights, as the quarterback is still looking for a receiver. It doesn't matter that Tapper overshot Stidham a bit on this play. The Sooners' defensive coverage, and Stidham's inexperience, did him a favor. By the time Stidham realizes he has pressure on his back side he has nowhere to go. Tapper slings Stidham to the ground. That's part of the reason I remember it — I thought there might be a chance Tapper would draw a flag for roughing the passer. There was no flag, rightly so, but you never know these days.
The next play from the Baylor game comes at 3:15 on the tape. One thing that defensive ends must have the presence of mind to do is keep their eyes on the quarterback and make a play even if they can't get to the quarterback. Tapper shows that ability here. This is another play action pass out of the pistol with a fake to the running back coming across Stidham's right. Here Stidham is looking for a quick connection on a slant route and Tapper is on the edge to Stidham's left. This time Tapper is dealing with All-Big 12 left tackle Spencer Drango, so the competition is considerably stiffer. Drango engages Tapper immediately and gets good initial position. But Tapper has his eyes up the field and seems to sense what Stidham is up to. Instead of continuing to push against Drango, Tapper seems to ease up a bit as Stidham releases. By the time the ball is out of Stidham's hand at 3:17, you can see the gap between Drango and Tapper. Tapper now has a clear opportunity to bat the pass down and does it, breaking up a pass intended for Coleman.
Those were the only two plays from the Baylor game on this tape. But because of the space between the highlights you get to watch the rest of the reel and if you're not impressed you're not paying attention. Tapper's speed is evident. There are several plays on this reel where Tapper ends up out of the play — sometimes due to his own overpursuit — but trails the ball carrier, makes up the ground and makes the play. That's an impressive trait. There were a couple of occasions where Tapper made plays starting 15-20 yards behind the ball carrier. He has a motor and everything he does has energy attached to it.
I wouldn't say he has a plethora of pass-rush moves, but he's not limited to being just a speed rusher, either. But he'll need to expand those moves his rookie season to succeed against better competition. I suspect he'll log plenty of extra time with defensive line coach Leon Lett and assistant Ben Bloom.
Overall there's plenty to be encouraged by here, and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli certainly has a vision, as he's given Tapper film of Deacon Jones to study. Tapper made an impression on me that night in Waco and he has the ability to make an impression his rookie season in Dallas as a rotation pass rusher with some potential upside by midseason, assuming he stays healthy.