FRISCO, Texas – Taco Charlton wasn't a starter until his final season at Michigan.
He posted zero sacks as a freshman backup. His senior year, he had 9.5 as a first-team All-Big Ten defensive end.
The Cowboys believe their first-round pick will only continue to get better.
"He's a big, long, impressive looking guy," head coach Jason Garrett said Thursday night after the team selected Charlton at No. 28 overall. "He's a good athlete. He has a basketball background. When you watch him rush against some of the best competition in college football, he is a productive player.
"We think he does a lot of good things technically as a rusher, but he also has a lot of room to grow as a rusher because of his athleticism. He has some unique traits because of his length. He's able to do some things that maybe some of the other rushers can't do."
Charlton's rise in the Wolverines' program was incremental. He played in 10 games as a freshman reserve defensive lineman. He got four starts his next two seasons before emerging as one of the nation's best pass rushers last year.
The sack totals jumped each season: zero as a freshman; 3.5 as a sophomore; 5.5 in 13 games as a junior; and a team-high 9.5 as a senior in 11 starts.
Why not an instant impact? The answer might rest in the Cowboys' own philosophy of valuing prospects from big programs who played with and against the best players in the country.
"Obviously you look at programs like Michigan and Ohio State, the best corner in the draft (Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore, drafted by the Saints) played one year," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said. "You could call him a late bloomer. But you've also got to look at programs like Alabama and Michigan and Ohio State and look at what was in front of him. Those were all top picks too. So you've kind of got to wait your turn."
Charlton also said he played four different positions in four years at Michigan: proof that he's versatile as an outside and inside lineman, but also a reminder that he went through a scheme change as a senior. He flourished the most on a four-man line as a senior – the type of system Rod Marinelli runs in Dallas.
"I think just getting the chance to get on the field more," Charlton said. "You can watch my junior year, my last four games. I do a lot of good things because I played more. This year I got a chance to get on the field more. Just all the hard work I put in every offseason.
"We had a lot of veteran guys, a lot of seniors in front of me. One of those guys was Frank Clarke in Seattle for awhile for two years. So I had to sit behind him, and he was a great player and did great things with Seattle this year with 10 or 11 sacks. So that was really out of my control. I just made sure when I got in, I just tried to do a lot of good things, and that's why I got 10 sacks this past year."
The Cowboys see Charlton as a right defensive end, a pure pass rush position on the line. The job won't be handed to him. He'll have to compete with other young players such as DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa and last year's fourth-round pick Charles Tapper.
The expectation is Charlton will continue to grow.
"He's come from a great program," Garrett said. "He responded well in that environment. It's a competitive environment; there are good players there. It's hard to get on the field, and he competed through that and had a role even when he wasn't a starter. When he became a starter, he was productive.
"All the reports we got from the coaches at Michigan were very positive about him. How he works, how he competes."