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Scouting Jets defensive end Charles Tapper

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout January and February, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at some of the players the Jets have signed to futures deals since the end of the season. We continue today with a look at former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Charles Tapper.

The 25-year old Tapper was a fourth round pick in 2016 out of Oklahoma, but has only played in two games in his NFL career due to injuries. He spent his first two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, but they released him in final cuts last September.

Background

Tapper attended college at Oklahoma and was a three-year starter. His sophomore year saw him rack up 5.5 sacks, but he saw a drop-off in production as a junior. However, in his senior year, Tapper had a career high seven sacks and led the Big 12 with four forced fumbles on his way to all-conference honors.

Tapper was widely considered to be a probable late round pick, but boosted his stock at the scouting combine and was drafted in the fourth round by the Dallas Cowboys, who would later draft quarterback Dak Prescott in the same round.

Tapper’s career got off to a rocky start as he missed his entire rookie season after being diagnosed with a back issue. He played in the first two games of the 2017 season though, and looked pretty good as he had a sack, a pressure and a couple of run stops. However, he then broke his foot and ended up on injured reserve again.

In 2018, he had five tackles, a forced fumble and a pass defensed in four preseason games, but didn’t make it through final cuts and then, having cleared waivers, only lasted on the practice squad for a few days.

The Jets worked Tapper out during the season and decided to sign him to a futures deal earlier this month.

Let’s move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Tapper brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.

Measurables/Athleticism

Tapper has good size and excellent length, plus big hands. At Oklahoma, Tapper had played much of his career at 290, but he lost weight before heading to the NFL.

He turned heads when he ran a sub-4.6 40-yard dash at 270 pounds at the combine and would later also post excellent explosiveness numbers but a more pedestrian 23 bench press reps.

On film, Tapper’s straight line speed really shows up when he’s chasing plays down in pursuit.

Usage

Oklahoma switched to a 3-4 scheme before Tapper’s first year as a starter, so he played most of his college career as a 5-technique end. He also played some reps on the interior.

At the pro level, Tapper has been almost exclusively employed outside the tackle in four-man fronts and usually in a four-point stance.

Motor

Tapper gives a good effort in the trenches and when chasing plays. This was also viewed as one of his better qualities in pre-draft scouting reports.

He has shown he can handle a big workload as he played 84 snaps in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson at the end of the 2015 season. The most snaps he has played at the pro level has been 37 in a preseason game.

Run defense

A common criticism of Tapper in pre-draft scouting reports was that he was inconsistent with his pad level, which caused him issues in holding up at the point of attack. However, that doesn’t seem to have been something he’s had an issue with at the pro level, so clearly he has been working on that.

Tapper’s quickness is an asset in the running game as he is capable of shooting gaps and winning leverage advantages with his first step:

He also shows excellent hustle when chasing plays down from the backside and an ability to get upfield and set the edge:

Pass rush

Tapper’s pass rush numbers are underwhelming, both in college and at the pro level. Even the seven sacks he had in 2015 all came in a four-game span, including three against 0-12 Kansas and two against 3-9 Iowa State. The book on him is that he relied too much on quickness or strength advantages and effort, but didn’t have much of a plan or any counter-moves.

Here’s a play where he tries to make a spin move but it’s ineffective and the offensive lineman easily deals with it:

Nevertheless, he shows some flashes of being a potentially productive player off the edge. He definitely has a quick first step, which he showcases here:

Tackling

Tapper is a heavy hitter, with long arms that he uses to wrap up ball carriers and a knack for forcing fumbles.

He hasn’t had many issues with missed tackles at the pro level, although he did miss several in each of his last two years in college. Here’s a play where he missed an opportunity to rack up a sack in preseason:

Coverage skills

Tapper has only been asked to drop back into coverage a couple of times at the pro level and didn’t do it very often in college either, although he gave up a 30-yard pass play in coverage in his junior year.

He has a knack for batting down passes coming off the edge though. He did that six times in his senior year and once last year in preseason.

Making reads/instincts

Tapper is not considered naturally instinctual and was said to need to improve on his awareness in pre-draft scouting reports. He jumped offside twice in preseason action.

Here’s a play where he makes a bad read, leading to a positive gain on an option keeper:

Technique

As noted, Tapper seems to have worked on keeping his pad level low and this is starting to pay off at the point of attack and when battling for leverage in pass rushing situations.

Although - as noted - he is still somewhat raw in terms of his pass rushing move-set, he showed excellent technique on the play where he recorded his first NFL sack:

Physicality

As noted, Tapper hits hard and battles in the trenches. He displays some power and strength but at times perhaps needs to play with less aggressiveness and better technique.

Special teams

Tapper hasn’t been much of a contributor on special teams, seeing action in preseason on the field goal rush unit and in the regular season as a blocker on the kick return unit.

Injuries

As already alluded to, injuries have been a problem for Tapper, even though he played in 39 games in his final three seasons at Oklahoma.

First of all, he had a hamstring injury at the combine, which prevented him from doing the agility drills. There was then the diagnosis of his back issue, which was a fracture in his spine due to a pars defect. That cost him his entire 2016 season, including preseason.

Having started out 2017 promisingly despite neck and hip injuries that caused him to miss time in the offseason, he broke his foot and again landed on injured reserve.

His chances of making the team in 2018 weren’t helped by the fact that he suffered a concussion during OTAs in May.

Attitude/Demeanor

Tapper is regarded as having a good work ethic and brings good character and personality having been a team captain in college.

His on-field discipline has also been pretty good as he only had one penalty in his senior year, although he had four as a junior.

Scheme familiarity

Unless the Jets are going to get Tapper to bulk back up again, his best fit would be as a conventional 4-3 defensive end. At the time of writing, the system the Jets will run next season is unclear. If they switch to a 4-3 then Tapper might even be a better fit than most of the players on last year’s team.

Conclusions

The Cowboys gave up on Tapper after two years mainly due to his inability to stay on the field. Coaches and media have said that he’s definitely talented but missed opportunities through being unable to stay healthy.

Having sat out the entire 2018 season and given himself a chance to get 100 percent healthy, perhaps Tapper will turn some heads during the offseason.

As with most futures signings, he’s an obvious long-shot and not someone who will even factor into the team’s decision making process once we get into free agency and draft season. However, his film shows some terrific athletic potential and he actually showed a lot in his brief NFL appearances, so perhaps he could be a dark horse to contend for a role.