The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class sets the stage for a fierce competition for draft capital this April. But almost no CB can compete with Michigan’s DJ Turner when it comes to explosiveness, recovery speed, and untapped potential. Does Turner deserve early-round — and maybe first-round — consideration? Here’s a look.
DJ Turner NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Michigan
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height/Weight: 5’11”, 178 pounds
- Length: 30 3/4″
- Hand: 9 5/8″
The Michigan Wolverines are quietly one of college football’s more reliable schools when it comes to producing quality NFL defensive back talent.
Recent Wolverines classes have churned out players like Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Ambry Thomas, and 2022 first-round pick Daxton Hill. And in two years, we’ll be talking about Will Johnson — and maybe WR-CB convert Amorion Walker — as the next big things.
In the meantime, however, the focus is on Turner — a former four-star recruit who morphed into a high-level playmaker over his time in Ann Arbor. If you watched Hill on tape in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, it was impossible to miss Turner. His natural coverage skills pop off the screen, and in 2022, his game took an extra leap.
After accruing two interceptions and seven pass deflections in 2021, Turner put up a pick-six and 10 pass deflections in the 2022 campaign. At the NFL Combine, he compounded that forward momentum with a position-best 4.26 40-yard dash, as well as a 1.47 10-yard split, a 38.5″ vertical, and a 10’11” broad jump.
Those numbers already confirmed what we knew about Turner’s athleticism from the 2022 Feldman’s Freaks list. On top of his speed and explosiveness, he’s also rumored to have a legendary 6.29 three-cone time. The numbers emphasize Turner’s upside, but on the field, how does it all translate?
DJ Turner Scouting Report
Turner has a number of elite traits to build his game around, and those traits afford him rare potential and versatility at the next level.
As his testing numbers indicate, Turner brings an extremely appealing brand of mobility to the fold. He has hyper-elite short-area explosiveness and speed, and with his dynamic athleticism at 5’11”, 178 pounds, he can close gaps in the blink of an eye.
On the boundary, Turner is incredibly explosive. He can easily turn and run with receivers, accelerating upfield quickly, and shows excellent accelerative capacity when flipping upfield in press-bail. The Michigan CB gears up instantly out of transitions with quick strides, and he flashes superb initial burst when closing on screens. Not only does Turner have an overwhelming top speed, but he also reaches that top speed very quickly.
Turner doesn’t always play to his 4.26 40-yard dash, but speed is a definite strength on tape — deserving of the elite moniker. Turner routinely runs with receivers upfield, and he’s almost impossible to stack when he times his transitions effectively. His recovery speed also shows up when clamping down on in-breaking routes and comebacks or when he loses a step off the line.
Past his speed and explosiveness, Turner’s short-area athleticism is what truly completes his physical profile. The Michigan CB has the hip fluidity to stack direction changes and doesn’t get tied up after initial transitions. He plays fairly low in his stance and can pivot around effortlessly. Going further, he has a smooth backpedal and can easily turn outside without losing speed. Most notably, Turner has shown to sink his hips and swivel around on 90-degree transitions with ease, carrying acceleration through transitions.
Perhaps the most appealing trait of Turner’s — even more than his speed — is his twitch and energy as a mover. He’s an amped-up short-area athlete who throttles up and down at will in press coverage to stick to WRs. With his short-area athleticism and tenacity, the Michigan CB sticks to receivers at stems upfield. He’s also able to quickly adjust pursuit angles and carry acceleration through transitions.
Turner’s phenomenal corrective foot speed allows him to match off the line with ease. He’s a spry, light-footed lateral mover who covers lots of ground with lateral bursts.
It’s one thing to have the tools but another to supplement them with proper technique. Turner is on his way here as well. While he’s lighter, Turner has shown he can use targeted physicality. He frequently uses quick hand jabs to disrupt and delay receivers. But he’s also not overeager in using his hands before his feet. Turner can wait to jam until WRs enter his wheelhouse, displaying patience and discipline.
Expanding on Turner’s technique, the Michigan CB has fast feet at the line and matches WRs with his fleet-footed style. He can flip outside and then snap back quickly to suffocate breaks back to the ball. Moreover, Turner can play catch technique and quickly flip his hips upfield to sustain acceleration. He smoothly transitions from backpedal to carry while keeping speed, displaying malleability in off-man.
Moving on, Turner also shows great zone awareness and consistently keeps things in front of him. The Michigan CB can both match patterns and keep his eyes on the QB to decipher intent and position himself accordingly. He’s shown to process quickly in press, and he stays well-leveraged and flips his hips as soon as he sees WRs commit. This technical floor, combined with his mobility, allows him to play outside and in the slot.
Turner’s processing is prevalent both in man and zone. In man coverage, he’s shown he can key in on WRs’ hips downfield to respond quickly to breaks. On scramble drills, Turner keeps his eyes toward the QB, staying ready to strike at the catch point. He has the awareness to process route concepts and identify underneath routes in zone. Furthermore, he can peel off receivers when QBs throw short amidst pressure, and he can break back and attack the ball in coverage.
Overall, Turner has an urgent, alert playstyle that serves as a superb complement to his natural athleticism in coverage. That competitive energy also extends to playmaking situations, where Turner actively fights at the catch point, plays through the catch process, and shows good ball-tracking ability.
Finally, in run support, Turner displays utility as well. The Michigan CB can recognize screen formations and engage quickly with his elite closing speed, and he has urgent energy in run support. Turner actively fights blocks, can swipe down anchors and clear contact with his lateral and straight-line burst, and he’s shown he can wrap up as a tackler coming downhill. He’s very hard to escape in pursuit due to his speed.
Turner’s Areas for Improvement
Turner isn’t a liability in terms of size, but he is slightly below-average overall. He has decent length, but he weighed in at 178 pounds at the NFL Combine, and his playing weight may max out in the 180s. It comes as no surprise that play strength can be an issue, especially in run support when engaging blocks and attempting solo tackles.
Aside from his lighter weight, Turner doesn’t have many concentrated weaknesses. Instead, minor notes are peppered across his report. While the Michigan CB is fluid, he sometimes struggles to shrink himself and sink his hips effectively on in-breaking routes. Additionally, he can get too grabby when attempting to stick to WRs out of transitions. He sometimes relies too much on two-hand jams, which can lock out his hips.
Going further, Turner occasionally turns his back to wide receivers on transitions, allowing them opportunities to manipulate blind spots. His reaction time can be inconsistent, both when reading QBs in zone and when matching receivers in press-man coverage. He’s also occasionally caught off guard when WRs break inside.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Big Board
The Michigan CB does have some wasted motion with his feet at times when responding to stems, and those extra steps can delay his response. There are times when he drifts too far upfield and fails to stay square, giving WRs space to exploit. Additionally, Turner’s pads occasionally drift too high in his stance.
In run support, Turner sometimes fails to wrap up at the tackle point, enabling runners to stay on their feet. His margin for error from a technical standpoint is smaller with his lighter frame. Furthermore, Turner can, at times, be drawn off screens by nearby routes, and he sometimes gravitates to deeper routes when help is available deep, leaving screens uncovered.
Similarly, Turner could afford to take better angles downhill. He sometimes has to correct his angle mid-response, stalling his momentum and giving runners extra time.
Current Draft Projection for Michigan CB DJ Turner
On my board, Turner grades just outside the top 50 in the 2023 NFL Draft class. He’s a top-10 CB prospect in a very strong positional group. And taking his scheme versatility and alignment flexibility into account, he’s worth consideration as early as late Round 1 and early Round 2.
With Turner, you have many of the necessary building blocks for effective island coverage. In man coverage, Turner has incredibly fast feet, fluid hips, and impressive discipline for his technique. He frequently uses feet first and has the twitchy, high-speed athleticism in close quarters to keep wide receivers in front of him at all times. He also has the recovery speed to make up ground whenever he needs to.
MORE: 2023 NFL Draft CB Class
Meanwhile, in zone coverage, Turner manages space, processes routes, and passes off and carries receivers as well. He can still strive for more consistency with his reaction quickness, but the foundation is there for Turner to be a scheme-versatile starter on the boundary with slot capabilities. Additionally, Turner’s high-end explosiveness and recovery speed widen his margin of error, and his competitive mentality only strengthens his appeal.
Turner’s weight could be an issue at the next level, especially in run support. But for his size, he’s a chippy competitor who doesn’t back down from contact situations. And ultimately, his high-energy playstyle and elite burst/speed combination make him very hard to separate from. As long as he can keep refining his mental game, Turner has impact starter upside.
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