It can be difficult for lesser-heralded recruits to fight their way into the draft conversation. It takes hard work and steely perseverance, but sometimes, a little versatility doesn’t hurt. Houston edge rusher Payton Turner has the versatility and the athletic upside to complete his ascension in the 2021 NFL Draft. And soon, he may get the recognition to match.
Payton Turner NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Lineman
- School: Houston
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’5 1/2″
- Weight: 268 pounds
- Wingspan: 84″
- Arm: 35″
- Hand: 10 1/4″
Tony Pauline’s Payton Turner Scouting Report
Positives: Three-year starter with an underrated game. Plays with good lean, effectively uses his hands, and keeps his feet moving. Has excellent length, moves well about the field, and moves fluidly if asked to twist or stunt. Strong, displays the ability to push blockers off the line, and stays with the action.
Negatives: Not a great natural pass rusher and does not show much speed off the edge. Possesses an average closing burst.
Analysis: Turner was consistently productive for Houston and has both size as well as growth potential. He’s a developmental prospect who could eventually grow into a defensive tackle in a four-man line.
Payton Turner Player Profile
Versatility can be a double-edged sword, and Payton Turner has experienced that firsthand. Coming out of high school, Turner was a 6-foot-5, 217-pound defensive end. His height and length set him apart from most high school prospects. However, with his lacking frame, on top of a knee injury suffered in his senior season, Turner didn’t get a ton of looks from Power Five schools.
Turner was a mere two-star prospect in the 2017 recruiting class on 247 Sports’ board. Luckily, being from Houston, Texas, Turner had proximity to the Houston Cougars program. Turner committed to the Cougars in February of 2017 and enrolled later that year. He didn’t arrive with much fanfare, but he left as one of their most impactful defenders.
Payton Turner’s career as a Houston edge rusher
Turner managed to bulk up to 240 pounds ahead of his first season with the Cougars, and he was rewarded with playing time. The Houston edge defender played in most of the team’s games, logging 14 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, an interception, and a pass deflection.
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Turner’s early production led to an increased role in 2018, but it wasn’t on the edge. Turner grew an inch, and the team saw the potential for him on the interior. Thus, Turner bulked up to almost 290 pounds and took up a starting job as an interior lineman.
The true sophomore saw some solid results. He started in 11 games, amassing 42 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and four deflections. However, a season-ending ankle injury prevented him from closing out the season and brewed uncertainty for the coming campaign.
Turner’s return from injury, and his return to the edge
Despite suffering his ankle injury late in the 2018 season, Turner roared back, starting all 12 games in 2019. Turner’s production from the interior increased. The former Houston EDGE logged 33 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and 4 pass deflections. In 2020, Turner was primed to close out his career on a strong note as an interior defender. But his new coaches had something else in mind.
Instead, Turner trimmed 20 pounds and became an edge rusher again for Houston. He entered the year standing at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, with a new gear of explosiveness now unlocked. Turner’s last season was his best one. In just five games, the Houston EDGE totaled 25 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, and a forced fumble.
Averaging over 2 tackles for loss and 1 sack per game, Turner quickly earned a reputation as one of the conference’s best defenders. For the first time in his career, he earned All-AAC recognition. Seeing his draft stock on the rise, Turner accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, and chose to sit out Houston’s bowl game, officially setting his sights on the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Payton Turner’s NFL Draft profile
Payton Turner is another player on the NFL Draft circuit who deserves more buzz. His production alone suggests this, but Turner also has traits that translate to the next level in a multitude of ways. It feels right to start with Turner’s athletic foundation because his unique physical talent enables him to be so versatile.
Turner is around 6-foot-6, 270 pounds. He was 290 pounds earlier in his career when he played more on the interior line. Yet, over the 2020 offseason, he got back down to 270 and shifted to the edge. The result? Turner was explosive off the line, quick as a lateral mover, and flexible with his changes of direction. Turner has a ton of first-step quickness and closing burst in the pocket, and he also has the ankle flexion to stop and switch directions at a torrid pace.
Beyond his athleticism, Turner also brings good size and power. His length is elite, and he couples this length with developing pass rushing technique. Turner is still trending up in this area, but he already has several moves in his arsenal.
Furthermore, when listening to him speak, you can tell he’s aware that different situations and matchups call for different moves. Turner approaches his reps with a strategic mindset, which makes his athletic upside all the more enticing.
On top of everything else, Turner also brings excellent hustle and good pursuit speed for his size, and his length and change-of-direction ability allows him to make plays in that phase.
What are the issues with Turner’s draft profile?
Luckily, a lot of Turner’s issues seem correctable with development. There are a few mitigating factors on his upside.
His length is elite, but he’s still learning how to use it efficiently. Thus, he may have more trouble with longer tackles. Turner’s speed also pales in comparison to other edge rushers. It’s worth noting that Turner is big enough that it won’t be a red flag if he runs a little slower. Nevertheless, he’s not as pure of a speed rusher as other players. He can win with his explosiveness, but he doesn’t have top-tier speed or bend.
Furthermore, Turner’s projection to the next level is a bit complicated. With his initial burst, power, and lateral athleticism, he can be a full-time edge rusher. However, his size and athleticism might also be utilized effectively in a more versatile role.
Turner is an interesting player because, depending on offensive line matchups, he can be a versatile chess piece on the line. He can play standing up or in a three or four-point stance on the outside, and he can also swim inside to the three-technique or the 4i position. Teams must use his versatility correctly. Additionally, Turner’s power and length will have to translate to the NFL level.
Aside from that, Turner can use more development with his hand technique. He’s clearly trending upward there, however, and he has the strategic mindset to keep improving. Thus, he’s a relatively safe long-term investment on that front.
Senior Bowl Performance
Payton Turner was one of the defensive linemen present at the Senior Bowl in January. Here’s more on his performance at the showcase, from PFN’s American Team Practice Report.
“Turner never broke out at the Senior Bowl, but he was a stable performer through the first two days. He didn’t play on Thursday, but in his time on the field, he was able to compete in one-on-ones with his athleticism, flexibility, and hand technique. With his athletic foundation and stellar length, anything beyond that serves as an added bonus. Turner is a specimen with surprising mechanical definition for his experience level, and his versatility, at the very least, was confirmed in Mobile.”
Payton Turner’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
There are some questions left for Payton Turner to answer. However, Turner answered most of the withstanding concerns in the 2021 offseason. Turner frequently flashed at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and he also confirmed his elite length in measurements. Additionally, he logged a 35.5-inch vertical jump and top-tier agility numbers at his pro day, reinforcing his athletic profile.
Turner is an extremely under-the-radar player when factoring in his production, athletic upside, and versatility. Depending on team fit, I’d be open to selecting him in the heart of the NFL Draft, between Round 2 and Round 4. Round 2 is his ceiling, and he has all the physical talent and potential necessary to get to that point. Plus, his on-field effort will serve as a compounding agent to teams wise on his upside.
Which teams mesh best with Turner’s projected versatility?
With his physical profile, Turner is a potential mismatch factory. He has the size and explosiveness to line up as a 4-3 edge defender and slide inside on occasion. The same goes for his flexibility in a 3-4 scheme. Turner might project better as a 3-4 defensive end, but he also has the ability to stand up as an edge rusher in that scheme. Hybrid fronts also incubate Turner’s flexibility well.
For these reasons, his potential fits are wide-ranging. However, teams that need both interior and EDGE talent might benefit most from his acquisition. Teams like the Colts, Ravens, and Falcons project as especially inspiring fits, but it’s also exciting to think about how Robert Saleh might be able to use Turner with the Jets. The Houston edge defender still has some refinement to undergo, but he could be a high-value steal in the 2021 NFL Draft with his athletic potential.
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