Saints 2021 first-round pick Payton Turner medically cleared: ‘I’m ready to bounce back’

New Orleans Saints 2021 first-round pick Payton Turner has been medically cleared and is ready to bounce back in 2022.

HOUSTON —  Payton Turner dealt with an abbreviated rookie season, delaying the impact he hoped to make as the New Orleans Saints’ first-round draft pick.

That was due to a shoulder injury that ultimately required surgery. That limited Turner to five games, one sack, 12 tackles (three for loss), and three quarterback hits. Now, the former University of Houston standout has been fully medically cleared and is looking forward to a productive second NFL season.

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Payton Turner fully cleared and ‘ready to bounce back’

“Not the rookie season I wanted with the injury and everything,” Turner said during a youth football camp held at the University of Houston by Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Grant Stuard, his former teammate with the Coogs. “I’m ready to bounce back this year. We’ve got a great coach in DA (Dennis Allen) and a great culture in the locker room.

“I’ve got my strength back. I had the shoulder surgery, that was the biggest thing. I’m football-focused: back to pass rush, run technique, quick hands, getting back in the game. Consistency, I think I’ll be there every week. That’s the aim. That’s the goal: get after the quarterback, stop the run every game, and do things every week to help the team win.”

At 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Turner has prototypical size and athleticism.

A second-team All-AAC selection who recorded five sacks, 25 tackles, and 10 1/2 tackles for loss as a senior before playing in the Senior Bowl all-star game, Turner spent his rookie season absorbing knowledge from veteran pass rushers Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport.

“They’re great to watch film with and talk football with and learn from,” Turner said. “It’s hard not to pick up stuff when you’re around them.”

Drafted 28th overall last year, Turner, 28, was a three-year starter for the Cougars and signed a four-year, $12.524 million rookie contract.

He recorded a 35 1/2 inch vertical leap and bench pressed 225 pounds 23 times leading up to the NFL draft. Turner produced a 6.98 three-cone drill and a 4.33 time in the short shuttle. At the end of his Houston career, he had recorded 10 career sacks and 25 tackles for losses.

Turner adjusted to life on the edge

Turner is a former interior defensive lineman who lost weight and developed into an edge rusher.

“I’ve only played on the edge for three years,” Turner said. “I just keep getting better at it.”

Turner arrived on campus as a 238-pound freshman, up from 217 pounds at the end of his high school career. He bulked up to 290 pounds to play inside initially. Then, he lost 20 pounds heading into his final season to play outside and maximize his mobility.

“I ate a lot when I first got to school,” Turner said. “Originally, I wasn’t on the edge. I played 4i in the old scheme, and I got up to 290 pounds. My sophomore year, I dropped some weight, and I didn’t know if I would play on the edge. I broke my foot and missed spring ball and the summer.

“It turned out we needed help on the edge. They thought I was quick enough to play on the edge. I think I have a lot of room to grow, and that’s the only way I can go. I think playing defensive tackle helped me be more physical in my transition to the edge.”

‘I think we have a great squad’

The Saints promoted Allen from defensive coordinator and retained the same defensive scheme after Sean Payton retired.

The Saints finished 9-8 last season, finishing second in the NFC South to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I think it’s really easy in the Big Easy to have some optimism,” Turner said. “I think we have a great squad, great coach, and we have a great locker room. We have a lot of continuity. We have guys that are ready to go and get a chip.”

Turner spent his time at the camp passing on football knowledge to campers along with Stuard.

“It’s awesome just to be around them,” Turner said. “They’re really passionate. I try to point them in the right direction. Grant and I are at the same level. We had different paths, but he got to the NFL, too. He made this a reality.”

Aaron Wilson is the NFL Insider for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL.

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