The usual process of New Orleans Saints fans’ interpretations of their team’s first round pick has already shifted towards the post-reactionary stage, where after initially being befuddled by the unexpected pick, we’re now starting to talk ourselves into first-rounder Payton Turner.
This will probably continue through the start of the season until that first slip-up occurs, and fans will start doubting the pick. Then, the trends will ebb and flow with whatever narrative presents itself.
This is just how it goes, as early draft picks carry that receipt on their helmets as a constant reminder of what it cost to acquire them.
With this piece, however, we’ll solely be evaluating Payton Turner on what type of performances he displayed on film in his college career. What are his strengths, and what does he need to improve upon?
Here are some of my notes on the young pass rusher:
1. Has all the physical tools to be a good-to-great edge rusher
Power, burst, bend and balance. You name it. He’s got it.
A true edge, he combines his ridiculously long arms (35.38”) with some great agility and speed for a 6-foot-6, 270 pound dude.
He can be effective with raw power.
Or he is capable of just blowing by dudes off the edge.
It shows up against the run too. He reminds me a lot of Marcus Davenport in the run game, where he has the length and explosion to just corrupt long-developing rushes before they have a chance to get going.
The Saints front office and scouting department definitely has a thing for tools-y edge defenders, and Turner fits that mold. It makes you wonder if he could just be a healthier version of Davenport — which would be a win without question for the Saints’ decision makers.
2. He’s a bit of a gambler against the run
Turner goes all out to try and destroy run plays in the backfield on the regular. Whether it be shooting gaps or trying to loop around the wrong gap in time to make up for leaving his gap open, he takes some risks.
And a lot of the time, it works.
His average depth of tackle was 0.1 yards past the line of scrimmage in 2020, which was tied for 13th-shortest among qualifying EDGE defenders — via PFF. And his run stop rate of 10.5% ranked 17th.
But with this aggressiveness obviously comes some plays where it comes back to bite him.
There are plays like this every once in a while, whether it be biting too hard on a read option or getting too deep in the backfield and letting the play go right in front of him, where his over-pursuit allows for chunk yardage.
This flew in college, as he made enough positive plays in the backfield to offset the negative ones. But the Saints have had one of the best run defenses in the league for four years now based on gap integrity, speed and discipline — not overzealousness.
So, it’ll be interesting if Dennis Allen and the defensive coaching staff dials that back a bit with Turner this upcoming season.
3. Needs to develop more inside counter moves
Turner’s go-to move is just to burst to the tackle’s outside shoulder and either bend his way around him or rip through it. And while that pays off for him a lot of the time, I’ve noticed a few too many times on tape where if that outside move doesn’t work, his rush stalls completely.
This isn’t to say he doesn’t have inside moves. He does, but you typically see those when it’s predetermined he’s going to use it. But it’s those counter moves he needs to work on and having a backup plan for when one move doesn’t work.
His speed and length are such a threat that opposing tackles have to extend out to account for the edge, so if they overcommit, he needs to install a spin or some kind of inside counter that he can consistently go to to be effective on a consistent basis.
Pass rushing throughout a game is a balancing process of trying to get the opposing tackle to do one thing that opens up another thing for you, as the pass rusher. So, if that outside move threat causes the tackle to open his base wider to the outside, you can get inside — but also vice versa — because when you hit him with some of those inside counters, it opens the outside back up, which is Turner’s bread and butter.
Take this play below for instance, where the inside fake opens up the outside for Turner to get past the right tackle and affect the throw.
It’s almost scary how similar Payton Turner is to Marcus Davenport just as a prospect. The physical tools, the lack of competition in college and the production — it’s like they were made in the same lab. Like Davenport, Turner’s physical gifts make for a tool kit that can easily be molded into a Pro Bowl/All-Pro talent.
If he’s able to stay healthy and focused over the next few years, watch out. He could be one of the next young difference-makers on this impressive Saints defense.
What do you think of Payton Turner? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @AndrewBell_98.