When the New Orleans Saints selected defensive end Payton Turner in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, it caught many draft analysts and even the fan base by surprise. After all, heading into the draft, Turner was seen as a day two selection by most, being primarily graded outside of the Top 50 prospects. The reactions to the pick have been mixed at best. Thus, leaving many questioning the Saints draft strategy, particularly their perceived reach for Turner.
However, the Turner pick makes sense for several reasons…
The New Orleans Saints Selection of Payton Turner Made Sense
Payton Turner Re-stocks the New Orleans Saints Front Seven
Critics of the pick are vocal that the defensive end position wasn’t the Saints biggest weakness entering the draft. Moreover, many New Orleans fans questioned if the defensive line was a position of need at all. Star defensive end Cameron Jordan has been the face of the defense in New Orleans for about a decade. Additionally, the Saints picked up former first-round pick Marcus Davenport’s fifth-year option this off-season. An option worth over $9.5 million for the 2022 season.
Nonetheless, those fans are forgetting what has been the strength of the Saints defense in their resurgence under coordinator Dennis Allen. The front seven has been stacked the last few seasons and consistently one of the best units in the league against the run. Or at least it was unit losing Trey Hendrickson and Sheldon Rankins in free agency this off-season. Plus, several linebackers from the 2020 roster remain unsigned. Therefore, leaving the unit with less depth than in previous seasons.
Payton Turner adds talent and depth to a front seven unit that had to be restocked and freshened up. In addition, Turner played defensive tackle his sophomore and junior seasons in college before he leaned out and returned to the edge for his senior season. He was productive across the defensive line in college. He gives Allen options personnel-wise along the defensive line. It’s unlikely he will switch back to defensive tackle full time for New Orleans but the scout team clearly loves the versatility Turner brings to the defense.
Edge Rushers Were Flying off the Board
Edge rushers came off the board quickly in the back end of the first round. Teams selected an edge rusher in three of the next four picks after the Saints took Turner at 28th overall. Would Turner have been taken in any of those spots? Nobody knows for sure. It is clear though that in a year lacking an elite edge rush prospect, this was the range team’s had eyed as their spot to find a solution at edge rusher.
This draft came with so much uncertainty surrounding scouting prospects, as there were rumors that draft boards could vary substantially from team to team. Particularly after the first 15-20 prospects. A surprise first-round selection to the media and fans, Turner’s name wasn’t found in the vast majority of first-round Mock Drafts coming into the draft. Then again, there is certainly a lot to like, such as the potential of Turner. That being said, it’s very probable he wouldn’t have made it to the Saints pick in the second round.
That’s the dilemma for teams picking in the back end of the first round. With so much uncertainty surrounding how other team’s grade players, the Saints had to show conviction in who they liked and get their guy. Another seven defensive linemen came off the board before the Saints second-round pick. Turner is who New Orleans coveted, had to be selected at 28th overall.
Payton Turner is an Exciting Prospect
This will ultimately be the deciding factor when grading the Saints 2021 NFL Draft years from now. The fact is, there’s a lot to like about Turner as a football player. Listed at 6’6” and 274 pounds entering the draft, he’s in the mold of defensive end that New Orleans has targeted over the last decade. Hendrickson was the latest of that mold and had success, which bodes well for Turner. It just happened to be in the final year of his rookie contract and New Orleans couldn’t afford to pay him the kind of deal he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Turner has above average prototypical size for the position and consistently improved as a three-year starter for Houston. Turner is also a very good athlete, especially for a player of his size. By all accounts, he was a hard worker in college and showcased relentless effort on a snap by snap basis. He’s more complete in his technique than Davenport was coming out of college in 2018, who the team is still waiting to live up to his draft spot.
Nevertheless, Turner has earned the right to be graded and assessed as an individual. He shouldn’t be compared to previous selections. Time will tell if he can make his mark in the NFL. In the meantime, Saints fans should be excited by what Turner could bring to the New Orleans Saints defense.
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