Analyzing the Saints’ first-round selection of Payton Turner
To be frank, Turner was not seen as a first-round pick by analysts:
- Pro Football Focus: 58th
- Consensus Board: 60th
- Model Rank: 69th
Production from college to pro is extremely stable, and Turner did not stand out in that regard at the University of Houston. He combined for just 4.5 sacks in his first three years, and although sacks aren’t a great statistic to evaluate pass rushers with, none of his peripheral statistics stood out as well.
However, it appeared Turner took a step forward in 2020, which increased his stock significantly, as Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson notes:
"“Payton Turner is a player most people have outside of that first-round group, but a team could easily rank him among them. He ranks No. 58 on PFF’s 2021 NFL Draft Big Board and earned an exceptional PFF pass-rushing grade of 91.7 against true pass sets in 2020. His season was very low in sample size, with just over 200 snaps in total, but he flashed the ability to be a dominant rusher and has the versatility at his size to rush from the inside and dominate, as well. Turner is a player that could easily make it to the first round.”- Monson"
You definitely need to factor in the level of competition and a very small sample size, but at least we were able to see a glimpse of high-end play from Turner. With a larger body of work, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was held in much higher regard, especially with his athletic profile.
The Saints are known for valuing athleticism greatly in the draft process, and Turner is a marvel in that regard. His combination of length and agility is definitely intriguing, while his 270-pound frame also increases his overall versatility.
Furthermore, a major reason for Turner’s lack of production was how he was used in college. Up until his junior year, he played more on the interior, where his skillset did not work as much.
Thus, it makes sense that when he moved to the edge, he had much more success. Now, even factoring that in, his production wasn’t overly dominant, but it does start to make the pick more logical.