Payton Turner didn’t mince words when it came to expressing confidence in his abilities. When asked where he believes he’ll fall on draft night, Turner offered his dream scenario.
“I’ve spoken to every team at least twice... but the Jaguars, Cowboys, and Eagles stand out,” Turner said. “I’m confident in my ability and every coach I've talked to is high on my versatility… but it would be a dream to stay home [Houston] and play for your hometown team.”
A second-team All-AAC selection in 2020, Turner’s confidence and energy illuminated Houston’s post-Pro Day media session. Like many in his class, the journey to this point hasn’t been the smoothest of rides, with nagging injuries lingering into his final season as a Cougar, where he ultimately appeared in just five games.
The “BANDIT” within the Cougars defense, Turner produced when his number was called, totaling a team high in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (10.5), again, in just five games.
In a rather weak EDGE class, Turner’s goal this offseason has been to draw NFL eyes to his talent both on film and in meetings, a skill set that Turner believes should be receiving more attention.
“I’m most comfortable at outside [line]backer, that’s where most teams see me at,” Turner reassured. “I played a year and a half on the edge and had supreme production where I showed versatility along with the ability to rush out of the 3-technique. We’ll see how things play out on April 29, but I see myself up there.”
Turner’s journey to Houston almost never was following a career-altering knee injury suffered during his senior year of high school. With just one other FBS offer other than the Cougars, his lack of interest during the recruiting cycle has fueled Turner’s snap by snap approach to the game of football.
Nothing has ever been easy for Turner, whose endless motor on the defensive line has developed into one of the best in the class. “It’s where I hang my hat,” Turner said, as each snap is looked upon as a privilege, never taken for granted.
Currently ranked the 85th-best prospect on TDN’s Top 100 Prospects list, Turner’s skill set really pops when you turn on the tape and project him into an NFL front. At 268 pounds, Turner’s frame slots seamlessly into both even (4-3), and odd (3-4) man fronts at the next level. His rugged, powerful lower half represents one of the more well-equipped physiques among any of the front seven prospects in this entire draft—he also could opt to add additional play weight if asked to slide inside to play as a 3-technique in a heavy 3-4 front like Chicago or Pittsburgh, who ask ends in Bilal Nichols (299 pounds) and Cameron Hayward (295 pounds) to execute multiple alignments in two of the top defenses in all of football.
While an extra 30 pounds of weight would be a lot to ask, 15 pounds of added muscles onto an ever-growing frame would suit Turner well with the NFL adapting to lighter, more agile linemen to counter the movement skills of today’s quarterbacks. His pass-rush game is built around his ability to overpower opposing linemen with an oppressive bull rush and club move. Although he does need work defending the run, mainly in stacking and shedding blockers, he has excellent instincts and fluidity as an interior athlete. Turner is also beyond his years when unable to get to the quarterback, often using his lower-half explosiveness to bat down passes at the LOS, a trait highlighted by Turner’s eye-popping 35.5-inch vertical jump to wrap up Houston’s Pro Day.