GM Chris Ballard has seemingly hit a home run with his 2018 draft class. Second round pick Darius Leonard leads the NFL in tackles through four games and seems to be the long term answer at linebacker for the Colts. Fourth round running back Nyheim Hines has carved out a nice role for himself on an up and down offense and is getting better each and every week. Top ten pick Quenton Nelson has had his fair share of struggles but has impressed against some really tough competition to start his career.
With those three shining, it appears that people aren’t talking about the other notable draft pick getting a lot of playing time— defensive end Kemoko Turay. Turay was selected 52nd overall out of Rutgers in the 2018 draft. An odd fit for the Colts on paper as Turay’s skill set seemed to fit a 3-4 defense rather than the newly installed 4-3 here in Indianapolis.
Turay was a highly regarded prospect heading into the draft but was mostly seen as a raw pass rusher. After only playing two years of high school football and three years of college football at Rutgers, Turay made the big leap to the NFL. Despite this inexperience, Turay has already accumulated 2 sacks in 4 professional games as a sub defensive end. Lets take a look at the film and see if his play lines up with his impressive statistical output.
Positives: Pass Rush Ability
Lets start with the positive ability he brings in rushing the passer. Turay is a rare pass rusher as he has the athleticism and bend to be one of the best in the league. He turns the corner with great hip flexibility which helps him beat some of the better offensive tackles— like Jason Peters— in the NFL. This year he has also flashed an array of pass rush moves that are very impressive for a player as “raw” as Turay. Just from watching his film, I’ve seen flashes of speed rushes, swim moves, spin moves, under moves, and counter/ rip moves. The fact that he’s showing off the ability to perform moves like that is very impressive. Let’s look at a few examples here:
In our first example here, Turay is stunting inside with Hassan Ridgeway eating up the guard and tackle. Notice the quickness and explosion Turay shows on this play as he quickly eats up the space between him and the quarterback. He’s able to get in Alex Smith’s path and disrupt the throwing motion here which results in an under throw. Also notice how Turay gets his hands up here. He does this almost every play on film. Veteran type move to recognize when the QB is going to get rid of the ball to get his hands up.
Our next clip showcases Turay’s first sack of his career. The best thing about this clip isn’t just the successful speed rush but the fact that he’s using his left arm to create separation on his rush. That extended arm creates leverage for Turay to bend around the corner. Also notice how Turay doesn’t give up on the play here as he works his way back down into the pocket. Initially he’s too wide on his speed rush but is able to work back for the sack.
This next rep doesn’t result in a sack but you can see more of his pass rush skill set here. He first starts with a swim move to get up field then gets to bending around the edge to the quarterback. Again notice how he keeps his left arm extended to separate from the tackle. Once he develops more and learns how to truly win from that position, more sacks will come. The fact that he can bend the edge though and get a very good tackle like Jason Peters in that position is very promising.
This next rep may be my personal favorite although it won’t ever appear in a box score. I mentioned earlier how important it is to keep that arm extended as so many more counters are created when rushing the passer off of it. Well here is an example of one of those counters as Turay rips under the arms of Peters and is able to separate for the near sack. This is the potential with Turay here that gets me very excited for him in the future as a rusher.
Again look at a glimpse of what Turay could be with more playing time and development. Here he clubs the hands of the offensive tackle then bends around the corner for the half sack. I’m a big fan of pass rushers who have a plan of attack when rushing the passer and Turay almost always has a plan in mind when rushing. Having his baseline of bend, athleticism, and hand usage is a great recipe going forward for a young pass rusher.
Where he needs to improve: Run defense
I’m not going to sugarcoat it too much, Turay needs to improve in run defense if he wants to see the field more. I don’t think he is poor in terms of mental processing or filling run gaps either, I think the main issue is his lack of strength to hold up in the run game. He has some mental lapses here and there when defending the run— mainly because he has been a sub rusher his entire life— but the way he gets directed around by offensive tackles is not ideal. Obviously the coaches have noticed this as well as I only counted Turay as playing defensive end on 6 run plays against the Eagles and Redskins.
This first clip shows my concerns with his strength right here. Number 81— WR Jordan Matthews— is able to completely take Turay out of this play just by getting his hands on him. Ideally you’d like to see your defensive end work up field and get a piece of the pulling tackle so the cornerback can make the tackle. As a result, the tackle is able to block Desir and the run gets an extra 5-10 yards.
Now this next play is a tough one for Turay. His natural reaction at the snap is to attack up field like he’s rushing the passer. Unfortunately when you are facing the best left tackle in all of football, he’s going to make you pay for that false step. Williams is able to simply toss Turay 5 yards into the backfield with just his right arm leaving a huge cutback lane for Adrian Peterson. Luckily the rest of the defense was there to make the play.
This next one is another example of Turay giving up the cutback lane. He crashes down the line on the zone read like he’s supposed to but is unable to hold up at the point of attack against guard Zach Fulton. I really think that if Turay is able to put on a little bit of weight and add some strength he can be an every down defensive end. Until he proves that he can hold up in run defense though, his role will always be as sub pass rusher— which is not a bad thing by any means.
Robert Mathis influence: Spin move?
Now this next part is something pretty cool that I noticed when watching film. It’s no secret that Turay has been attempting to learn everything he can from future Hall of Famer and Colts’ legend Robert Mathis. According to Zak Keefer of Indy Star Sports, Turay “has been watching film one-on-one with pass-rushing guru Robert Mathis throughout camp, sometimes twice a day, sometimes as early as 5:45 a.m.” I think a lot of that film work is resulting in Turay trying out some new pass rushing moves on the field. One that I particularly noticed Turay attempting is the signature move of Mathis’ old running mate Dwight Freeney— the spin move. Let’s see how Turay has fared with this new weapon in his arsenal so far.
The first clip here Turay does an excellent job of swatting Trent Williams’ hands to create separation. He then engages Williams and goes for the spin move. Although it is a little late and he’s a bit too high when he tries it, he still nearly gets to Alex Smith on this play. Obviously a work in progress still but it nearly results in a sack.
Here we see the same move just two weeks later again almost result in a sack. The vast improvement on this play from the last one is that this time the spin was used in his plan of attack rather than as a last ditch effort. Here Turay initiates the bull rush in order to counter with the spin. Already noticeable improvement. Although its not near the level of Dwight Freeney, obviously, I expect this move to develop over the course of the season and result in a highlight reel sack or two.
Bonus play: Effort is key
Last bit of film I want to highlight here but it’s so important for young players to have great effort. Most young players have trouble adjusting to the NFL because they can’t just physically overpower players anymore. It is key for young players to show plus effort while they develop so that effort translates when they are able to elevate their play with experience. Turay shows great effort each and every play and this clip displays it perfectly.
In this rep, Turay is stunting inside on the pass rush. He quickly notices that he isn’t going to get to the QB so he instantly gets his hands up and in the passing lane— something I raved about earlier in this piece and will continue to praise— causing Alex Smith to roll out of the pocket. Turay then races out to the sidelines after Smith, forcing him to step out of bounds. It may not look like much but these effort plays are just so important for his development. Its one of my biggest takeaways from his film review.
Overall, Turay has all the makings to be a premier pass rusher in this league. He is way further along in development than I could’ve ever imagined him being at this point— which seems to be a common trend in this draft class. His bend and athleticism were known coming in but the work he has done in refining his skills as a pass rusher particularly when it comes to his hand usage is blowing me away.
Now he could still improve as a run defender but for the role he plays in this defense its not a necessity. Obviously over time the Colts would like to see him become more well rounded but right now he is perfectly suited in that third down pass rusher role. In a league that is pass dominant at the moment, that ability is very coveted.
I think we will continue to see steady improvement from Turay like we have seen all season to this point. He has the ability and has shown the work ethic to become a very good pass rusher in this league. All that’s left is putting it all together and putting up big numbers. I think he has shown so far to this point that he can hit that potential.