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Colts rookie pass rusher Kemoko Turay has incredibly high ceiling

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Kemoko Turay had an inconsistent college career at Rutgers but was very efficient at creating pressure on the quarterback.

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NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports

With the biggest names at defensive end already off of the board when the Colts selected in the second round, Chris Ballard chose Rutgers edge rusher Kemoko Turay. It was no surprise to anyone who has completed any research that Turay would be selected relatively early in the draft — although I thought he projected more as a third round selection.

He is unlike the bigger names in the draft because he doesn’t boast the kind of sack production that others do and had an inconsistent college career. A shoulder injury that required two surgeries stripped him of the vast majority of his sophomore and junior seasons, and caused a major drop in his production when he did see the field. Before the injury, Turay had a monster redshirt freshman season tallying 24 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He also led the nation with three blocked kicks. He was named a freshman All American for his efforts.

Colts area Scout Mike Derice talked about what he saw in Turay:

One year of HS football, 19 sacks as a senior. Was a basketball player and track athlete. From Africa. Came to US in 2000. Really had limited experience. Had great freshman year at Rutgers as a DPR – designated pass-rusher. His sophomore and junior year he was in and out with injuries, never got a chance to see him develop. Senior year, didn’t show from a stat standpoint. (We still believe he has) traits that can translate to something special.

He’s not as raw as you think, at least I thought. What I thought was that Kemoko was a natural pass rusher, doesn’t have refined skill. The sack number is pretty low.

Turay closed out his senior season with 60 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss and another 3 sacks. The sack number is certainly low for a player who is selected to generate pressure on NFL quarterbacks but the tackle number is astoundingly high for a defensive end at any level. However, the raw numbers might not tell the whole story. Derice went into detail about how Indianapolis compared him with the other top pass rushing prospects in the draft:

What we did was look at all the top pass-rushers in this draft. (Bradley) Chubb, (Marcus) Davenport, (Harold) Landry. Compared them with Kemoko. The amount of times they rushed the passer, and the amount of times they affected the QB, whether by sack, hurries or hits. Kemoko rushed the passer – throughout his career, which was four years – half as many times as all the other guys. Everyone was around 1,000 rushes. Kemoko was like 550. The amount of times Kemoko hurried the QB was close to the guys who had 500 more rushes. Hits? Was more than the other guys. This is total number, not percentage, in regards to pressures.

By percentages, he topped all of them. He affected the game in more than one way. But he got to the quarterback. So if we can find a way to seal the deal, we may have found a guy who can become a very productive pass-rusher. So if you tie it all together with what you saw at the Senior Bowl, you just feel it. Sometimes you’re gonna feel it. Sometimes you do see the upside.

Compared side-by-side, it is impressive that Turay was so efficient. Taking into account that he had only one year of experience in high school as a backdrop, his production level is even more impressive. It is easy to understand why Derice and Ballard would feel that he has a ton of untapped potential and only a limited amount of coaching. With individual attention from pass rushing coach Robert Mathis, one can only imagine what the Colts could uncover.

For those who are curious about the raw numbers that Derice referenced when they evaluated Turay against his peers, he shared those figures with the media at the team press conference. Zak Keefer of the Indy Star shared those figures:

Total QB hits for his college career, Turay had 24, compared to 21 for Landry, 24 for Davenport and 33 for Chubb, who was taken fifth overall by Denver. Turay had far less sacks than the other three. In pressures, he had 110, compared with 138 for Landry, 144 for Chubb.

While there is certainly a difference between those players who can generate pressure and those who can land sacks and create negative plays, it isn’t like Ballard chose a completely raw prospect. There is technique work to be done, for sure, but he picked a player that was around the ball an awful lot and who was working primarily with his athleticism and limited coaching.

Pro Football Focus supports the observation regarding impressive production in limited opportunities:

On only 548 career rushes in four years (a season’s worth for some), Turay notched an incredible 16 sacks, 24 QB hits and 70 hurries.

NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein compared Turay to Jaguars pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue and had the following comments about him after spending a week at the Senior Bowl:

Explosive edge defender with the coveted traits of an NFL pass rusher. Turay is still behind on feel and skill in that area and will need to develop a go-to move and a workable counter to beat NFL tackles. However, his ability to chase and tackle could translate right away. Turay splashed at Senior Bowl practices and certainly helped his cause to go on day two of the draft.

After receiving a lot of attention and standing out as a productive nuisance off of the edge in Mobile, Turay had solidified himself into the upper echelon’s of all pass rushing prospects in this class. It probably helps that he was a part of a relatively weak group of pass rushers but Ballard got a player who could be in the top two or three of the entire draft in terms of ceiling as an edge rusher.


Turay was on My Colts Draft Day Wish List

In a relatively weak edge rusher draft, a player like Kemoko Turay could find himself coming off of the board earlier than he might in a stronger class. Similar to Davenport, Turay is a piece of clay who could be molded into a very good NFL edge rusher. Admittedly, he is not nearly as polished and does not have the collegiate production or resume that immediately support a positive projection.

This is a higher risk pick that will push Turay into the middle rounds but if the gamble pays off, a team could be handsomely rewarded.


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