Chris Ballard loves Senior Bowl players and he hasn’t kept that a secret over the years. In the last three years, Ballard has spent 11 of his 30 draft picks on Senior Bowl players and that list includes standout players such as Michael Pittman Jr., Khari Willis, and Darius Leonard.
With that in mind, this week is one of the most important for the Colts’ franchise every year. To help you all take a look at some of the players that might interest the Colts this week, I will release profile articles featuring quotes and background for a few of the players participating.
Since I am covering the game virtually this year, the Senior Bowl media team is supposed to be granting access to some player interviews in the evening but while I wait for confirmation on those, I figured we could start with Houston DE Payton Turner. Turner was a standout this year for the Cougars and I was lucky enough to sit down for an interview with him before he went down to Mobile. So let’s take a look into this impressive player’s game.
Turner is a former two-star recruit who likely fell a bit in rankings due to an injury that forced him to miss most of his senior year of high school. After entering the school at a listed weight of 6’5” 217 pounds, per 247sports, he was asked to transition to the 4i position during his Freshman and Sophomore seasons which is essentially a defensive tackle position. To prepare for that role, he bumped his weight up to around 290 pounds. In those two seasons, he appeared in 19 games and totaled 56 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, and 1 sack.
As a junior, he moved around a bit more and improved on his first two seasons as he finished the year with 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 3.5 sacks in 12 games. The true breakout however came as a Senior when he dropped back down to around 270 pounds, moved to more of an edge player, and hit career highs of 10.5 tackles for a loss and 5 sacks in just five games played.
I talked to him briefly about how he was able to fluctuate his weight so quickly and how particularly he was able to drop from 290 pounds to 270 in the span of one offseason.
“It’s hard to move consistently on the end with that weight so I started eating a bit better and working out a lot more. I got a trainer in Donovan Young and worked out with a couple of NFL guys but mostly I was pretty consistent with working out two-a-days to drop the weight.”
For his breakout season in 2020, Turner was awarded All-AAC Second Team Honors.
Versatility to play inside and out
“I like rushing on the outside, you know, edge rushing is more fun in some aspects but when you rush from the inside... they aren’t offensive tackles for a reason. You get to line up against a guy who may not be as athletic but it’s just different worlds and I like being able to jump between both.”
As I mentioned above, Turner lined up all across the line in his college career. He primarily played 4i as a freshman and sophomore then played a bit more of a hybrid, Denico Autry like role as a junior. Even when a new staff came in during his senior season and transitioned him to more of an edge, they still recognized the benefits of moving him around the defensive line.
This versatility is huge for what the Colts want out of their defensive linemen and the role he played this past year is very similar to how they used Autry and Tyquan Lewis this past year. This type of inside-out versatility is something that the Colts will love come draft time.
Houston DE Payton Turner (@pt_turner98) was amazing against BYU. Got pressure off the edge against a fantastic offensive line. Can move inside to 3-Tech too on passing downs. Here he pancakes the OG up the middle. Payton is versatile, long, and an impact player. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/PkbC1CFauy— Jack Borowsky (@Jack_Borowsky) November 30, 2020
Power and Length
Turner came into the Senior Bowl week as one of the bigger edge rushers invited but again, that is mainly due to his ability to play inside and out. What would be big for him is his arm length because having longer arms would help him set up what he wants to do at the next level. His arms came in at 35” which was the second-longest among all defensive ends. His wingspan of 84” is also in the 99th percentile for defensive ends all time and he has the reach of an average person who is 7 foot tall.
“I think I can get a lot of offensive linemen worried about my power rush because I am a bigger player in general and it is certainly something I use to set up other moves. Power is always a good thing to have to collapse the pocket.”
Good GOD. Talk about a serious pass rush arsenal— Cyril Penn IV (@cyrilpenn4) December 3, 2020
Pass rush moves ive seen Payton Turner use against Tulane:
Straight bull rush
Outside swim move
Dip and rip from the speed rush
Chop and rip
Inside spin pic.twitter.com/U6ar1nuCSK
For a player of his size, Turner is a surprisingly bendy and nimble athlete off the edge. He doesn’t possess the bend of Kemoko Turay or anything but he can transition around the corner better than most players and I actually asked him about how he is able to turn the way he does around the corner after hitting a speed rush or dip and rip:
“A lot of my work was on ankle and ankle flexibility work. Just working on that range of motion so I could turn that corner and flatten out. It was something I had to work on with drill work, stretching, and repetition of bending around the edge are some of the things I really got into.”
Red Hot Motor
One of the biggest traits that I see the Colts falling in love with is Turner’s tireless motor on the field. We have all heard the stories about how Matt Eberflus grades Colts’ defenders each game on their “loafs” and if you get too many in any game or practice then there will be consequences in terms of playing time. This wouldn’t be an issue with Turner as I charted dozens of plays over his career where he would turn and run down screen plays and draws sometimes 20 yards down the field.
“Yeah, I think every coaching staff is preaching about effort. Our coaches preach effort and running to the ball even for defensive linemen. ‘Death from behind’ is something we hear a lot (laughs). Four of the 11 guys on the field are defensive linemen so you gotta be able to run some.”
My first draft crush of the season, Houston DL Payton Turner (#98). High effort player who can play any position across the defensive line. Flashes really good hands even though he could still use refinement as a pass rusher. Excited to see him in Mobile. pic.twitter.com/h2AIy9240A— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) December 11, 2020
Final Thoughts and Round Projection
Overall I am a huge fan of Payton Turner and what he could bring to this Colts’ team. Not only could he fill the role that Denico Autry is potentially vacating this offseason but he could also fill in as a younger player with a high motor and a lot of explosiveness.
After talking with him for about half an hour prior to the Senior Bowl, it was easy to see how he could fit in the Colts’ locker room. He is a quiet and humble guy but also has a way about him to where you know he is eager to get out there and prove people wrong on the field. He reminds me a bit of Marvell Tell III when I interviewed him a day before the Colts drafted him back in 2019.
As far as where he could go in the draft, I think he’s locked in somewhere on the second day of the draft. His athleticism and size are hard to ignore and at worst I could see him as a mid-round three type of player. If he stands out some more in Mobile, that could easily climb to the second round. That may make it tough for the Colts to get him but if Ballard does his patented trade back or Turner falls to the late third, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this underrated defensive end in Indy next year.