Before the 2021 NFL Draft, I wrote against New Orleans Saints fans, becoming shocked and dismayed if the team selected an offensive or defensive lineman. The New Orleans' brass and Sean Payton's model has been used to build a winning franchise along the line of scrimmage.
Besides the initial reaction of many NFL analysts, media, and fans, the New Orleans Saints selection of Payton Turner is not altogether shocking.
Sean Payton expressed excitement Turner will become a part of the defensive end rotation with Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, Carl Granderson, Christian Ringo, and Noah Spence. "He'll play and earn those reps his first year. I think we've always done a really good job at developing a rotation and working with typically a good gameday number of eight (defensive linemen) usually. So we'll have a clear vision for his role," said Payton to the media.
On Wednesday, Mickey Loomis dropped the breadcrumb and shared how the team includes Payton's prototype vision in selecting players. "I think we're always looking for prototype. That's kind of been one of our underlying premises the entire time that I've been here. Particularly with Sean, it is we're looking for prototype, we're not looking for exceptions in general," remarked Loomis in his pre-draft press conference.
Payton brought clarity to the Turner selection when he stated, "he has a lot of things, a lot of traits that we value. He was a high-energy player, his prototype, his size. We really had this player as someone that you couldn't help but notice, the makeup was good."
Coaches and NFL talent evaluators would say, "you can't teach size and speed." SNN Mike Detillier wrote in his 2021 NFL Draft Report that "he has good track down skills and instincts to find the football quickly. For a big man, Turner gives great effort, and watching the film, that element doesn't change throughout the game." All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan has the same motor for the Saints. Last season was an anomaly for Jordan as he recorded 7.5 sacks which were half his 2019 total of 15.5 sacks.
Trey Hendrickson took his 13.5 sacks in 2020 to the Bengals. His departure in free agency left New Orleans desiring another edge rusher to affect the quarterback in this passing league. "Look, there will be more than three defensive ends. These guys, if they have the traits that we feel like they have, we have more depth, and we feel like it's like, look, it's a passing game. And we feel like it's an important position."
The No. 1 pick told media, "I played D-tackle, and I think it really helped me just being more physical on the edge when I did transition to the edge, and obviously, there were things I needed to learn. I think I improved a lot and then kind of showed what I could do my senior season in this past year 2020, even though there were a couple of bumps in the road, but I think I showed a glimpse of what I can do with just one offseason learning the position." New Orleans defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen will have a young, long, athletic, and semi-raw talent to mold. There is plenty of upside for Turner with the Saints.
The young defensive end was an American Athletic All-Conference second-team player in 2020. In the COVID-19 short five-game season, Turner recorded 25 tackles (17 solo), 10.5 stops for loss, five sacks for a loss of 33 yards, and one forced fumble.
The pressure and expectations will be high for Turner. Cam Jordan, 31, will enter his 11th season and mentor Turner just as he has done with Davenport and Hendrickson. Will Turner become the long-awaited "missing piece" to the Saints' edge-rushing puzzle complementing Jordan?
We shall see.