2021 NFL draft prospects: Houston EDGE Payton Turner

Eric Edholm
·3-min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Houston EDGE Payton Turner

6-foot-5, 270 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.74 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Long, agile, fascinating edge prospect whose best football came out during abbreviated 2020 season

Games watched: Oklahoma (2019), Tulane (2020), BYU (2020), UCF (2020)

The skinny: A knee injury during his senior season of high school limited Turner’s recruiting options, so the 2-star Rivals recruit committed to Houston, the biggest program that offered him. Turner played as a true freshman in 2017, notching 14 tackles (two for losses) and an interception in 11 games. He started all 11 games in 2018 and 12 more in 2019, logging a combined 12 tackles for loss, four sacks and a blocked field goal. Turner then had a breakout season in 2020, despite playing only five games (missing two contests with foot and knee injuries), collecting 10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, one forced fumble and another blocked field goal. He played in the 2021 Senior Bowl.

Upside: Outstanding length — 35-inch arms and big hands (10 1/4 inches). Broad shoulders and nicely developed frame. Desired athletic traits for playing on the edge — great mix of power and quickness.

Uses his powerful punch to shock defenders and gain a shorter path to the ball. Good hand fighter who savors mixing it up in the trenches. Displayed good pass rush and run-defending skills in 2020 — a higher level of performance not seen previously on tape.

Terrific effort most snaps. Rallies in pursuit and makes tackles downfield. Plays through the whistle and takes on all comers. Rarely seen taking snaps off. Motor ran hot even in warmer conditions and at the end of a few 60-snap games.

Not a pure edge rusher from his “Bandit” role but can bend surprisingly well when it’s called for. Can line up inside and out — multiple-technique performer. Flashes nice long-arm and rip rush moves. Ideal third-down interior rusher.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - SEPTEMBER 19: Payton Turner #98 of the Houston Cougars celebrates a tackle during the first half of a game against the Tulane Green Wave at Yulman Stadium on September 19, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Houston EDGE Payton Turner didn't break out until the 2020 season but carries fascinating upside as a prospect. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Downside: Lacks great football experience. Turner missed his senior season of high school football and was only a two-year regular contributor in college. Might not be instant coffee in the NFL and could use a patient DL coach to coax the best out of him. Lacks ideal processing skills — can do a better job of spotting the ball, reading keys and beating blockers to their spots.

Needs a better rush plan as Turner repeats moves and could stand to vary his approach. Dominated against lesser talent and was quieter against better competition. Limited success in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl, mostly rushing from the interior (partly because of a lack of interior players on his team’s roster).

Off balance too much. Plays too often with high pad level — pops up out of his stance and gives blockers a bigger target. Doesn’t always get off cleanly and will waste movement. Struggles to defeat double teams — loses leverage and tries to hand fight his way through them. High-cut and could stand to add lower-body strength.

Best-suited destination: Turner’s versatility is appealing, but he might fit best as a base end in a 4-3 scheme or as a 5-technique in an odd front. Ideally, he’ll be given time to develop and gain strength and understanding of an NFL system. In time, he looks to be a future starter.

Did you know: Turner arrived on campus as a freshman as a 6-foot-5, 215-pound athlete. His weight ballooned to a reported 290 before settling back at his senior weight of 270.

Player comp: A similar player to 2017 fourth-rounder Deatrich Wise Jr.

Expected draft range: Rounds 2 or 3