Who Dat?! Seriously though, who did we just draft?
When the Cleveland Browns were on the clock with the 26th pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the board was looking good for the Saints.
Greg Newsome II, the cornerback from Northwestern, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (“JOK”), the linebacker from Notre Dame, were still available. Elijah Moore, the diminutive but explosive WR from Ole Miss – who had been linked to the Saints in a draft day rumor – was also still there. The Saints were guaranteed one of these players.
When the Browns picked Newsome, I got a little nervous. The team needs another corner badly, but JOK was projected to go as high as the top 15 and surely would fill the hole next to Demario Davis left by the release of Kwon Alexander. If the Ravens passed on him at 27, JOK would make an excellent consolation prize for staying put at 28.
But as the Ravens chose Minnesota wideout Rashod Bateman, a feeling of dread washed over me. When was the last time Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Jeff Ireland drafted the way everyone else (read: the fanbase and Saints Twitter) expected?
Sure enough, the Saints selected Houston defensive end Payton Turner. In the moment, I was furious. I could feel the blood rushing to my ears. For once, I had no words. I’d never heard of this guy. I’m a semi-professional blogger/writer-person who is more dialed in than most, and I’d never heard of him.
What were the Saints thinking?
Some draftniks had Turner pegged as a third or fourth round pick. Was this the biggest first-round reach of the Payton era? Will the team regret this pick if and when new Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts torches whoever the team fields next to Davis?
Couldn’t they have gotten this guy later? Where’s the value?
Turns out that the pick wasn’t as far out of left field as one might imagine. Earlier in the day, Adam Schefter reported that Turner was creeping up draft boards and could go in the first due to his measurables and reputation as a high-character guy.
In a year during which the scouting process was marred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Saints valued someone with off-the-charts athletic ability, a likeable personality and leadership qualities. It’s no secret that the Saints value players who fit certain physical prototypes, and at 6-6 and 270 pounds with a wingspan of nearly seven feet, Turner fits right in.
And he was productive – in his final season at Houston, Turner recorded 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in just five games.
JOK, on the other hand, does not fit the prototype. At 6’1 and 216 pounds, he’s small enough to play safety. As he tumbled down the board Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder, is Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah hiding some deep, dark secret? Did he kill a puppy or something?
The likely scenario is that all of the teams picking in the first round were unsure of his ability to play linebacker in the NFL because of his size. Maybe, if he gains too much weight, he will become slower and less durable. Teams will surely feel more comfortable gambling with a second or third round pick on someone who might be a safety-linebacker ‘tweener.
While many members of the media and fans are rightfully perplexed by the selection of Payton Turner, it’s important to keep in mind that we should all be rooting for his success. After watching his media call after the draft, it was easy to see why the Saints brass became so enamored with his personality. Turner came across as a smart, motivated, football-loving, likable guy who’s ready to compete.
Also, it’s not like defensive line wasn’t a need. Marcus Davenport hasn’t been able to stay on the field, Cam Jordan had a down year in 2020 and Trey Hendrickson and Sheldon Rankins left in free agency. Turner may not be a day one starter, but he will be expected to play and make an impact.
The more I read about Turner, the more I like the pick. If he blossoms into a force for the next 10 years or so, none of the knee-jerk draft day reactions will mean anything.