The NFL Draft is an exciting time for me.
And while Thursday night’s draft seemed a little … well …. BIG to me .. as in socially-distanced, is this an NFL Draft or a WWE wrestling extravaganza kind of big? … But I was still pretty excited waiting to hear who the pick would be as the New Orleans Saints were on the clock.
I could feel the anticipation — the electric atmosphere — building as I waited for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step up to the podium. I could hear the chants and cheers of the Who Dat Nation building in my head, threatening to drown out all other thoughts.
Then came the announcement of the selection of Payton Turner, a defensive end out of Houston. And suddenly, that thunderous roar in my head turned into crickets — the slow but steady drone of an army of chirping crickets.
Who Dat? … Notice the question mark … not Who Dat!, but Who Dat? instead.
Over the next few minutes, as my thumbs flew across my cell phone screen, I learned more about this stunning and unexpected draft choice named Payton Turner.
I’ve believed in Saints’ general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton before, and I still do. The Saints have made some surprisingly successful picks in recent years. But I can’t help but wonder if Las Vegas had any kind of bet on Turner being drafted in the first round among the wagers they offered.
Crickets — just the slow but steady drone of an army of chirping crickets.
Cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver, another tight end or offensive lineman, and maybe even quarterback were seen as more glaring needs for the Saints heading into the draft. The Saints even exercised their fifth-year option on DE Marcus Davenport on Thursday. Who saw the pick of a relatively unknown pass-rushing specialist coming?
Not most of us Who Dats.
The Saints picking a defensive lineman didn’t surprise me. I texted a friend moments before the pick was announced saying that if I were making the selection I might go after defensive tackle Christian Barmore from Alabama at that point. But who is Payton Turner?
But as I studied, I began to realize that Turner is the prototype kind of pass rusher Loomis and Payton are known to love — long, rangy guys with high-end motors, much like Saints defensive ends Cameron Jordan and Davenport. Turner is a 6-foot-6, 270 pounder who explodes off the line, swimming past attempted blocks and steamrolling toward opposing quarterbacks.
Well, at least we know who will replace departed Saints DE Trey Hendrickson, one of the NFL’s sacks leaders during the 2020 season.
Turner recorded 25 tackles (10.5 behind the line of scrimmage), and five sacks in only five games played for the Cougars last season. He missed two games due to injury.
His 84-inch wingspan is reportedly the largest measured for an EDGE pass-rusher since 1999. He was timed at 4.25 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, registered a 35.5-inch vertical leap, and put up 23 reps on the 225-pound bench press, but did not run the 40 during Pro Day workouts.
Turner’s 3-cone drill time of 6.70 seconds ranked in the 99th percentile of historical NFL defensive ends, according to the Saints.
The Saints have taken risks on previously injured players in the past, so rolling the dice on Turner shouldn’t have been that big a surprise. In fact, not being surprised would have probably been more shocking considering the Saints’ recent draft history, which has worked pretty well for the Who Dat Nation, but the way.
So I’m just going to keep right on believing in Loomis and Payton. And hoping that the crickets chirping in my head eventually turn into the chants and cheers of the Who Dat Nation.