Payton Turner NFL Draft Profile

University of Houston Defensive End Payton Smith. LAFB Network Graphic.
University of Houston Defensive End Payton Smith. LAFB Network Graphic.

Payton Turner NFL Draft Profile

We are at the point in the draft cycle where there are 30 players who are given the tag of “going to go earlier than you think” by draft analysts, that being said I do believe Houston’s Payton Turner is actually one of those players. What this edge rusher lacks in a true top dog prospect, makes up for in quality day two depth. This is a position of need for both the Chargers and the Rams, so Turner is someone to keep an eye on. 

Turner was a three-year starter for the Cougars and seemed to be playing the best ball of his career this past year before missing three games due to Covid. He only played five games in 2020 but totaled 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in those five games. 

His physical tools will make some defensive line coaches drool at his potential. He checked in at the Senior Bowl with a 6’5, 270-pound frame to go along with 35-inch arms and a whopping 84-inch wingspan – only two other edge rushers in this class have a longer wingspan. 

That being said, let’s dive into his full profile.

Payton Turner NFL Draft Profile

Top Three Player Traits


This one should have been obvious. There has been a lot of talk this offseason around the issue of length when it comes to this offensive tackle class, and really the lack thereof. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler is one of the best draft analysts in the business. Every year he compiles an extensive draft guide with background info and scouting reports on basically every single draft-eligible prospect – this year the guide goes up to 636 prospects.

One of the interesting things I noticed recently is that of his top 30 edge rushers, there are 13 prospects with arms reaching 34 inches or longer – including Turner. In contrast, there are only eight of his top 30 offensive tackles who meet that same threshold. At the end of the day you have to be able to know how to use your length to your advantage, but it is an interesting trend that this year’s edge rusher class is so significantly longer. 

Turner does know how to use his length to his advantage. I had the chance to interview him back in February and he told me then that he loves to use the long arm technique to keep opposing blockers at bay and then use his speed and power to get to the quarterback or ball carrier. Once he does shed blockers, his length affords him a much smaller margin for error in terms of finishing the job off with sacks or tackles for loss.


Something else that I noticed about Turner is his sheer will to make plays. There aren’t many edge rushers that will consistently turn and sprint down the field to chase down ball carries as much as he did. When I asked him about this he explained that in his first two seasons Houston was running a 3-3-5 scheme, which meant he was constantly getting double-teamed. This obviously didn’t afford him many opportunities to make a lot of splash plays, so he learned quickly that he would have to work twice as hard in order to get his due recognition. That carried over to his final two seasons when they played a more traditional defense that allowed him more opportunities in one on one situations. If you turn on the tape, you’ll see that Turner’s motor is always going, and that’s an important attribute because it directly translates to the NFL.


One of the other blessings of his experience with the 3-3-5 defensive scheme is that it gave him a lot of experience rushing against interior blockers. Houston also let him rush from a two-point stance in a wide nine technique quite often this year. So he’s able to rush from a variety of stances and positions. The only thing missing from his portfolio is the ability to drop back in coverage duties. 

That being said, he does have the power, speed, and explosiveness to rush from any spot on the line which will only help him once he officially gets to the NFL. Chargers fans watched for the last few years how Melvin Ingram would move across the line to seek out mismatches, so being able to see a prospect like Turner have that same kind of experience and versatility in college is very valuable for his evaluation. 

Top Three Traits To Improve Upon

Diversity As A Pass Rusher

Ah yes, the weekly staple. I think it’s fair to say that Turner wasn’t exactly getting the best coaching in the world at Houston, and as such he never really developed a diverse plan of attack as a pass rusher. Plan A was to use his length, plan B was to use his effort. That’s fine, and that works in college to a certain extent – especially in the American conference. However, he’ll need to develop a few more counters in order to become a well-rounded pass rusher. The good news is that he did show a few glimpses of being able to use a dip and rip or inside swim move, they just need to happen more frequently


Though he is a high-level athlete, he does play a little stiff. He’s not a player you’ll see try to speed rush very often because he doesn’t have the natural ability to really turn a corner around an offensive tackle. Some of this comes down to playing with a high pad level, so there is definitely some room for improvement. This undeveloped ability gives him a smaller window against NFL blockers and limits his options. It’s not the end of the world, but the more you can bring to the table as a pass rusher, the better your chance of success is.


This is kind of a cop-out, but the amount of injuries that Turner has dealt with is something that could concern some teams. He tore his ACL as a senior in high school, had a season-ending foot injury that required surgery in 2018, played with some broken fingers in 2019, and nearly wasn’t able to participate in the Senior Bowl due to a knee injury. Thankfully most of these injuries appear to be minor, and ACL tears aren’t as daunting as they once were. But I really hope that he is able to stay on the field more often.

It seems that Turner is a prospect on the rise, at least if you’ve been paying attention to mock drafts recently. I finished my grade on him before interviewing him and gave him a second-round grade back in February. He finished eighth in my edge rusher rankings, just behind Washington’s Joe Tryon and ahead of Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins, and Northern Iowa’s Ellerson Smith. While his injury history is a little concerning, I think he has an incredibly high ceiling due to his athletic profile. If he’s on the board for the Chargers at pick 47, I think he could be very tempting for someone like Brandon Staley. If he makes it to 57 for the Rams, he would be a great compliment to Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald.