The New Orleans Saints selected Payton Turner with the 28th overall pick in the 2021 draft. Most of Who Dat Nation found this pick to be puzzling, as they were rumored to be seeking a starting cornerback opposite Marshon Lattimore. I don’t find this pick surprising, nor do I believe it’s concerning.
The Saints came into the offseason with an attitude of maintaining a championship-level roster. They may have lost a few players in free agency, but they opted to heavily invest in the QB position after Brees retired while retaining a prime player in the secondary (Marcus Williams) — despite being dead last in the NFL in cap space. Headed into the draft, the Saints were rumored to be looking for a trade-up in the draft, despite holding the 28th pick. The Saints opted to select a highly talented edge player that they could “move around/play with” with vs reaching for a CB/WR. I believe that Turner was the right choice for the Saints and he will prove to be a long-lasting pass rusher for the Saints franchise.
Here are the main reasons why the Saints struck gold with Turner:
The Saints bread and butter was a 3-headed monster from the DE position
The Saints had arguably the best trio of defensive ends in the NFL last season: Cam Jordan, Marcus Davenport, and Trey Hendrickson. In particular, Hendrickson was the ignition to the machine – leading the team in sacks (12.5). Not only was Hendrickson dominant, but he allowed Jordan and Davenport to get rest — this ultimately helped the pass rush as a unit.
Now that the production of Hendrickson is gone, which was A LOT, they need to TRY and replace some of it. The Saints can’t rely on Davenport to be healthy, let alone take a massive step in production. So, they need another quality face in the QB chasing unit. Insert Payton Turner.
One of the things that’s fantastic about Turner is his versatility. The 6’6 260 DE has experience playing defensive tackle and that will allow Dennis Allen to get creative with Turner inside, while Davenport and Jordan are attacking off the edges.
Cameron Jordan is 31 and Marcus Davenport has underperformed: Long term DEs?
As stated above, the Saints boasted three prolific pass rushers in 2020. The alpha isn’t in a Saints uniform, but the other two remain on the roster. There are long term question marks with the talented starting DEs on the roster. Starting with Jordan, the former All-Pro posted his lowest sack total in 2020 (7.5) since 2016. His TFL count (11) was also his lowest tally since 2014. Jordan is a relentless player, but cracks are showing as father time catches up.
Marcus Davenport holds the biggest question mark at the DE position and the team. The 6’6 270 edge player that clocks a 4.5 40 time hasn’t lived up to his draft stature, to say the least. Davenport has clocked 12 sacks in three seasons to show for his name. He’s also had trouble staying on the field — Davenport has missed a whopping 11 games in three seasons for the Saints.
Turner provides lots of long-term potential to this unit that could easily be missing two more big-name DEs in the next two-three seasons. If Davenport does show his talent on a consistent basis and Turner unveils to be a great asset, then the Saints found themselves a monster pass-rushing duo for many years to come.