The New York Giants may be in the cornerback market as early as day one of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Giants could also go in several other directions; they could select a wide receiver, a center, or they could possibly trade back and accumulate more assets. The top-tier cornerbacks may not be available to the Giants at pick No. 25, but the perceived second tier has plenty of enticing options.
Two of the options are Kansas State’s Julius Brents and Michigan’s DJ Turner II. The prospects couldn’t be more different. Brents is a long, physical cornerback with exceptional athletic ability for his size but may lack long speed. Turner is a fluid, small cornerback with elite speed, but play strength was an issue on his tape.
I see value in both players, but I don’t have first-round grades on either. However, the Giants may be choosing between the two at some point. Let’s start with Brents.
Players with this build NEVER have these types of agility drills. Brents is a high-cut long cornerback who tested in an elite manner while moving laterally. The 23-year-old played in 46 career games spanning five seasons, with 32 starts between Iowa and Kansas State. Brents missed the 2019 season with a knee injury; he played 105 snaps in the COVID-shortened season of 2020 before entering the transfer portal to leave Iowa for Kansas State.
Julius Brents recorded 83 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, 30 STOPs, 5 interceptions, 5 passes defended, and a forced fumble through his two seasons at Kansas State. He only allowed a 46.2% catch rate in 2022. His coverage and press ability were some reasons why he earned First-Team All-Big-12. Here’s my synopsis:
Julius Brents is a physical cornerback with rare 99th percentile length and height for the position. His aggressive mentality and ability to switch zone-coverage responsibilities in a prompt manner helped Kansas State create turnovers in 2022. He’s smart, tough, and dependable as a player, who also has press upside.
Unfortunately, concerns about Brents’ vertical speed to carry faster wide receivers are valid. He’s not a complete stiff, but some of his transitions could use WD-40 - it’s not always smooth. He won’t be lost playing man coverage, but his ideal fit is likely as a zone defender. Love his tackling mentality, but can get wild and doesn’t consistently drive his feet into contact - has to wrap up more.
There could be a discussion about moving him to safety because of his aggressive nature to fill in run support and his unique size. His instincts in zone coverage suggest he could handle that from a processing standpoint, but that still remains to be seen. I like Brents’ skill set a lot, but his recovery speed and lack of ball production are concerns.
Brents could be the Jimmy Smith for Wink Martindale’s defense. Brents’ sheer length forces quarterbacks to be much more precise with touch when throwing the football, as long as Brents can stay in phase. There are some plays on tape where he lost balance and failed to maintain the necessary body presence to effectively blanket receivers in man coverage.
Still, Brents did a good enough job when tasked with man, press, or press bail, and he was decisive as a zone defender. Pairing Brents with a cornerback coach like Jerome Henderson could unlock the potential that would make Brents an immediate impact player.
DJ Turner II
The 22-year-old Michigan product is a completely different player than Julius Brents:
Turner plays fast, and he possesses rare redirection skills and fluidity. Turner II redshirt his freshman year after battling through a leg strain. He didn’t see much action until his RS-Sophomore season where he played 620 productive snaps before playing in 746 in his last season on campus. Turner II earned All-Big-10 honors in both years he started. Turner II finished his college career with three interceptions and 20 passes defended - 11 in 2022.
Turner II turned heads at the 2023 Scouting Combine after running a 4:26 40-yard dash. That speed wasn’t a surprise on tape, and it was on display while tracking down Penn State QB on a draw play, where Turner II displayed his hustle to chase the opposing runner down. Turner II is an impressive athlete who is undersized and will struggle with the physical nature of the game, but he is aggressive at the catch point and will do well in coverage. Here is my synopsis:
DJ Turner II is an excellent athlete who takes his craft seriously. He seems like a film junkie because his ability to anticipate route concepts and react accordingly led to several big plays for the Michigan defense. He only had three career interceptions, but it could have been more if he secured certain throws that he timed up well.
Turner II will be successful in a man or zone coverage scheme. He played outside, but his lack of size and physicality may lead some teams to plug him in as a slot cornerback. I appreciate his overall athletic profile, his ability to recover, his stickiness in man, and how he uses his eyes in zone coverage. The physicality issue is hard to ignore, and his length is problematic, but his coverage is certainly a plus which may land him as a day two pick in the draft.
It’s easy to see him translating to Martindale’s scheme based on his coverage ability. Turner II is a very fluid smooth moving player who sticks on receivers in man coverage. Although he played outside frequently at Michigan, his home is likely in the slot in the NFL, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Offenses employ 11 personnel with three wide receivers on the field often; this forces defenses into sub-packages where the nickel defender is playing significant snaps - Turner II would still have a huge impact if he were to defeat Darnay Holmes for slot duties, and he would be an upgrade.
Turner II struggled with more physical receivers; it’s not due to a tentative nature, but he’s undersized and has a thin frame. He was getting pushed around against Rutgers, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Maryland; subtle pushes by wide receivers at the top of breaks (on vertical plane or horizontal) froze him for a split second to allow receivers to create separation. He doesn’t play through contact up the receiver’s route stems well, and that would be exploited at the next level if Turner II aligned outside.
I wish Turner II handled contact better and Brents’ lack of vertical speed could be a problem at the next level. Neither of these players is my first realistic choice at pick No. 25. I would prefer Emmanuel Forbes from Mississippi State, and that is considered a reach by many. Still, a player of Brents’ size, physicality, length, and smarts certainly has me intrigued, especially if Martindale and Schoen believe the lack of top-end speed is still functional.
Turner II might be the better fit for Martindale’s man coverage - blitz-heavy - scheme. I have Turner II slightly higher on my board, so I’m going with Turner II even though he may best slide into Martindale’s scheme as a nickel defender.
I love the idea of the Kansas State cornerback, and I have a constant inner dialogue with myself asking - Are we overthinking Julius Brents? There are few - if any - 6-foot-3 cornerbacks with 34-inch arms that tested in an elite manner as explosive and change-of-direction athletes. I like the idea of him a lot, but I’ll stick to my board and take a player who fits the system very well in Turner II.