There are few positions on the football field more difficult to play than cornerback. Not only do corners need to have a very good understanding of the defensive scheme and play, but they also need to have a pretty good idea of what the offense is doing.
Oh, and it certainly has the highest athletic premium of any position as well.
It’s little wonder why teams that favor aggressive defense prize corners with the ability to play man coverage so highly.
Michigan cornerback DJ Turner II won’t be the first cornerback off the board in April’s draft. However, he put the NFL on notice that he certainly has the wheels to play the position at a high level in the NFL. Turner’s tape shows a player with effortless athleticism and the ability to stick with receivers throughout their routes. His combine performance likely sent scouts back to that tape and coaches to imagining the possibilities.
The New York Giants showed heavy interest in the cornerback position in the 2022 NFL Draft, and Win Martindale’s defense could use a player with Turner’s skills. But just how highly could they value him?
Prospect: DJ Turner II (5)
Games Watched: vs. Maryland (2022), vs. Penn State (2022), vs. Ohio State (2022), vs. TCU (2022)
Games Played: 27
Tackles For a loss: 2.0
Passes defensed: 17
Games Played: 14
Tackles For a loss: 1.0
Passes defensed: 10
Best: Athleticism, long speed, fluidity, man coverage, disruptiveness
Worst: Mass, play strength, run defense
Projection: A starting cornerback in a man coverage scheme
(Turner is Michigan CB number 5)
Michigan cornerback D.J. Turner has an exceptional blend of speed and fluidity to play the position at the NFL level.
Turner is a lean and competitive cornerback with truly elite speed, as evidenced by his 4.26 second 40-yard dash. He also has an explosive lower body, fluid hips, and quick feet. Turner primarily played the outside cornerback position in Michigan’s defense, though he did move inside if the opposing personnel packages and alignment demanded it. He typically played in an off-man coverage which allowed him to use his explosive burst to close down underneath plays as well as be patient with intermediate or deep routes.
Turner has very quick feet, allowing him to click-and-close at the top of routes to drive down on underneath plays with little wasted motion. He also has a very good closing burst, which he uses to slam receiving windows shut from off-coverage. Turner has the hip fluidity to stay with most receivers throughout their routes and is a sticky coverage player. His raw speed allows him to carry almost any receiver on vertical routes, as well as run down breakaway ball carriers from behind. Turner is willing to be physical at the catch point and does a good job of playing receivers’ hands to come up with the pass defensed.
He also has solid communication skills in zone coverage, communicating well with his teammates to prevent coverage breakdowns. Turner has solid awareness in off or zone coverage, keeping one eye in the backfield and he offers a quick trigger when playing downhill. He’s a willing run defender who’s able to hold blocks on the perimeter, offers solid effort in pursuit, and doesn’t seem to make “business decisions”.
That said, Turner’s slight frame is a limiting factor, particularly in his run defense. He can struggle to shed blockers, and is a dag-down tackler which leads to yards after contact. He’s generally able to be physical with most receivers, but particularly big receivers can overpower him if he tries to jam at the snap, or at the catch point.
Turner can also show some slight hesitation or uncertainty if he doesn’t immediately have anyone to cover in zone coverage. Likewise, he can also appear a bit lost on the field if a route concept forces him to detach from his receiver in man coverage. It can occasionally take him a second or two to find his bearings in space and reattach to the receiver.
Overall Grade: 7.0
Michigan cornerback DJ Turner projects as a starting cornerback at the NFL level.
He offers an incredibly tantalizing athletic upside and will immediately be one of the most athletic cornerbacks – or players at any position – in the NFL upon entering the league. His raw speed, quickness, and fluidity give him a relatively large margin for error, and the ability to recover if he makes a mistake. It also allows him to be much more disruptive at the catch point than his size and frame would suggest.
Turner wasn’t a ballhawk in college, and part of that was due to quarterbacks avoiding his side of the field. That said, he was also very dangerous when he did get the ball in his hands, and two of the four times he did get the ball in his hands resulted in defensive touchdowns (one interception and one fumble recovery).
Turner appears much more comfortable in man coverage – or using coverage rules that turn zone coverage into man coverage. He has solid discipline and communication skills, but man coverage allows him to lean on his strengths as an athlete. He’s able to get in receivers’ hip pockets and stay there throughout the route.
DJ Turner won’t be for every defense. Teams that primarily play zone coverage or want big, physical cornerbacks might move him down their draft boards despite his athletic upside. However, teams that value man coverage (even if off-man) and want to add speed to their defense could consider taking him very early on day two, or even later in the first round.