All eyes on Saints first round pick Payton Turner in Week 2

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The New Orleans Saints perplexed a lot of fans when they selected Payton Turner in the first round of this year’s NFL draft. That confusion wasn’t helped by a two-week absence in training camp while he recovered from a minor injury, limiting fans’ exposure to the highest-drafted rookie in 2021. Turner was held out of both Saints preseason games and, after returning to full participation in practice, their Week 1 opener.

With five players available and four spots to fill, the coaches elected to give Turner another week of practice to get back up to speed before sending him into a game. But a lot can change in a week.

Starting defensive end Marcus Davenport is on injured reserve for at least the next three weeks, and his backup Tanoh Kpassagnon is questionable to play with a calf injury. That opens the door for Turner to immediately see a lot of snaps in the rotation with Cameron Jordan and pass-rush specialist Carl Granderson, plus Kpassagnon, if he plays.

So what can we expect from Turner? Few players benefited more than him once the pads came on in training camp, with his physicality popping off right away. Unlike Davenport, he came out of college already able to play from a three-point stance with his hand in the dirt. He’s every inch the athlete Davenport is, and brings greater flexibility in turning the corner to get around blockers’ outstretched arms.

It remains to be seen if he’s as agile as Davenport in moving laterally to contain runners on stretch plays, so that’s something Carolina may choose to test him. As fate would have it, Turner’s first matchup comes against Christian McCaffrey, maybe the best stretch runner in the NFL.

Obviously he’ll have his rookie moments. But there’s reason to think the learning curve won’t be quite as severe for Turner as it has been for Davenport. Let’s just see how he performs in his first exposure to the NFL before worrying about how he can improve next, though.

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