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Hoops history helped Bama's Turner find gridiron glory

Feb. 28—INDIANAPOLIS — There was a time when it wasn't impossible to envision Dallas Turner preparing for the NBA Draft instead of a life in the NFL.

A high school hoops star in Florida, the standout Alabama edge rusher was an AAU teammate of Toronto Raptors star Scottie Barnes and even earned an invitation to a USA Basketball mini-camp.

"Just being around a lot of talented guys and stuff like that, it kind of set my head on what I wanted to do, how talented you have to be to get where you want to go," Turner said of his experience on the hardwood during his media availability at the NFL Scouting Combine on Wednesday.

He certainly put the lessons to good use.

Turner is the highest rated edge rusher in this year's NFL Draft class, and he could be the first defensive player selected in what is expected to be an offense-dominated first round in April.

He boasts freakish explosion, speed and bend and was able to maintain that high level of athleticism in 2023 while playing at a more sturdy 252 pounds.

His former Crimson Tide teammate, Will Anderson Jr., was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after recording seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss as part of the Houston Texans' surprising AFC South championship run, and there are some who believe Turner can make a similar impact at the next level.

He played opposite Anderson on Alabama's defensive line in 2022 and helped fill the void left by the All-American's departure on and off the field last season.

Turner set career highs with 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss for the Crimson Tide and was named a first-team All-American.

"Dallas has always been a good player for us," legendary Alabama head coach Nick Saban said at mid-season. "He's always a hard worker, a really conscientious guy, has a sort of high standard for how he wants to play and do things. He has played really well for us.

"This year, I think he has tried to take on a little bit more of a leadership role in terms of how he can impact and affect other people on the team, which I think he has done a good job of."

Turner's best fit likely is as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He played some safety in 7-on-7 camps as a high school star, and his ability to drop into pass coverage would be best utilized in the hybrid 3-4 front.

But a creative defensive coordinator could find unique ways to take advantage of Turner's athletic prowess.

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said a year ago Turner could draw comparisons to Dallas Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons — one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive talents.

And he hasn't cooled on Turner's potential, whom he sees as a top-10 pick.

"Dallas Turner had the kind of year that he needed to," Kiper said on ESPN's "First Draft" show. "Will Anderson Jr. moves on. Who is going to be the guy? Can (Turner) be the guy? And he was. ... This year he took his game to a new level."

If there's a concern with Turner, it might be his aggressiveness.

He was flagged for roughing the passer on a controversial hit against LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels during the Crimson Tide's win in November, with some national pundits opining he should have also been called for targeting.

It's an example of the fine line every defender must navigate as they attempt to play as violently as possible without hurting their team.

"That's just how I play," Turner said of his physicality. "I don't intend to be dirty or nothing like that with my hits. I just play between the whistles, and I just play (at) 100%."

As many as four quarterbacks could go in the top 10, and wide receiver and offensive tackle also are positions expected to dominate the early stages of the draft.

That means someone could land a steal if Turner is able to translate his obvious physical gifts to success at the NFL level.

"Probably my athletic ability, my explosiveness, just my versatility as far as being able to play off the ball and being able to play on the ball as well," Turner said of what makes him the best pass-rush prospect in this class. "It's just many things that make me into the player I am today."