The NFL Draft provides every franchise with a chance to give their teams a fresh injection of youthful talent at all positions across the board. While much of the focus lies squarely on the household names, it is often the under the radar prospects that emerge in the middle and later rounds to provide that new squeeze of young talent with an added punch of value.
LSU's Trai Turner could very well be one of these prospects. A 6-3, 310 lb. 20 year-old with skills and upside, the former Bayou Bengal Guard surprised some when he declared himself eligible for the draft shortly after the Tiger's season came to an end in January. Since then, Turner has put in the work to position himself to be one of several interior linemen to hear his name called at some point between May 8-10 in New York.
Though not as polished as some of the more highly regarded, more experienced prospects amongst this year's crop of draft-eligible offensive linemen, Trai Turner got the ball rolling with a strong performance at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in February. Turner posted a sizzling (by offensive lineman standards, of course) 4.93 second 40 yard dash time, eclipsed only by Michigan's Taylor Lewan (4.87) and Auburn's Greg Robinson (4.92), both of whom are projected to be high first-round selections next month. While straight-line speed is far from a top measuring stick for offensive line prospects, it does help illustrate the athleticism that Turner possesses.
In addition to his strong showing in the forty at the combine, Turner threw down 25 reps on the bench press, while posting a 28 inch vertical jump. His arms measured out at 34 inches, with 9 1/2 inch hands. Only turning 21 in June, Turner has likely yet to reach his ceiling in terms of his physical development.
Following a strong prep career at St. Augustine High School, a traditional prep Football powerhouse in New Orleans, Turner decided to swap the Purple and Gold of the Knights for that of the LSU Tigers. He redshirted as an 18 year-old in 2011, but found himself seeing meaningful snaps the following year due to injuries and attrition along the Tigers' offensive line.Trai Turner blocks for LSU QB Anthony Jennings in the Capital One Bowl.
Trai Turner entered his redshirt freshman season as the Tigers' second-string Right Guard, while also playing on the PAT unit. He saw sparse action through the first few games before he was thrust into duty during the Tiger's game at Florida following an injury to starter Josh Williford. Turner had to mature quick, as he became the starter for the remainder of the season, with his first start coming against South Carolina in a battle of nationally ranked teams.
Turner developed nicely and quickly, going on to finish second on the team in knockdowns. He did not miss a single snap over the Tigers' final 5 games. He recorded 6 knockdowns on 84 snaps and helped pave the way for his teammates to rush for 139 yards on the ground against top-ranked Alabama in November. Turner's inclusion into the lineup coincided with the emergence of Running Back Jeremy Hill, who finished the year strong as one of the Southeastern Conference's better runners. LSU relied on their ground game heavily in 2012, and Turner played a big role as a road-grading Guard.
2013- Redshirt Sophomore
With new Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron on board, the Tigers garnered a much more balanced offensive attack, as Quarterback Zach Mettenberger thrived under the former Miami Dolphins Coach's tutelage. With receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. also reaping the benefits of Cameron's coaching and Mettenberger's live arm, the passing attack finally opened up, but the Tigers remained committed to establishing the run. Turner's development as a second-year starter was crucial, and the Tigers made the most of their newfound offensive potency, going on to shatter many records, including a new high mark of 37 rushing touchdowns.
Turner started every game for LSU in 2013, and went on to tally 64 knockdowns from 857 snaps. He saved his best act for last, recording 10 knockdowns against Iowa in the Tiger's Capital One Bowl victory over the Hawkeyes on New Year's Day. He showed strong durability as well, shaking off a lower-leg injury to start every game and appeared in every snap in the last four games of the season. Following his strong year, Turner was awarded with a spot on the Associated Press's 2nd team All-SEC selection. After two good years and 20 career starts in LSU's Purple and Gold, he declared for the draft shortly after the season came to an end.
Trai Turner uses his body frame to his advantage in the run game, demonstrating the ability and willingness to take on blockers and get to the second level, keeping in mind he was often engaged with fellow future NFLers in the strong SEC.
Turner uses his hands well, and has good feet. He knows how to use his body to keep defenders at bay, uses his strength to pile up knockdowns, while more than holding his own in pass protection against thoroughbred SEC defensive players. He has the agility to pull and seal defenders to open up the perimeter for his running back.
His overall agility is still coming along, as he can be beaten by quicker defensive linemen off the snap at times. Still developing into his body, which should help in that area. Still learning how to move his feet in pass protection, an area he improved upon throughout last season as LSU's passing game continued to develop and open up.
Needs work on his technique and balance, but still just 20 years old, has plenty of time to continue to develop. Very good upside for a young lineman, and should continue to improve across the board with a pro strength and conditioning program and good coaching to help negate such flaws. An additonal year at LSU could have done him well, but a new Quarterback with a likely shift towards a read option based scheme may have accelerated his decision to leave now, following his good production in Cameron's pro-style system.
Trai Turner could prove to be a valuable selection for a team in search of a young road-grader with upside and potential to evolve into a complete interior lineman down the road. He is no doubt still very much a work in progress, but most prospects are at this stage in their careers. Turner will benefit greatly from hands-on coaching at the next level, and could grow into a capable starter in the league should he continue his development and prosper into a better, more agile pass protector. His arrow is pointing up, and following a nice college career, Trai Turner is looking at a nice, long future in professional Football.
NFl personnel depeartments love upside, and Turner possesses it in gobs. If he is still on the board on day 3, Trai Turner may prove to be one of the best vlaue picks of this year's draft. The potential is there, and so is the talent. With some proper coaching and further development, Turner could go from under the radar to pancaking the radar.