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Film Session: What will TE Cole Turner bring to the Commanders’ offense?

What role can 5th round tight end Turner carve out in Washington’s offense?

Nevada v UNLV Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

In the fifth round, the Washington Commanders drafted Nevada tight end, Cole Turner, at pick No. 149. Turner, who entered the draft as a senior, converted from wide receiver to tight end in 2020 and was one of the more productive tight ends in college, earning All-Mountain West first-team (2020) and second-team (2021) honors in that period, respectively. In addition, Turner was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl, where he had a great opportunity to showcase his skillset amongst college football’s best.

Turner compiled six catches for 88 yards (15.6 ypc) and one touchdown as a receiver with the Wolfpack. As a converted tight end, Turner compiled 111 catches, 1,282 yards (11.6 ypc), 19 touchdowns in two seasons.

Turner participated at the NFL Combine and Nevada’s Pro Day, posting mixed testing results. From an injury standpoint, Turner doesn’t have an extensive injury history at Nevada; however, he did suffer a concussion late last season against San Jose State, missing one week against the San Diego State Aztecs.

Turner participated in his pro day in an attempt to improve his vertical jump (29”), shuttle (4.33), and his 3-cone (7.18) testing numbers.

Let’s dive into what Cole Turner can do for Washington and what he’ll need to work on at the NFL level.

Passing Game Pros

Release

Turner had many reps in the Wolfpack offense as a ‘big slot’ option or as a boundary receiver. Starting with Turner’s release, undisciplined defenders will have issues jamming or attempting to press him because he provides value in the passing game through his initial quickness, agility, and his hand usage. Facing press man in this situation, Turner was able to take the defender upfield on his initial double move before an effective hand swipe and agility at the breakpoint helped free him from the defenders' jam attempt.

Facing press man coverage again here, Turner used a single move jab step to initiate his inside release against the defender. Again, his initial quickness and solid acceleration helped him win at the line of scrimmage on this rep. Turner also displayed good change of direction at the breakpoint, which helped maintain the small distance of separation that he had on this rep.

Separation Quickness

Turner often wins in situations like this, where he has to utilize mental processing to break defenders down at the break point. Turner displays solid acceleration here to help close the space between him and the off-zone defender. His stem helps create the opportunity because he smartly attacks the defenders’ outside hip, allowing Turner more space in the middle of the field when he breaks toward the seam. His change of direction at the breakpoint helps maintain the slight separation as the quarterback hits him.

Another way Turner separated is through his play strength. Turner is up against Off-Man coverage on this rep, and he begins his stem with an inside release, selling a vertical route down the seam. However, Turner’s defender is sitting at his breakpoint, and Turner displays good play strength to shed his defender and create an opportunity for his quarterback for what should have been a first down.

Catch Point

Turner’s catch radius will make him a true mismatch on the next level. At 6’6”, Turner’s height will be an advantage that most defenses won’t be able to overcome. Secondly, Turner’s most impressive attribute is his competitive toughness at the catchpoint. His competitive toughness is on another level. On this rep you see Turner’s ability to adjust a high pass by high-pointing the football, leaving the linebacker with no opportunity to make a play on the football. Lastly, Turner displays an elite hand strength and concentration to maintain possession through multiple defenders' attempt to break the pass up.

Another example is this rep where Turner faces off-man coverage just outside the redzone. Turner’s adjustment to extend beyond his frame at the catchpoint is top tier, with very good hands to catch the pass on the move and extend the hand to the pylon for a touchdown.

Redzone

Turner has very good mental processing in the redzone to find the open space in defenses. What you’re not seeing in this GIF is his head motion, which stuns the defender at the breakpoint. This is a glimpse into one of the ways that he creates opportunities for himself. Turner finished the play adjusting to a low throw, catching with his hands and securing the football on contact with the ground and a defender.

Like the play above, separating through mental processing, he is attacking the defender's hips by creating a leverage advantage for himself. The Wolfpack loved to run Turner down the seam and generally in the middle of the field. With Turner’s break toward that middle on this play, the defender quickly bit on the initial movement as he bent his route inward. However, he creates the separation with his head fake and acceleration at the breakpoint. A late and underthrown football made this a much more difficult catch, but Turner’s strong hands and size advantage turned this into the Wolfpack’s favor, scoring the touchdown.

Screen Blocking

While there is still more to be desired as a blocker, Turner displays average ability to block on the perimeter, split out wide, and against defensive backs.

Passing Game Cons

Athletic Ability

Overall, Turner lacks the acceleration, foot speed, and explosion at the breakpoint to win on the next level in that regard consistently. However, offensive coordinators and quarterbacks will need to know that if they face man coverage situations and Turner is matched up against a good man corner with above-average speed, Turner will be covered for most of his route.

Run Game Pros

Flexed Blocking

Like the screen game, Turner can block on the perimeter when he is specifically asked to block defensive backs. He engages and occupies the defenders, which is just enough to spring a runner at times.

Run Game Cons

In-Line/H-Back Blocking

Turner’s main issue as a blocker versus any sized defender is that he lacks the competitive toughness at the point of attack to dominate defenders. Secondly, with poor pad level, below-average play strength, and use of hands as a run blocker displayed in the clips above, he will not be able to compete as an in-line/H-back tight end for Washington because he will face edge/LBs that are his frame or bigger. A blocker coming in too high toward their target exposes their chest to big hits on contact, which allows the defender to work on the other side of the line of scrimmage. In the second clip specifically, the defender was successful because he set the edge, and got inside Turner’s chest, which allowed him to steer and control Turner in whichever way they wanted him to go.

Conclusion

Where Turner can win

Turner has solid initial quickness at the line of scrimmage against Soft-Press and Press man defenders and good hand usage to fight against jam and press attempts from defenders. In addition, Turner has good play strength to fight through pressure in his stem and continue vertically.

At the breakpoint, Turner displays good mental processing manipulating the defender’s hips and creating leverage advantages through his head fakes and tempo changes. Further, Turner also has the ability to create against zone coverages; he displayed good awareness and had a good feel for defenders breaking on his routes to provide opportunities for his quarterback. His physicality at the breakpoint is good, and he has above-average strength to separate when defenders initiate contact with him.

At the catch point, he has very good hands and elite traits with his size and competitive toughness to consistently win in this phase. His frame and length make him a difficult matchup against most defenders, but with his catch radius, adjusting to contested catches and on the move will make him an immediate redzone threat coming into the league. Alternatively, Turner can also be used for Washington as a boundary receiver.

Where Turner can lose

Turner lacks the foot speed, explosion, and acceleration to threaten defenders through separation. His minimal athletic traits will allow defenders to recover against him, so you will rarely see Turner uncovered against Man coverage. As an example, he did not separate running fades and wheel routes. While he has good change of direction, his ability suffered when asked to run double move routes such as post-corners and corner-post.

Turner will need to become a more physical player as a run blocker at the point of attack. He plays high in most instances when taking on contact and lacks the functional strength and technique to consistently occupy defensive linemen and linebackers as a blocker. He also lacks competitive toughness as a run blocker; even the smaller defenders can sometimes move him backward.

What is Turner’s outlook?

Washington doesn’t have many receiver options with similar stature as Turner. But their tight ends? This group might be the tallest trio in the NFL, with John Bates and Logan Thomas both being 6’6”. Turner doesn’t have the athletic profile to dominate on the next level; he lacks the speed to scare defenses on all three levels. However, the rest of this off-season presents Turner with a great opportunity. If he can hone in on his physical presence, adding to his frame from a strength standpoint, Turner can develop into a monster in his route phase and at the catch point.

Turner’s story is not written yet as a blocker; professional coaching and technique, things that were hard to come by at Nevada, will help Turner come a long way as a blocker. But, again, if Turner doesn’t embrace the physical nature of taking on defensive linemen and linebackers, he will struggle to provide the versatility that Washington needs from a tight end. Only time will tell what Washington’s initial plans are with Turner; short-term, he has the makeup to become an immediate red zone threat. Long-term, if Turner’s development works out for the better, he can become an exciting weapon in between the 20s.