We’re finally nearing the end of our scouting reports for the string of commitments that happened as a result of the June 22 recruiting weekend.
3-star cornerback DJ Turner II was one of the players most expected to join the class. Michigan was the clear leader for months leading up to Turner’s official announcement on the Monday after the crazy recruiting weekend.
Playing for powerhouse North Gwinnett in Georgia, Turner was asked to play safety as a junior last year because of their loaded secondary. Turner took this position change in stride, ending up with 78 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 9 pass breakups and 2 interceptions. Even though this switch caused his recruiting ranking to drop from four stars to three, his team went on to win the state championship in Georgia’s largest classification.
Now Turner is transferring to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior season in order to return to his preferred position at cornerback. Playing at the most high profile high school in the nation will get even more eyes on Turner, and he could see his ranking rise again if he has a good season.
Because he mostly played safety last year, I used his “Ultimate Highlights” upload on Hudl to scout him. This video includes film from both sophomore and junior years, so we can get a glimpse at how he performs at cornerback. Try to ignore the incredibly ugly midfield logo of a bulldog painted over an American flag his high school uses.
Change of direction
I talked about how important hip flexibility was for defensive backs in my scouting report of the now-decommitted Te’Cory Couch. I didn’t think Couch displayed this trait the best, but Turner is a more fluid player with the ability to change direction quickly to stick with receivers.
In the play above, Turner initially drops and backpedals to his left, reading the play. However, once he reads the quarterback (a theme that will come up again), he quickly flips his hips and closes quickly on the receiver.
After dropping back quickly, he arrives in time to make a great play on the ball, getting in better position than the receiver and making a leaping interception. His burst and flexibility allowed him to get to the ball quickly and force a mistake by the quarterback.
This next play also shows how Turner’s instincts and athleticism allow him to break quickly to make plays on the ball. Turner is giving the slot receiver a cushion by playing over him, but once the receiver makes a break in his route, he sharply changes direction and switches from backpedaling to a sprint. He closes the gap quickly and gets to the ball in time for a pass breakup.
Turner makes it very hard for a receiver to get separation when he can stick to the receiver and close ground quickly if a window is opened.
One final example demonstrates Turner’s hip flexibility and ability to change direction to stary with a receiver.
Turner is at safety over the slot receiver. Out of his backpedal, Turner opens his hips to the outside, expecting the receiver to continue downfield. But the receiver runs an in-route across the middle. Smoothly, Turner turns around to the outside, rather than trying to stop his momentum and break inside with the receiver. While doing so, he accelerates and gains ground on his man, so he’s right there when the pass is thrown and breaks up the play.
Several times on film, Turner ends up in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a quarterback’s bad throw. This isn’t luck, but rather Turner’s excellent vision and instincts, which allow him to read where the quarterback is going to throw it and get to the spot before anyone else.
Turner is lined up at cornerback over the outside receiver. Playing in a zone, Turner allows the receiver to go inside on a sluggo route. The slot receiver who enters his zone is covered by the outside linebacker, so Turner reads where the quarterback is looking. Seeing he is cocking to throw at the outside receiver, Turner breaks backward, jumps the route and grabs an interception. This shows excellent vision and ball skills to make the play.
Lined up at safety for this play, Turner initially sits and reads the backfield. Not biting on the play-action, Turner turns once he sees the quarterback drop back to pass and aggressively drops back on the receiver running down the seam. The quarterback woefully under-throws the receiver, who is covered by the other safety anyway, and Turner is right there to camp under it and catch it like a fly ball in center field.
Turner showed great awareness on this play. First, he doesn’t fall for the play-action in the backfield and stays home in his position, But when he sees it’s a pass, he knows he can go after the receiver hard because it’s the only downfield route. Turner ends up taking this interception back to the house for a pick six.
As his 8 TFLs show, Turner is not afraid to be aggressive and make tackles in the run game. This fits in perfectly in Don Brown’s defense, where defensive backs regularly collect TFLs and sacks.
While he only measures in at 6-foot and 165 pounds, Turner can bring the boom. There are plenty of plays on his highlight reel where he sticks a ball carrier hard. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Playing safety about seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, Turner sees the handoff and fills aggressively. He takes a great route to the ball, meeting the back about a yard downfield. With a full head of steam, he gives the running back a great lick and makes the tackle.
On this play, Turner blows up a wide receiver bubble screen, a Don Brown safety staple.
Turner quickly reads the play and gets to the ball fast. The receiver is exposed because of a high pass, and Turner picks him up and slams him to the ground. The aggressiveness and instincts shown on this play will be right at home in the Michigan defense.
Looking at Turner’s film, there’s not any one thing that sticks out to me as a huge negative trait.
He dropped in the rankings for playing safety for his team, but he excelled at the new position. I don’t see how performing well at two positions hurts your ranking, but apparently it does.
Looking at his offer sheet, plenty of high profile schools liked what they saw. Michigan beat out Notre Dame and Florida as the big competitors for his services, but Clemson led early before they filled up, and he also considered Auburn and Florida State. I don’t think there are 40 cornerbacks better than him in the country, as his current ranking states.
That being said, after reading some other scouting profiles of him, one issue that came up was his risk-taking. I’ve showed above Turner plays really aggressive, especially for a safety. As a safety, you’re the last line of defense, so if a player gambles and doesn’t make the play, it often leads to disaster. Turner’s instincts and football IQ will help mitigate some damage that may occur, but busts are a possibility. Obviously those plays won’t show up on a highlight reel, but I wanted to include that as a possibility.
As for his career at Michigan, I can see him filling in multiple different roles. Given his transfer to IMG, Turner obviously wants to play cornerback. The depth chart when he gets on campus is unclear right now, as Lavert Hill, David Long or both could leave early for the NFL after his season. If they both leave, Ambry Thomas will presumably step in to fill one spot, and Turner will battle the likes of Myles Sims, Vincent Gray, and Gemon Green for the other spot.
If he doesn’t break through at corner, there will be more opportunities for him at safety. Tyree Kinnel and Casey Hughes are gone after this season, and Josh Metellus is in a battle for his starting job this offseason. Turner will have the chance to compete for Kinnel’s vacated spot against Jaylen Kelly-Powell, Sammy Faustin and German Green.
At the very least, Turner can cover slot receivers at the nickel corner. He did that often last season rolling down from the safety position. Regardless, I think Turner will eventually find a spot in the secondary, but it might take a couple years just because the position is so loaded right now.