Tight end Cole Turner ‘intrigued’ Washington throughout draft process

Cole Turner 'intrigued' Washington throughout draft process originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

At least on the surface, the most intriguing pick of the Washington Commanders’ eight-player 2022 NFL Draft class is quarterback Sam Howell. The North Carolina product began the college football season in the conversation for the No. 1 overall selection, but a variety of factors led him to slip until the first pick of the fifth round.

Washington likes Howell, especially at the pick they were able to draft him at. Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew made that plenty clear on Saturday. Howell, although just 21 years old, was a three-year starter at Carolina and has a skill set that could eventually transition into him becoming a quality NFL quarterback down the line.

Yet, as far as instant impact goes, the Commanders brass feels they got another extremely talented player in the fifth round, just five picks after Howell. That would be Nevada tight end Cole Turner.

“Probably the guy that I think is very intriguing to us more so than anybody is Cole Turner,” Rivera said. “This is a dynamic pass catcher. He’s played in a spread-style offense. He’s a guy that’s a big target, he’s got a tremendous catch radius, runs good routes and knows how to separate at the right time. It’s gonna be very intriguing as we watch the development and growth of these players from this point until we get into the season.”

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Turner first caught the eye of Washington’s brass during the pre-draft process when the team was scouting his quarterback, Carson Strong. When watching Strong’s tape, the Commanders quickly noticed how often the QB looked for his big tight end. 

“There was one guy that kept standing out [watching Strong’s tape],” Rivera said. “When you watch [Strong] and you get an opportunity to watch Cole, you see the catch radius. Carson’s a big strong guy and he threw the ball hard. Threw the ball with touch, you know, deep balls where the guy had to go get them and make plays. So, you saw this tremendous catch radius from a tight end.”

Turner’s catch radius is something Rivera and Mayhew kept coming back to when praising the team’s new tight end. Turner’s ability to haul in contested catches and from passes in all different areas reminded his new head coach of one former Pro Bowler Rivera used to coach.

“That’s what’s very intriguing about this — and I’m not saying he is, but he reminded me of [former Pro Bowler] Greg Olsen when the ball was in his area and he was covered,” Rivera said. “He had the ability to separate using his body, keeping himself between the defender and the ball. And so when you see flashes like that and it reminds you of somebody that’s a very good football player, you feel this is somebody we got to continue to watch.”

It’s also worth noting that new Commanders starting quarterback Carson Wentz has historically succeeded when throwing to bigger targets. At 6-foot-6, Turner provides the QB with just that.

Having played tight end for just two seasons, there’s plenty of learning Turner still can do at the position. There’s a reason he was drafted in the fifth round, after all. Yet, just based on his pure catching ability, Turner is someone who could immediately impact the Commanders offense.

“I think I’m a guy who can come in immediately and help out in the pass game, in the red zone,” Turner said via Zoom on Saturday. “Come help move the chains on third down. I kind of think that’s where my skills are. That’s where I kind of excel.”

During the NFL’s top 30 visits, Washington brought in Turner for a private workout to see first-hand what he could do. Some staff members, including new tight ends coach Juan Castillo, met with him in Reno, Nevada, where Turner was training. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner was present for the private workout session in Ashburn, too. The staff obviously left impressed from both of those meetings.

With the health of starting tight end Logan Thomas uncertain for Week 1, Turner should have the chance in OTAs and training camp to establish himself in Washington’s offense. John Bates, a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2021, showed promise as a rookie but isn’t as natural of a pass-catcher as Turner is. The Commanders’ other tight end, Sammis Reyes, remains a developmental project.

Turner was not originally a tight end when he first stepped foot on Nevada’s campus. The fifth-round pick was recruited as a wide receiver and Turner played wideout his first two seasons with the Wolfpack. He converted to tight end prior to the 2020 season and earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference his first year playing the new position. 

It’s been just one day since Turner was drafted, so the Commanders have plenty of time to iron out what his role will be in the offense. But his athletic ability, catch radius and wide receiver background all should allow the team to get creative with him and give Wentz another big pass-catcher to target often.

“They definitely see me as a guy who they can move around kind of putting a lot of different spots and line up in a lot of different places,” Turner said. “So, I think that’ll kind of be my role to start and hopefully just keep growing from there.”

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