Why Turner feels he can help Commanders' red zone offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Just minutes after the Commanders selected Cole Turner on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft, the former Nevada tight end met with local media on Zoom and quickly proceeded to identify one area of his game he believes he can impact Washington’s offense right away.
“I think I’m a guy who can come in immediately and help out in the pass game, in the red zone,” Turner said at the time. “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.”
Turner’s answer was certainly fascinating. It also begged the question: how and why was he so productive in that area of the field? Speaking with reporters during rookie minicamp last Friday, Turner said he believes it’s a combination of his 6-foot-6-inch frame and his exceptional athleticism of someone playing the tight end position.
“My height, first off, but [the red zone is] just a place I’ve always thrived,” Turner said. “I’ve always been the guy that’s scored a lot of touchdowns. That’s something I want to bring to the NFL.”
Turner’s height will certainly help him catch passes in the NFL, but the talent gap is a major difference, too. Turner won’t be able to rely on his height and athleticism alone to beat defenders in the NFL the way he did in the Mountain West.
The fifth-round pick understands that, though, and knows he’ll need to have a certain mindset in order to succeed in the red zone at the NFL level the same way he did in college.
“I feel like in those kind of situations, you have to have that mentality that when the ball is in the air it’s yours,” he said. “That’s always been my mindset. I feel like when things get tight down there in contested situations, you got to go with the guys you rely on. I feel like I’m a safety blanket for the quarterback.”
If Turner can hold true to his word, the Commanders will gladly take any help they can get in the red zone. In 2021, just 52% of Washington’s red zone possessions ended with touchdowns, the seventh-worst mark in the league. That was a significant dropoff from 2020 when nearly 59% of the team’s red zone possessions resulted in six-pointers, a rate on par with the high-octane Kansas City Chiefs unit.
Turner’s claim to be an immediate red zone threat can be backed up by his college stats. During his final two seasons at Nevada, Turner totaled 111 receptions for 1,282 yards and 19 touchdowns. He earned first-team All-Mountain West in 2020, his first year playing tight end after switching from wide receiver.
“I think my wide receiver background helps,” he said. “I’ve been catching balls ever since I stepped on a football field. … I think it kind of helps just seeing coverage, it’s something that I’ve always seen. When in 1-on-1 matchups, it’s easier to beat linebackers and safeties.”
Ever since Washington drafted Turner, the former Nevada standout has earned high praise from his new coaching staff. Head coach Ron Rivera called Turner the most intriguing player in the Commanders’ eight-man 2022 draft class. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner (no relation) raved about his new tight end’s pass-catching ability during an interview with Julie Donaldson.
During Commanders rookie minicamp last weekend, the tight end got his first chance to show his new coach staff what he could do. Turner immediately turned heads during Friday’s workout, as he made multiple leaping and acrobatic catches during drills.
“When you see him out here moving, he’s a big body, moves well and presents a good target,” Rivera said. “He’s a guy that’s gonna help us.”
With rookie minicamp in the books, Rivera and the rest of Washington’s staff is pleased with the early returns from the Commanders’ fifth-round tight end.
“We’re pretty excited. Cole Turner is gonna ‘wow’ a lot of guys just because of his athleticism and his size and his ability to run,” Rivera said. “He’s also shown us, even though we’re not in pads, watching his technique as far as blocking, I think he’s gonna surprise some people with that.”