Trai Turner is a big man. Coming in at 6'3", 310 lbs., the now former LSU standout was one of the key pieces to the Tigers offensive line. In 2012, Turner was a redshirt freshman who was mainly there to spell the starter at the time. Injuries however, forced him into the starting role, where he would play every snap in the Tigers last five games. His impressive play in his first season on the field would lead to him being named the starter at RG in 2013.
Turner and his teammates on the offensive line would go on to help RB Jeremy Hill achieve 1,400 yards rushing and the team as a whole to score a school record 37 rushing TD's on the year. In what could be considered his best game of the 2013 season against Texas A&M, Turner helped pave the way for the team to rush for 324 yards in a 34-10 victory for the Tigers over the then #5 ranked Aggies. Game film of Turner in action for that matchup can be found here. More film of him in another game for the prospect against the Arkansas Razorbacks can be seen here.
Turner would go on to earn AP Second Team All-SEC honors for 2013 and play in 25 games, starting in 20 of the them for the Tigers over the course of his career. He would forgo the last two years of his eligibility at LSU and enter the 2014 NFL Draft as a third year sophomore
So can he play?
I don't proclaim to be a game film buff, but I have watched enough football to know when I see a player who has potential, and Trai Turner fits that profile. Finding game film on an offensive lineman, especially one slated to go in the 3rd round or later is difficult. Offensive linemen, outside of kickers and punters are some of the least "sexiest" picks a team can make in the draft. Outside of a massive pancake block or total whiff on a defensive player, game film is just not as readily available for such a prospect. After viewing the Texas A&M and Arkansas games however, a few things are made clear.
In run blocking, Turner is a beast. In the game against Texas A&M, Turner can be seen at about 1:37 in the video making a key block, sealing off the DT from making a play on RB Terrance McGee who takes the ball to about the 2 yard line before being brought down. He is very good at holding his block for as long as it needs to be held, often pushing the defensive player anywhere from 5-10 yards back. Turner is also effective as a pulling guard, often creating big holes for the RB to scamper through. I also noticed that he rarely stops on a play till the whistle is blown, holding his block until he is clear of the play or the play is over. That type tenacity is what NFL coaches look for in an offensive lineman.
In pass protection, it would appear Turner handles himself fairly well. In the Arkansas game, Turner held the point of attack against the interior defensive linemen of the Razorbacks, providing time for QB Zach Mettenberger to hit his receivers. After viewing the film, he did a good job of picking up late blitzes and helped keep Mettenberger upright as much as possible. Although Mettenberger was taken down several times and threw a bad pick, I could not see Turner's blocking being the cause of those plays breaking down. He has room to grow into a better pass protector though, and it will be interesting to see how he handles NFL defensive tackles.
Overall, this would appear to be a great pickup for the Panthers. Turner fits the Panthers emphasis on the power running game that they appear to be moving towards more this season. He is a mauler in the run game with room to develop as an interior pass protector. However, some will criticize him as a pick due mainly to the fact he is not what the Panthers need the most: an offensive tackle.
For those of you who might be wondering, no, he will not be used as a tackle. GM Dave Gettleman in his NFL Draft Day 2 presser said as much, saying that while he is a hog mollie, he doesn't have the length to be a tackle in the NFL. Gettleman did admit when asked that the injury to OG Edmund Kugbila, a 4th round pick from last year, played a part in the decision to draft Turner. It should also be noted that he is still a little raw as a prospect, and needs a bit more fine tuning on his technique before he goes up against an NFL defense.
With that being said, Turner is still a great value pick, and looks to be a good fit for the Carolina Panthers. Had Turner stayed another year, draft experts expected him to be a potential 1st-2nd round pick, so taking that into account, we potentially have a steal on our hands. Even though he is a rookie, he has a good chance to claim the RG spot as his own in training camp. If anything, he will be insurance and competition for Kugbila and Chris Scott at RG, and gives the Panthers a competent option at a position that has seen some turnover and loss of depth in the offseason. As for grades, I would personally give the pick an A. He may not be a tackle, but again, he is part of a cohesive unit that must act as a single body on the field, and shoring up the middle of the line is a good place to start.