The Cincinnati Bengals added a cornerback in Round 2 for the second consecutive year. Last year it was former Nebraska Cornhusker Cam Taylor-Britt. This year it was another Big Ten standout, Michigan’s DJ Turner.
Turner is an impressive athlete who ran a 4.26 40 at the NFL Combine. This continues the Bengals’ trend of getting younger and faster in the defensive backfield.
DJ Turner II was drafted with pick 60 of round 2 in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.58 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 94 out of 2222 CB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/skPkElQsRG pic.twitter.com/lhrGCbhVLC— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 29, 2023
As you can see, Turner is a little on the small side, but his arm length is acceptable, and he posted impressive numbers all around.
He’s not just a great athlete, though. He is a true craftsman, who has clearly put a lot of time and effort into refining his technique. This first clip provides an excellent example.
DJ Turner leaning on the fade— Matt (@CoachMinich) March 30, 2023
Here, Turner is in press coverage. Instead of jamming the receiver at the line of scrimmage, he uses a glide step, giving himself space to see the receiver’s release. He quickly matches up with the vertical (fade) route. As the receiver looks back for the ball, Turner looks as well. The problem that many cornerbacks have in this situation, even at the NFL level, is that they lose track of the receiver. Turner doesn’t have that issue, because he finds the receiver with his back.
Leaning on the receiver is a technique that can only be used close to the sideline, where he can’t run an out-breaking route. It allows Turner to keep track of the receiver while looking for the ball. It also allows him to squeeze the receiver close to the sideline, creating a tight window for the throw and putting himself in better position to make a play on the ball than the offensive player.
This is high-level stuff. Turner is clearly not just speed.
Bengals got themselves a feisty and fast corner in DJ Turner. Dude loves playing press-man and utilizing his speed to handle vertical routes. Doesn’t matter to him that he lacks size. Here he is covering Quentin Johnston: pic.twitter.com/vjHu9LWdMB— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) April 29, 2023
Turner is #5 in blue, on the bottom of the screen with a yellow arrow pointing directly at him.
The previous clip was against Michigan State’s Jayden Reed, who was selected in the 2nd Round by the Green Bay Packers. Not good enough for you? How about this play vs TCU’s Quentin Johnson, who was a first-round pick and, mark my words, is going to be a star for the Los Angeles Chargers?
Again, we see a glide step before he turns and matches up with the receiver, and leans on his route. As you can see from the end zone angle, he actually forces Johnson out of bounds, eliminating any possibility of a completion.
You can see that Turner is smooth in those first two clips, but this one really shows off his silky smooth hips.
He is playing man coverage with outside leverage as the receiver runs vertically. The receiver breaks outside, in front of Turner, who flips his hips more than 180 degrees to match up with the route.
Perhaps even more impressive, is how quickly he gets his eyes to the quarterback. This allows him to see the ball coming, so he can get up in the air and swat it away.
It’s very impressive to watch his eyes throughout this play, as the transition from the route to the ball. The next clip really showcases how well he reads and reacts to what is happening on the field.
DJ Turner playing the double-move perfectly pic.twitter.com/xjU6Xr6pDo— Matt (@CoachMinich) May 22, 2023
A double move is where a receiver makes one cut, usually on a short route, then turns vertically up the field. Examples include an out-and-up or a sluggo (slant go). The hope is to get an undisciplined defender to bite on the shorter route and create a big play opportunity.
The Michigan helmets help you see clearly how disciplined Turner is with his eyes. In this clip, the winged design highlights Turner’s laser focus on the receiver’s hips.
As the receiver sinks his hips, indicating that he is going to make a cut, Turner’s hips also sink (first picture). But the receiver doesn’t bring his hips all the way around, just his shoulders (second picture). So Turner doesn’t break underneath the route. He takes an angle to match up with the receiver as he cuts vertically (third picture).
This is a tremendous play by a very disciplined, intelligent player.
Turner is #5 in blue, at the top of the screen.
Let’s not confuse being disciplined with being conservative. Turner knows when to go for the interception.
In this clip, he sees an in-breaking route. The ball comes out fast, but not fast enough. Turner cuts underneath the route and makes the diving interception.
The Bengals need to create more turnovers, and Turner will be a part of the solution.
Turner is #5 in blue, at the top of the screen.
Turner may not be the biggest cornerback on the team, but he isn’t afraid to throw all 178 pounds around.
This clip starts with Turner jamming the receiver at the line of scrimmage, then continuing to fight and deny the outside release.
Much like the Bengals, Michigan does not have their corners sit in the flat in cover two. They sink underneath the vertical route and rally up to tackle any shorter routes.
On this play, the tight end drags from the other side of the formation and eventually gets to the flat. You can’t see Turner as the ball is thrown, but he is clearly reading the quarterback and reacting by running full speed to the route. The tight end drops the pass, and a second later, Turner gives him a big shot. Even if the tight end had reeled it in, Turner would have made the tackle, on the much larger player, for a two-yard gain on 3rd and 15.
This is a fantastic tackle by DJ Turner— Matt (@CoachMinich) May 24, 2023
Feet moving on contact pic.twitter.com/mZdvpX9dBr
Having the speed and tackling ability to rally up and prevent short passes from turning into big gains allows the defense to invest more resources in covering the deeper, more dangerous routes.
The deep ball was not a concern on this play, because the Nittany Lions were in the right Red Zone. On 3rd and Goal, they decided to run a slip screen. Turner was playing man-to-man with Jacksonville Jaguars 2nd Round pick Brenton Strange (#86), a tight end. Strange was the inner-most of three receivers on that side of the formation, and Turner lined up on the goal line, almost tucked into the box like a linebacker.
Strange was responsible for blocking the outside cornerback. In theory, this should eliminate the need to block Turner (who they think will run with him in man). Turner steps to the outside with Strange, then reads the play and cuts straight upfield to make the tackle for a three-yard gain.
It was an awesome tackle!
Turner keeps his head and his eyes up. He shoots his hips like a hang clean, generating power despite his light weight, and continues to move his feet on contact. Textbook.
Speed, smarts, physicality... There is one more thing that defines a Bengals defender. Hustle.
Turner is a fighter.
Ivan Drago said, “I cannot be defeated.”
JuanDrago (DJ) Turner concurs.
Watch him come out of nowhere to run down this play and prevent a Penn State score! It reminds me Taylor-Britt running down Derrick Henry last season.
This was an incredible display of effort that surely got the attention of Lou Anarumo and company as they evaluated prospects.
Turner is not only a phenomenal athlete, he is a smart, hardworking, physical player. He will be perfect for this defense and locker room. With any luck, we won’t have to see much of him this season, but when he gets on the field, he will be outstanding.