Entering the 2014 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers needed to bulk up their offensive line. The retirement of 13-year left tackle Jordan Gross and the lack of experience in current personnel, lead many to believe Carolina would grab a tackle with one of their first couple of selections. Carolina GM Dave Gettleman made a selection to improve his offensive line, but it wouldn’t be at the offensive tackle position.
Rather than reach on a bookend tackle, of which all had question marks and weren’t value picks, Gettleman landed a steal in round three when the Panthers tabbed a guard out of LSU, Trai Turner. Gettleman’s approach to drafting has always been to draft for value and to never reach for need. True, there were some good tackles on the board every time the Panthers stepped to the podium, but the value was never there for Carolina. If Gettleman was looking for value, then he got a huge dose of it when selecting Turner — a full 310 pounds of it, to be exact.
Turner, is an extremely athletic and quite nimble interior lineman from New Orleans, La. Blessed with a frame that is made for plowing holes open for his running backs, Turner excels in run blocking. His frame is great at creating a barrier that defenders struggle to get around. Defenders have a hard time shedding him once he engages them, and he often blows up would-be tacklers on impact. In 2013, Turner was a huge factor in opening up alleys for his running back, Jeremy Hill.
The aspect of Turner’s game that is most intriguing his agility and athleticism. His feet are swift and he is able to explode off the snap, which makes him a great asset in a zone-blocking scheme. The terror in the eyes of imposing defenders seeing this graceful brick wall coming towards them full speed is a beautiful sight. It’s rare for a player that has the strength and belly of an offensive guard to clock in a 4.9 40-time. Turner is a very fluid athlete that bends well and is a very broad player to encounter.
If Head Coach Ron Rivera and Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula want to reinsert the ground attack that has sorely been lacking from the Panthers’ backfield of late, plugging this rookie in day one as a starter is a good first move. Turner will turn 21 in June, so there is still a lot to love with the untapped potential in this kid. Having a true mauler inside to pave the way for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will do wonders adding another dimension to the Panthers’ offense.
Looking at the glass half full, the Panthers’ interior trio of Amini Silatolu, Ryan Kalil and Turner has the makings of a bruising and young interior line. These three players will balance out the deficiencies at the two tackle positions and be relied upon in 2014. There is still a chance Carolina lands a veteran tackle cut loose over the summer.
Turner will not be handed a starting job, and will have to demonstrate that he is more than capable of stepping in over the current staple of Chris Scott and Edmund Kugbila. Kugbila was a small school rookie last year drafted in the fourth round, but his season was cut short early in 2013 due to a season-ending injury. Kugbila is a raw talent as well that the coaching staff has high hopes for at guard, but Turner passes the eye test and looks like a safe bet over Kugbila.
Where he excels as a grinding run blocker, Turner will need to improve his pass protection and handling the often confusing protection calls. Carolina favors the shotgun and Newton is a very mobile quarterback, so flexibility and recognition is huge in maintaining the integrity of the pocket. Fortunately, he will have a brilliant mind squatting beside him in the veteran center, Kalil. Attaching himself to Kalil’s hip and being his shadow over the summer will only help Turner accelerate his growth.
Talking about offensive guards is never a sexy conversation and they usually don’t garner the attention that players like Kelvin Benjamin or Kony Ealy received this past weekend, but when the dust settled from Radio City this past weekend, Turner was the steal of the Panthers’ draft.