Why Billy Turner Could Be Miami Dolphins' Best Pick of 2014 NFL Draft

By Cody Strahm
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins‘ first two picks, Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry, have been the club’s most discussed additions in the aftermath of the draft. And for good reason. James was a first-round choice, and first-rounders are regarded as the face of a team’s draft class. Second-round picks are important too, and Landry plays receiver, a position that fans tend to obsess over.

Both James and Landry project to improve an offense that ranked 27th in total yards a year ago, but it was Miami’s third-round pick, Billy Turner, who could be remembered as GM Dennis Hickey‘s best decision of the 2014 draft.

Turner hails from North Dakota State, a relatively obscure program that had great success at the FCS level. If he would’ve been seen on networks like ESPN and CBS every Saturday, Turner would probably be dominating headlines in Miami like James and Landry are. Chances are, he wouldn’t have been attainable in the third round, though.

Turner consistently abused his inferior competition, displaying violence, nastiness, strength and athleticism — a blend of traits that suggest he’s capable of becoming a complete player at the next level. Of course, critics of small-school prospects will question the caliber of talent Turner faced. Pancaking defensive linemen from schools like Ferris State and Northern Iowa comes with an asterisk.

Any doubts about Turner’s ability to hold his own, let alone dominate against stronger, more athletic defenders were put to rest on August 31, 2013 and at January’s Senior Bowl.

Last August, North Dakota State opened its season on the road against Kansas State, an FBS school in an automatic qualifying conference. The Bison entered the matchup as heavy underdogs, but emerged with a victory and national affirmation. Turner played a pivotal role in the upset, completely shutting down Kansas State’s pass rush on the left side and burying opponents into the turf on running plays.

Turner simply manhandled an opposition that was supposedly bigger, stronger and more athletic. His coaches gave him an efficiency grade of 96 percent on the night, charting a ridiculous 10 knockdowns.

If doubt prevailed after that rousing performance and a senior season in which Turner didn’t allow a single sack at left tackle — porous competition or not, that’s remarkable — it was, once again, dispelled at the Senior Bowl.

Some rawness in Turner’s technique was brought to light, but from all accounts, he improved throughout the week. “Second day in a row that Billy Turner has impressed,” CBS Sports’ Rob Rang tweeted after a workout at the Senior Bowl. “A top-five player here this week.”

In addition to impressing at tackle, Turner dabbled at guard during Senior Bowl workouts, which was important for the Dolphins to see given their hole inside. Not only does Turner appear willing to move to guard, doing so is apparently his preference.

“I always wanted the chance to play guard, just because I’m a physical guy,” Turner told reporters at February’s combine. “I’m a physical run blocker, so I always wanted to get inside, get a little closer to that defender and just try to run some people over.”

That mindset likely factored into the Dolphins’ decision to trade up for him in the third round. Coaches love strong, athletic players who relish contact. That’s Turner in a nutshell. It jumps out on film; Turner explodes through contact. Many players reveal hesitancy when a collision is imminent. Not Turner.

Some prospects are better athletes than football players. Some are better football players than athletes. Turner, with a throwback demeanor, is a true football player who possesses prototypical athleticism for Miami’s zone-blocking scheme. And he accompanies that ability with a tireless work ethic.

“Billy works harder than anyone I ever met,” Louis Nix III, who trained with Turner before the draft, said during a filming of Turner’s pre-draft documentary. “He’s the first one here and the last one gone. Billy motivates me.”

Turner may start Week 1 at either right or left guard for the Dolphins. And when Branden Albert‘s contract is up or his play beings to decline, Turner has the foot speed to potentially kick over to left tackle in the future. Taking him in the third round arguably killed two birds with one stone — the club’s current need for a starting guard and its future need for a blindside protector.

If Turner maximizes his potential at both spots or just guard, he could easily be remembered as Miami’s best acquisition of the 2014 draft.

Follow Cody Strahm on Twitter.

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