Could Cole Turner be Commanders’ breakout offensive star in 2022?
By Jerry Trotta
Most of the Washington Commanders‘ 2022 draft class should immediately contribute as rookies next season.
First-rounder Jahan Dotson will at worst be the No. 3 option in the passing game, second-rounder Phidarian Mathis will play a big part of the DL rotation and third-round selection Brian Robinson Jr. figures to see a ton of early-down work in the backfield as Antonio Gibson’s primary backup.
As Washington’s first three draft choices, Dotson, Mathis and Robinson are the safest bets to be the team’s best rookie performers in 2022. As we learned last season, though, draft status isn’t always conducive to on-field performance.
After all, John Bates took the top rookie mantle as a fourth-rounder with 20 receptions for 249 yards and a touchdown while being exceptional as a blocker in the running game. Taking that into account, could fifth-round tight end Cole Turner emerge as the Commanders’ offensive breakout star as a rookie?
Based on the buzz Turner’s garnered during rookie minicamp and now organized team activities, it’s not a farfetched concept.
Could rookie tight end Cole Turner hit the ground running for the Commanders?
A breakout star might be pushing it, but perhaps Turner is a dark-horse candidate to lead Washington in touchdown catches. The Commanders’ red zone offense was an utter disaster last season. In fact, only six teams had a worse touchdown percentage in the red area than their 52 percent success rate.
Not only that, but Terry McLaurin led the team with just five TD catches and three players — Antonio Gibson, DeAndre Carter and Logan Thomas, who played just six games (!) — finished tied for second with three touchdowns. Those numbers should improve with Carson Wentz presiding over the offense, but the door is seemingly open for Turner to be the team’s best red zone weapon.
After he was drafted, Turner spoke about the one area where he can immediately contribute to Washington’s offense: the red zone.
"“I think I’m a guy who can come in immediately and help out in the pass game, in the red zone. 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.My height, first off, but [the red zone is] just a place I’ve always thrived. I’ve always been the guy that’s scored a lot of touchdowns. That’s something I want to bring to the NFL.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. 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.”"
The jump in competition from the Mountain West to the NFL will be impossible to quantify, but Turner’s confidence to become a red zone threat are certainly supported by his numbers. Over his final two seasons at Nevada, the 6-foot-6 pass-catcher hauled in 111 receptions for 1,281 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Turner steps in as Wentz’s biggest target and the quarterback has a long track record of enjoying throwing to bigger-bodied receivers. From Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Pittman Jr., each of whom are at least 6-foot-3, it’s not crazy to think Turner could hit the ground running as a rookie.
As long as Turner learns the playbook in a swift fashion and continues improving as a blocker, he should have no trouble earning playing time in Year 1. If that happens, the former first-team All Mountain West member could follow in Bates’ footsteps in 2022 as Washington’s breakout offensive playmaker … perhaps with a more gaudy stat line to show for it, too.