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Cole Turner looking to be immediate contributor for Commanders offense

Nevada tight end Cole Turner (19) is grabbed by Hawaii linebacker Penei Pavihi (1 ) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)
Nevada tight end Cole Turner (19) is grabbed by Hawaii linebacker Penei Pavihi (1 ) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Reno, Nev., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom R. Smedes)

It's uncommon for a coach to single out a player, particularly after events like the NFL Draft. Coaches and general managers tend to talk about the draft class as a whole, and there was a lot of that during Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew’s press conference after Day 3.

Rivera, however, had a lot to say about which player intrigued him the most out of the Washington Commanders' eight-player class.

"Probably the guy that I think is very intriguing to us more so than anybody is Cole Turner,” he said. "This is a dynamic pass catcher. He's played in a spread style offense. He's a guy that's a big target, he's got a tremendous catch radius, runs good routes and knows how to separate at the right time."

Turner, drafted in the fifth round, was considered one of the better tight ends in the draft. He helped the Nevada Wolfpack put together the third-best offense in the Mountain West Conference with 62 receptions for 677 yards. He expects to do something similar for the Commanders during his rookie season.

"I think I'm a guy who can come in immediately and help out in the pass game, in the red zone," Turner said. "[I can] 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."

It's a good self-assessment from Turner, but he was one of the Wolfpack's best weapons in 2021. He had 10 touchdowns during his senior year, which was tied for the third-most in the conference. Turner credits some of that to his receiver background at Clackamas High School in Oregon. He led the state in 2017 with 76 catches for 1,325 yards and 20 touchdowns, helping him earn all-state honors.

Two years after he committed to Nevada, he switched to tight end, where he saw an immediate uptick in his production. Between 2019 and 2020, he caught six passes for 88 yards. In the final two seasons of his college career, he had 111 catches for 1,282 yards and 19 scores.

"We went and had a private workout and had an opportunity to really watch him excel," Rivera said.

Turner began to be an option for the Commanders through quarterback Carson Strong, who had caught their eye initially. As they watched Strong, though, Turner kept standing out.

And not that it's an exact comparison, but Rivera does see flashes of Greg Olsen in Turner's skillset.

"He had the ability to separate using his body, keeping himself between the defender and the ball," Rivera said. "And so when you see flashes like that and it reminds you of somebody that's a very good football player, you feel this is somebody we got to continue to watch."

That particularly came of good use in the red zone. He tied for the second-most red zone touchdowns for a tight end in 2020 (he and eventual first-round pick Kyle Pitts had eight), and six of his 10 touchdowns this year were in the red zone.

"The field gets shorter, and you've got to be able to win one-on-one and catch the ball in tight situations," Turner said. "And I feel like those are two things that I do best."

The chances are that Turner will need to contribute right away. Logan Thomas is recovering from his knee injury, but it's unknown when he will be ready to return to the field. John Bates had a solid season in an expanded role last year, but Carson Wentz will need more options.

The Commanders have already spoken with Turner about his role, and it sounds like it will involve a little of everything.

"They definitely see me as a guy who they can move around, kind of putting a lot of different spots and line up in a lot of different places," Turner said. "So, I think that'll kind of be my role to start and hopefully just keep growing from there."

The Commanders are anxious to see just how far Turner will grow.

"It's gonna be very intriguing as we watch the development and growth of these players from this point until we get into the season," Rivera said.

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