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Defensive end Payton Turner stood out for New Orleans Saints, who made him their first-round pick

'If I didn't say anything about who we were looking at on defense, I think at some point you'd ask who he was'

Talent was the target, New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton said.

That's how the Saints wound up drafting University of Houston defensive end Payton Turner in the first round Thursday night, No. 28 overall.

New Orleans explored moving up in the first round, Coach Payton said, but couldn't construct a fitting scenario. So the Saints stayed put and added a 6-foot- 6, 270-pounder who had five sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in five games as a senior.

"You do your homework, you explore possibilities of moving," Coach Payton said. "You're never certain that a player is going to be available, and we weren't with this player.

"He's got a lot of traits that we value. He was a high-energy player, he's prototype, his size. We really had this player as someone that you couldn't help but notice. The makeup was good.

"You don't go into a draft necessarily sometimes saying 'this was a position.' You're really paying attention to the talent, and what I mean by that is, it might not have appeared to have been a player at a position we would want, but there were too many things that we felt gave this guy a lot of chances to be successful in our league. We're excited about it. We paid attention to all these guys in the defensive front, there are a lot of good players on the board still, and we were fortunate to get one."

Turner was visibly and audibly ecstatic with the selection. Wearing a smile throughout his media availability, he said he believed he would be drafted between the 20th and 40th picks. Having also played defensive tackle has proven to be a bonus for him.

"I think I have a lot of room to grow, and that's the only way I can go, especially with where I'm going, to the Saints," Turner said. "I've got good guys in front of me to learn from, good guys around me to learn from, good coaches and everything.

"I played D-tackle, I think it really helped me being more physical on the edge, when I did transition to the edge. There was a learning curve going from my junior to senior season. I think I improved a lot and kind of showed what I could do my senior season. I think I showed a glimpse of what I can do."

The Saints, Coach Payton said, saw the glimpses, and more.

"We saw a tremendous upside relative to the position," Coach Payton said. "You can't come away from watching his film and not feel like he played hard. You see that. If I didn't say anything about who we were looking at on defense, I think at some point you'd ask who he was.

"As people studied the tape, I felt like when we saw it and then watched it again, you turn the lights on in the room and you say, 'What are we missing?' He's got great size, great length. You see a powerful player, you see him play inside, you see stamina on tape. He was nicked up this year with a calf and played four or five games of eight, but there were too many things that we felt real good about."

Defensive lineman Payton Turner of Houston (98) warms up during the American team practice for the NCAA college football Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Rusty Costanza)

What New Orleans saw made it comfortable enough to select the defensive end that stood out among the players the Saints were considering, rather than draft a cornerback in that spot. Coach Payton said before the draft that the Saints would add to the position during or after the draft.

"There are a lot of different ways to fill needs on your team," Coach Payton said. "Obviously, the draft is one of them. So we'll see what (today) brings, we'll see what the next two days bring.

"It's obviously a position we're paying close attention to, and we feel like we've evaluated a lot of good football players at that position this year, so let's see what happens. But, yeah, when we're calling predraft, we're gauging – we're not talking or thinking necessarily specifically one player, but we're gauging the teams' interest ahead of us.

"Some teams right from the get-go felt like they were going to say put, and there were a few teams that felt like, hey, we'd be interested, but it would have to be something that didn't make any sense. Clearly, we're aware of where that position was or where we felt that position was graded, and we'll pay attention in the next two days."

Coach Payton said despite several conversations with teams drafting ahead of New Orleans, the possibility of moving up never became a serious one.

"You're on the phone, you're discussing, any interest?" he said. "More than half of them really didn't have any interest, some might have an interest. Everyone is fielding a call. And so, if you're picking 4 or 6 or 8, and someone calls you about possibly trading up, you're interested and then it's going to be a hefty price tag sometimes.

"There are times when you're in one of those positions and maybe you want to move back because you don't have a player or the player you wanted was just taken. We never got to the point where you would say it was serious, at all."

Day 1 photos from the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio.

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