Former Pitt wide receiver D.J. Turner rolled the dice and entered the 2021 NFL draft despite having additional eligibility and just one strong season under his belt at the collegiate level. Although he went undrafted, he signed as a free agent with the Las Vegas Raiders and is making the most of the opportunity.
During organized team activities and mini camp, Turner has turned heads, according to Tom LaMarre of Sports Illustrated, who spoke with members of the organization. Now, with training camp underway, much is expected of the former Pitt wide receiver.
“I think what sticks out is his toughness,” an NFL scout told LaMarre. “He can be used all over the place, and he can help on special teams. He is fast, has good hands, and quick feet. When you watch his film, the toughness and grit jump out. Turner is a little guy but does not shy away from blocking or being hit.
“He is likely a slot guy at the next level, and when he is on the field, he will find a way to produce. He will put his nose on a defender. He can catch everything. He will blast somebody, and I love that about him. I like his film because Turner has been fun to study. … [And since he wasn’t drafted], he probably will play with a giant-sized chip on his shoulder.”
Saturday was the first day of extensive action at the Raiders’ training camp in Henderson, Nevada, as the preceding five days were part of the team’s acclimation period, which involves lower-intensity workouts and practice sessions. And while Raiders backup Marcus Mariota grabbed headlines for his solid play with the backups, Turner had a hand in his success, reeling in a pass by the left sideline to help string together a series of completions.
Turner has until Aug. 17 to establish himself as one of the 85 best players on the Raiders roster, as the first cuts will occur on that date. The team will cut five more players on Aug. 24, and if Turner can meet expectations in training camp and impress during the preseason, he could clear the last cuts and make the final 53-man roster for the 2021 season on Aug. 31.
The 5’9”, 206-pound receiver believes his versatility will help him land a spot on the Raiders roster, and in an interview with FOX5 Vegas, he brought up his abilities as a running back and return man while expressing his enthusiasm for Las Vegas and the Raiders.
“There’s no place I’d rather be,” Turner said. “It feels great to be a Raider, and I can’t wait to make the most of my opportunity and have a long career here in Las Vegas. I just want to trust the system and do my best to get open. Plus, there are other things I can do in the backfield and returning kicks. My versatility is one of my biggest strengths.”
During his lone season at Pitt in 2020, Turner played in all 11 of the Panthers’ games and made six starts. Despite the fact that he did not start in five games, he still managed to finish second on the team in receiving yards, touchdown catches and receptions, with 634 yards and three scores on 44 receptions as a senior. He also earned first-team All-ACC honors as a return specialist, accruing 436 yards on kick and punt returns at Pitt.
Also vying for spots on the Raiders roster alongside Turner are former Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey and former Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman. Peterman is a favorite of Raiders coach Jon Gruden and has been with the team since 2018 as a backup. Morrissey was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 draft, and like Turner, he is working to secure a roster spot as a fledgling member of the organization.