It’s no secret that veteran guard Trai Turner was available so late in the offseason for a reason.
Turner, a former five-time Pro Bowler, has dealt with a number of injuries dating back to the 2018 season with the Carolina Panthers, and has steadily seen his game fall off in recent years.
Following the surprising release of All-Pro guard David DeCastro due to injury, the Steelers needed to plug a gaping hole along the offensive line and turned to Turner in hopes of rebuilding on the fly. That could prove to be a tough task for the Steelers’ offensive line as Turner turned his worst season of his career in 2020 with the Los Angeles Chargers.
According to Pro Football Focus’s grading metrics, Turner’s 2020 season garnered a 34.8 PFF grade, which was one of the lowest grades for an offensive lineman across the NFL. A lot of that can be attested to a groin injury that sapped his athleticism, causing the rest of his game to seemingly disappear.
Now though, Pro Football Focus is eyeing a bounce-back season for the veteran guard who is just 28 years old, tabbing Turner as the Steelers’ 2021 bounce-back candidate ahead of the start of the regular season. He’ll need to be if the Steelers want to remain a contender this fall.
“In 2019, Turner had the lowest-graded season of his career, earning a 63.9 PFF grade. In 2020, he was worse. He had an injury-riddled campaign with the Chargers and consistently produced at a poor level, as evidenced by a 34.8 PFF grade that ranked second-to-last among all qualifying guards,” PFF’s Anthony Treash writes. “The Chargers released Turner in March and the Steelers added him to their rebuilt offensive line in July. He ranked 25th of 60 guards in PFF grade in the three seasons prior to 2019, and that’s the kind of production Pittsburgh needs in order to improve this season.”
There’s no getting around how awful the 2020 season was for Turner, but he appears to be healthy now and is playing in a system that seems to fit him, with an emphasis on the run game. If he is healthy and can get back to some semblance of his strong play from 2015 to 2019, the Steelers are really in business along the offensive line.
Pro Football Focus also teamed up with ESPN NFL Nation reporters for the piece, and asked Steelers’ reporter Brooke Pryor for her take on Turner in 2021.
“Shortly after releasing longtime Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, the Steelers signed Turner to a one-year deal with the hope he’ll be an anchor on a young offensive line and bounce back from two down seasons,” Pryor writes. “Though he has never played a down with the Steelers, Turner is the most veteran player on a line slated to feature first-time starters at the other four positions. Three weeks into camp, the projected starting line has yet to take a single rep together, and Turner — who said he entered camp fully healthy and healed — will be expected to lead the gelling process once everyone else is present and healthy.”
It is somewhat concerning that the projected starting offensive line hasn’t taken a snap together yet in training camp or the preseason, but that should change Saturday night at Heinz Field against the Detroit Lions. We’ll see how this group gels and plays moving forward, but if the Steelers do get a bounce back season from Turner, this group could be much better than anticipated.