Former Maryland wide receiver DJ Turner solidified himself as a legitimate NFL Draft prospect thanks to a sensational season at the University of Pittsburgh in 2020. Yet, his path to the draft was not without its obstacles.
For one, Turner never saw consistent playing time in college up until this recent campaign due in part to off-field issues. Entering college, he was a consensus three-star recruit, choosing Maryland rather than several other Division I programs. Losing was never in his high school vernacular, as DeMatha Catholic won three straight WCAC titles during his time with the Stags.
The 5-foot-9, 205-pound Turner caught 24 passes for 294 yards and a touchdown with the Terps from 2016-2019, earning six starts along the way. It was at Pitt where he was able to showcase his attributes, catching 44 passes for 634 yards and three touchdowns and excelling on special teams.
Enrolling at Pitt was something of a last-minute decision after the Big Ten postponed its football season in August.
“It was a crazy time last summer,” Turner said on Glenn Clark Radio March 1. “There was so much uncertainty. I was getting ready for a season with Maryland but out of nowhere the Big Ten canceled the season. After that, I had to sit down with my family and figure out what was best for me. We figured out it would probably be best to move on.”
In hindsight, Turner made a shrewd decision. He played in all 11 games for the Panthers, making a difference on offense and special teams. He twice earned ACC Receiver of the Week honors thanks to games in which he posted 186 and 184 receiving yards against NC State and Virginia Tech, respectively.
He also was the primary return specialist for the Panthers, which was arguably the area he excelled in the most. His kickoff return average (22.2 yards) ranked third in the ACC, and his punt return average (8.3 yards) ranked fourth. He earned first-team All-ACC honors as a return specialist.
Turner was pleased with the performance he put forth on such short notice.
“I’m very proud. That’s something I look at as something a lot of guys wouldn’t be able to do,” Turner said. “It kind of goes to show that everything happens for a reason — I just had to have faith that things were going to work, and I think they did.”
Besides the changes to his football and academic life, his home life has changed recently as well. He and his girlfriend have a 4-month-old son, Tre, at home. He said becoming a father has provided him more motivation to pursue a professional career.
“The second I saw him I was changed immediately,” Turner said. “You view the world differently. You have to think for more than you.”
Currently, Turner is in the process of preparing to make that all-important leap to the next level. He is considered a late-round prospect, but he displayed this past year that in the right situation he can be a weapon on offense and special teams. Pitt’s pro day will take place March 17.
“I can control what I can control. I’ve always had to prove a lot of people wrong,” Turner said. “The team that drafts me will get a versatile playmaker. I feel like I can fit in a lot of different systems in a lot of different ways. I feel like I can be on the outside and the slot, or I can contribute in the backfield as well. Of course, I’m a dangerous return man, too.”
For more from Turner, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Pitt Athletics