EAGAN, Minn. — A pack of reporters raced for position Friday to observe the initial practice reps for the Minnesota Vikings’ pair of first-round draft picks. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy was warming up on one side of the field. Linebacker Dallas Turner was on the far side. Logistics required a decision: Who would get Day 1 coverage of rookie minicamp?

Understandably, it didn’t take long to gather near McCarthy. So while McCarthy’s every dropback and handoff drew scrutiny, Turner moved through drills in relative anonymity, his No. 15 blending in with a group of mostly undrafted and tryout players.

That trend is likely to continue this spring, given the public oxygen consumed by quarterbacks, but it belies the anticipation the Vikings have for a player that cost more draft capital than any first-round draft pick in their history.

During a brief post-practice media availability preceding McCarthy’s appearance, Turner said one of Friday’s toughest assignments was gearing down his intensity to match the methodical pace of spring practices, which the Vikings believe is more conducive to learning base techniques and schemes.

“Have you ever seen one of those little kids in public, and their mom has that backpack leash on them?” Turner said with a smile. “It’s kind of like that. So the kid wants to run and play and do all that stuff, but the mom is like, ‘No, come back over here.’ It’s kind of like easing us into it.”

It’s hard to believe Turner will spend much time in obscurity. He was, after all, a consensus top-10 pick, according to ESPN Analytics’ draft predictor, which factors in expert mock drafts, Scouts Inc. grades and team needs. A run on offensive players — including McCarthy, selected at No. 10 — pushed Turner into the second half of the first round. At No. 17, he was the third defensive player drafted — a scenario ESPN Analytics gave a 3% likelihood of happening.

For the Vikings, however, it ranked among the most meaningful draft moments in their history. It had been 18 years since they last selected an edge rusher in the first round (Erasmus James), and the highest they had drafted one in 27 years (Duane Clemons). Given the underlying draft capital they used to acquire an additional first-round pick in March and then move up from No. 23 to No. 17 on draft night — a total of seven surrendered picks, the most they’ve ever given up for a single first-rounder, per ESPN Stats & Information — Turner should be viewed as one of the most consequential draft picks the Vikings have ever made.

In a memorable post-draft line, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah acknowledged that he is normally a “spreadsheet and calculator guy.” But sometimes, Adofo-Mensah said, “you’ve got to step out from there, take your Clark Kent glasses off and just have a championship mindset and swing for a great player.”

ESPN Analytics calculated that Turner cost the Vikings the equivalent of two mid-first round picks, or as ESPN’s Bill Barnwell put it, roughly the same as the No. 1 overall pick. That’s the price an NFL team will pay for a potentially transcendent player who can upend a game on his own — and on Friday, the Vikings put Turner in exactly the place you would expect that impact to come from.

“For Dallas, it’s just getting comfortable in that home position on the edge as an outside linebacker,” coach Kevin O’Connell said.

At 6-foot-2 and 247 pounds, Turner isn’t as big as some of the NFL’s top pass-rushers. But he is faster, having recorded an official 4.46 time in the 40 at the 2024 scouting combine, and has disproportionately long arms (35 inches) and wingspan (83 inches) for his height. That will help Turner keep would-be blockers at a distance, but it’s important to understand that the Vikings don’t simply envision him as a pass-rusher. In short order, they will begin subjecting him to defensive coordinator Brian Flores’ multi-positional vision. The Vikings want to see what he’ll look like with, say, a pre-snap position over the center or in pass coverage.

Some draft analysts compared him to the Texans’ Will Anderson Jr., the No. 3 overall pick of the 2023 draft and Turner’s pass-rushing teammate at Alabama. But retired Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said during the ABC draft broadcast that a more accurate comparison is with another former Alabama linebacker: Dont’a Hightower. Flores, who coached Hightower during most of his career with the New England Patriots, reiterated that reference last month during an interview posted on the Vikings’ website.

Hightower, who retired in 2021 and is now a member of the Patriots’ coaching staff, never had more than six sacks in a season, but his ability to glide between roles helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls in his time there.

“I like [the selection] in conjunction with some of the other players [on the team],” Flores said in the interview. “That’s really what I was thinking about, what I’ve been thinking about, what our staff has been thinking about. Dallas — in conjunction with Jonathan Greenard, [Andrew] Van Ginkel and [Josh] Metellus and Harrison Smith and Harrison Phillips — and different groups you can put out in different situations. That’s what the next few weeks are going to look like. … We’ll start the process of teaching him the system, and we’ll find out how much he can handle, and we’ll give him as much as he can handle but always try to put him in the best positions to do what he does best.”

Saban used Turner as a multi-positional player at Alabama, and there’s every reason to think that experience can translate into Flores’ scheme. “Like any rookie, his role is going to be up to him,” Flores said.

It wasn’t enough for Day 1 coverage in rookie minicamp, of course, but if the Vikings are right, Turner will soon be too obvious to ignore.


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