Three years ago, Terrelle Pryor's announcement of where he would attend college was deemed by Sports Illustrated to be "the most anticipated in history." On Tuesday, his decision to leave Ohio State and presumably turn pro was met with marginal curiosity in terms of his athletic ability and downright disdain for his perceived character flaws by several NFL coaches and executives.
"We spent a lot of time this year going through Cam Newton(notes) and Ryan Mallett's(notes) personality," an NFC general manager said. "I haven't done all my homework on Pryor yet, but my initial impression is that if you line all three of them up and just talked about trust and reliability, Pryor is dead last. Like not-even-out-of-the-starting-gate last.
"And it's probably only going to get worse."
That's saying a lot considering Mallett, the former Arkansas quarterback once projected as a first-round prospect, slipped to the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Pryor's decision to leave school comes on the heels of a five-game suspension to open OSU's 2011 campaign for receiving improper benefits – part of an escalating scandal that led to coach Jim Tressel's forced resignation on May 30.
As one NFC head coach, concealing his identity because he and other NFL officials are prohibited from speaking about Pryor publicly since he hasn't declared for the NFL yet, said about the passer: "The more you read about this guy with the cars and the tattoos and money and all that other stuff … Look, we all know how the college game works and what those [coaches] have to deal with, but this kid sounds like he didn't give a damn about anybody. He was just there for himself. He didn't even try to hide it. He flaunted it. If you're like that, it's hard to be a quarterback."
While that opinion belies the fact that Pryor, who played as a true freshman and started as a sophomore and junior, led Ohio State to a 23-3 record the past two seasons, the initial impression from a handful of NFL people is not favorable – both as a person and, surprisingly, as an athlete. The bottom line is that despite having athletic gifts that compare favorably with this year's No. 1 overall draft pick, Newton, Pryor may end up being a mid-round pick if there is a supplemental draft.
Currently, the supplemental draft is up in the air because there is no collective bargaining agreement between NFL owners and the players. Additionally, the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders have acquired the negotiating rights to Pryor. Regardless, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said Wednesday that Pryor, whose lack of accuracy has been widely questioned, might only be a third- or fourth-round pick if there were a draft and some teams projected him as low as a sixth- or seventh-rounder. That's stunning in a league where quarterbacks are so valuable.
Another NFC executive said he thought Pryor could be a second-round pick just because of that desperation. That executive noted, "I won't be the one picking him in that case."
The executive then went on to say: "Side by side, Pryor and Newton probably look identical. Same height. Newton is a little stronger; Pryor might be a little faster. But when you put them on the field, the results are different. Pryor was really good playing in the Big Ten. Newton was great playing in the SEC."
For instance, despite the fact that the 6-foot-6 Pryor reportedly ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at an Ohio State workout last spring, there was a huge gap between him and Newton in rushing productivity. Pryor ran for 754 yards last season, his third at Ohio State. Newton rushed for 1,473 in his one year as a full-time starter for Auburn after barely playing during his two years at Florida and spending a year in junior college.
Likewise, while Pryor and Newton's passing stats are pretty similar – Pryor completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,772 yards, 27 TD passes and 11 interceptions, and Newton completed 66.1 percent of his throws for 2,854 yards, 30 TD passes and seven interceptions – the discrepancy in picks raises red flags. Newton did that as a first-year starter at a program new to him. Pryor put up his numbers as a third-year player at a place where he was catered to for years.
"I would have expected a lot more from Pryor by this time given all the hype out there about him from years ago," the NFC head coach said. "I'm not saying he's a bad player. He's a good player and maybe he'll become great. He has the tools to be great, all the raw ability we look for. I'm just saying that when I actually watched him play in games, I always came away thinking, 'That's it?' I expected to see something really dominant and he was just good."
Or as a longtime NFL offensive assistant said: "I haven't taken a lot of time to study him. The times I watched him, it was on television, so that's not the best way to study a player. When I watched, he seemed to do a nice job running their offense, but it's hard to tell if that's him. They had a really good team, a lot of great players around him … there just wasn't a 'wow' factor when you saw him the way you expected."
Some people have projected that Pryor could end up at wide receiver because of his size and speed. However, both coaches said that was unlikely to be the emphasis from the start.
"He's a quarterback first and he's a quarterback until he can't do it anymore," the head coach said. "There's too much value in him as a quarterback, unless you think he'll never be a starter."
A longtime team executive said that the book on Pryor is already pretty well established.
"You set the edge on him and force him to throw from the pocket, see if he's accurate enough to beat you," the executive said. "I don't know anything about the personal side of him, I'm just talking about how he plays and that's how you defend him. In the college game, a guy like that can get into [open] space and have a much bigger impact. At our level, you can contain him more and force him to be a passer.
"As a passer, I'm not sure how accurate he is and that's going to determine a lot about how good he's really going to be."
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