June 30, 2011
By all accounts, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was very interested in improving his game before the scandal in which he was at the center and has rocked the Buckeyes to the core. Now, he's a lockout-fed cause célèbre in NFL terms, because of the value of quarterbacks and his pure athletic potential. But as a quarterback? Pryor is coming into the NFL very much as a work in progress.
Nobody understands that better than the man himself. Just last October, he said that he finally felt like a quarterback from a playbook and mechanical perspective. "I feel like I can be a complete quarterback, but I can also run the ball. It's going to be interesting, just how much smarter I am and how much I grew. ... It's the first time I could actually look at film and see how much I've grown and matured. I go through the reads right, I hit my checkdowns now, I take the right steps in the handoff. It just feels like everything is good."
Everything was supposed to be better over time, but things happened as they did, and Pryor is now one of the outcasts in an increasingly broken situation. That's the college story. Now, he's hired Drew Rosenhaus, he's working with former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson, and he's getting ready for a to-be-determined pro day that should ease his way into the NFL supplemental draft.
Rather than going through the legal and ethical arguments in the case of Pryor and trying to extrapolate how that transfers to intangibles (a sketchy expedition at best), I thought it better to stick with what happened on the field. Based on game tape, is this guy ready to play — or even ride the bench — in the NFL?
Through three seasons, Pryor completed 477 passes in 783 attempts (a 60.9 completion percentage) for 6,177 yards, 57 touchdowns with 26 interceptions. He also rushed 436 times for 2,164 yards (a 5.0 per carry average) and 17 touchdowns.
Accuracy: Can fit the ball into larger windows, but often benefited from defenses adjusting to the run. Throws off balance a lot when he's moving, which leads to passes that float when they should be humming. Threw deep to a lot of zone-busting receivers at Ohio State, but there isn't enough evidence of his ability to consistently throw into tight windows.
Arm strength: Can zip intermediate throws, though deep seam and post passes tend to hang up a bit. Still working on the touch required for a standard NFL system; most throws are either on a rope or floating too long with an exaggerated "touch" concept to make up for the real touch he doesn't have yet. Short passes tend to flutter, and his setup for such passes is still exaggerated.
Setup/release: Has a little hitch in his throwing motion, but it's not a major impediment. Rolls a lot to his left and requires too much time to set his feet when he stops to throw. Tends to need to stop and plant; the motion to set and throw doesn't look and feel natural just yet. Will stand flat-footed when throwing instead of using a more natural through-motion. He's pretty indiscriminate when it comes to throwing off his back foot, especially when he's on the run, and many of the resulting throws won't make the cut in the NFL — even the intermediate passes tend to flutter and wobble.
Reading defenses: Single-read passer for the most part; Pryor is clearly set to predetermine a fairly simple set of route concepts and take off if whatever's out there isn't to his liking. Didn't perform in a complex offense, and many of his successful passes were based on keeping defenses on a string with his running ability — a common claim among option quarterbacks. Isn't tied to shotgun; can run things pretty well under center and doesn't trip over himself on drop steps.
Mobility: Uses breakaway speed to make something out of nothing when a play has broken down. Tremendous second-level burst and agility. Dangerous player on the run, especially when running counter and play-action. Gets outside the tackles in a hurry, accelerated past second-level defenders, and squares his shoulders quickly to get upfield. Much better throwing when he's rolling right; Pryor keeps his eyes downfield and understands timing. On motion throws to his left, his mechanics slow down and get rickety.
Conclusion: In college, Pryor faced a lot of simple zone schemes that were invariably altered by the need to pay attention to his running ability. In the NFL, where even teams running complex hybrid schemes out of nickel and dime defenses have figured out ways to stop mobile quarterbacks without sacrificing coverage, Pryor will struggle until he figures out a few things — how to derive increased velocity through proper throwing mechanics, when to cut out the read-and-run stuff and pick up progression concepts, and his own best way to become a thrower with touch and accuracy in short windows. It's clear that he would have benefited immensely from a 2011 college season, but as the coaches like to say, "It is what it is."
Right now, Pryor is a single-pitch pitcher with some potential; a good running quarterback with some natural physical advantages. But as is the case with most spread quarterbacks (and even in an NFL that caters more to those types of quarterbacks more and more every year), Pryor will most likely have to start out as a situational guy best suited to the teams that hold Wildcat and Pistol concepts most dear. He doesn't have Cam Newton's(notes) arm, nor has he proven to have Vince Young's(notes) ability (at least, when Vince Young feels like it) to integrate passing into a more complex running scheme in an option offense. Not yet, at least. Right now, I'd compare him with one of the second-tier option guys who are still trying to get the hang of it in the pros. Tim Tebow's(notes) one easy compare, but because of Pryor's pure downfield speed, another name seems a better fit.
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