- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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Terrelle Pryor is dealing with a very tough stretch in his young career with the Oakland Raiders. He injured his right knee in Week 9 against Philadelphia, but even before that he was really struggling as a passer.
Like Pryor, I too am from the Pittsburgh area. I spent three years as Pitt’s recruiting assistant. A huge portion of my job with the Panthers was to watch recruiting tape of high school players, and I was fortunate to watch countless great players, many of whom went on to have outstanding NFL careers. The year I moved on in my career from Pitt was the year that Pryor was being touted as the best high school prospect in the country. Of course, I had to get my hands on tape of this young man, and I will say that I thought he was quite possibly the best recruit I have ever watched. I wasn’t sure if he was best suited to be a quarterback at the college level, and thought he would be an elite wide receiver or move to tight end. In fact, because he was so big, strong, tough and competitive, I actually thought his best place on the field at that time would be as a 3-4 outside linebacker, where he would be a demon coming off the edge as well as a great space defender. Few players that age and that size could move with this burst and fluidity.
That truly rare athletic ability remains today, and in a league littered with amazing athletes at quarterback, Pryor stands alone in my opinion. He is about as big and physical as Cam Newton, but has a burst, extra gear and long speed to rival Robert Griffin III. There just are not many people on the planet with Pryor’s athletic gifts.
Even in his high school days, and all through his time at Ohio State, I questioned Pryor’s ability as a passer -- as an NFL-caliber passer. But Pryor has obviously worked very hard on his craft and has improved dramatically. Much of that was on display early this season, but over his past four games his passing has been a great liability. We all know his supporting cast is far from ideal, but since Week 6, Pryor has completed just 61 of 120 passes, or 50.8 percent. He has just 714 passing yards on those 120 attempts, including a dismal 88 yards against the Steelers (whom Tom Brady torched for 432 yards the following week) and 122 yards this past week against the Giants. Over that stretch he has just one touchdown pass and eight interceptions. In fact, his latest performance was his worst of the season, and he looked impaired by the injury more than ever. He rushed for just 19 yards in that game, his lowest total of the season. Pryor is far from a perfect product in terms of his mechanics, but his injury is making that situation much worse.
Not only is Pryor a rare running threat at the quarterback position, but one of his great strengths is his ability to extend a play. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Pryor has by far the greatest number of pass attempts in which he has had at least five seconds to throw. That is both a good and a bad statistic, as he often holds the ball for too long. Most of this is due to Pryor’s ability to escape, but the Raiders also use max-protection schemes to help their suspect offensive line and buy time for their receivers to get deep. And we know Pryor as the arm strength to get the ball deep downfield. In fact, his deep passing was improving at an impressive pace before his knee injury.
The five-seconds statistic also shows that Pryor doesn’t always look to run the football and is a passer first, which is a great quality for an NFL quarterback. While he can certainly scramble (when healthy) and extend a play with his athletic and playmaking ability, Pryor also doesn’t feel or recognize the rush very well and often just holds the ball too long. This was on full display against the Chiefs in Week 6, as Kansas City’s great pass rush overwhelmed the Raiders’ blockers, inevitably sacking Pryor a whopping nine times. Much of that blame needs to fall on the young quarterback’s shoulders as well -- and Pryor was healthy for that game.
Pryor has taken a beating this season, and maybe it would be best to sit him down. Unfortunately for the Raiders, they are light on options beyond Pryor, with the unproven Matt McGloin the top backup. Also, Oakland needs as much tape on Pryor as they can get so they can make a decision this offseason to (1) stick with Pryor as their starting quarterback and build around him or (2) pursue another option in free agency or, more likely, the draft in what is expected to be a very strong quarterback class. Even though Pryor isn’t putting good tape out there now, the Raiders realize that he is in injured. And despite his being limited, they can determine if he is improving with his reads and decisions.
This is a tough situation for the Raiders, who travel to Houston this week and then host Tennessee in Week 12. Houston has the league’s best defensive player in J.J. Watt and has been excellent against the pass, and Tennessee has an exceptional pair of cornerbacks in Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty. This might be the time to let Pryor heal and regroup.
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