[note: I starting writing this up a few days ago before recent reports that all five suspended Buckeyes would return to school. But I took the time to write it, so here it is. Enjoy now, or stash away until next offseason.]
I’ll start by saying that Terrelle Pryor needs to stay in school. If he wants to play quarterback at the next level he should spend another year absorbing all that he can from Jim Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. Tressel and Bollman have done an exceptional job developing quarterbacks with far less talent than Pryor such as Troy Smith and Craig Krenzel. If Pryor puts in the work, he can still become an elite college quarterback in the final seven or eight games of his career.
With that said, there is certainly a chance that Pryor turns pro – although I do not believe that it is a sure thing as many would have you believe. Remember Pryor chose Ohio State over Oregon, Michigan and Penn State. A gifted athlete such as Pryor could have excelled at either Oregon or Michigan from day one. Their offensive schemes are designed for a quarterback like Pryor, and would have required a much smaller learning curve.
Pryor, however, wanted to be turned into an NFL quarterback. He knew a coaching staff that could take Krenzel and Smith and get them jobs in the NFL, they could certainly do the same for him. So long as Pryor remembers why he came to Ohio State in the first place – which I believe he does – there is an excellent chance that he returns to school.
Of course, I would be foolish to assume that he’s smart enough to stick around. He may declare for the draft and if he does, he will be one of the most discussed prospects in this year’s class. So let’s breakdown his draft stock.
All the athleticism and arm strength in the world can’t make up for an inability to fit the ball into tight spots. When he’s standing in the pocket, Pryor’s accuracy is above average. He consistently hits receivers in stride and maintains his accuracy on throws all over the field.
However, when Pryor is pressured and fails to set his feet his accuracy gets thrown out the window. His athleticism can be an asset at times, but it also does him a disservice. He thinks he can throw on the run simply because he is able to escape pressure, but he would often be better off throwing it away or even taking a sack than attempting to make throws that is he simply isn’t capable of on the run.
If he can become a more patient quarterback and understand that he needs to set his feed and remember his mechanics when on the run, he can overcome this issue.
Pryor can make all the throws necessary to play at the next level. With just the flick of his wrist he can launch the ball downfield. And unlike his accuracy, his arm strength doesn’t fail him on the run. This is clearly one of the biggest assets Pryor has going for him and is sure to catch the attention of GMs, coaches and scouts at the combine and/or his pro day.
When he isn’t facing pressure, Pryor’s mechanics are actually pretty good. His footwork is excellent; he does a great job quickly dropping back while keeping his head on a steady plane.
However, as soon as he feels pressure he forgets his mechanics. He often throws off his back foot, or with his shoulders open and it results in inaccurate throws. This is where his arm strength hurts him. He has the strength to get the ball to his receiver despite poor mechanics, and he simply trusts his arm strength over his accuracy in these situations. With more self-awareness Pryor can eliminate these mistakes.
Pryor’s athleticism is overstated, much like it was for Tim Tebow last year. There is a difference between athletic and elusive. Michael Vick is elusive – he can make linebackers and defensive backs miss in the open field. Pryor is athletic enough to make some defensive ends miss, but will rarely juke his way past smaller, more athletic defenders.
What Pryor does have going for him is his size. He is as strong as many linebackers and even some defensive ends, making him difficult to bring down. Simply put, you have to wrap him up to get him on the ground. As an added bonus, he isn’t afraid to take a hit. He’ll lower his shoulder into a defender to pick up extra yards on the run.
Understanding the Offense
Only Ohio State’s coaches can truly evaluate this aspect of Pryor’s game. Fortunately he plays for a coaching staff that is well respected by NFL personnel, and they will rely on the opinions of Tressel and his staff.
My outsider’s view of Pryor is that he is willing to learn, but slow to adjust. He has progressed throughout his career, but not nearly at the rate which his raw ability should allow. The issue here lies with his willingness to trust his teammates on the field. He still has a tendency to use his feet more than necessary, and this is where he makes mistakes. He needs to become a more patient quarterback, and that only happens with practice.
This is another area where Ohio State’s coaches will be heavily relied upon to provide an evaluation. However, we do have the ability to see how he acts on the field. Pryor appears to be genuinely liked and respected by his teammates. However, that is much easier to accomplish on the collegiate level when everyone is roughly the same age. In the NFL Pryor will be asked to be a leader of men 7 to 10 years older than him. This is something that often hinders the development of young quarterbacks (see: Ryan Leaf, Jimmy Clausen).
This could also be an issue for Pryor. He often shows frustration on the field and on the sideline, specifically when his teammates miss assignments. Young college players looking to gain the respect of their star quarterback will put up with this, NFL veterans will not. There’s no way to predict whether or not this will be an issue, especially because it never became one at Ohio State. However it is certainly something I would address with Pryor and his coaching staff if I were an NFL GM or coach considering drafting him.
Pryor has the talent to play quarterback in the NFL. There is no denying that. Skeptics who say he needs to play receiver are overreacting and aren’t seeing the whole picture. That said, he isn’t ready to compete in the NFL.
I believe that Pryor’s struggles can only be fixed with practice, practice and more practice. He needs to become more comfortable with who he is as a quarterback. He has shown the ability to be great when he is patient and given time in the pocket, but when facing pressure he crumbles. Only at the college level can he break these bad habits. Being thrown into the fire in the NFL – even if only on the practice field – could actually cause him to regress. In an effort to keep up with the speed of the pro game, Pryor may revert back to the skills with which he is most comfortable.
If he enters the draft this year I would not draft Pryor before the 5th round. However, I will acknowledge that someone probably will. His upside – both as a quarterback and as a receiver – would likely make him a top 100 pick. Should he return to school and continue to develop, Pryor could turn himself into a 1st-round pick. He has a very similar skill set to Cam Newton, who established himself as a 1st-round prospect with an impressive season this year at Auburn. Pryor, even in a shortened season, could do the same in 2011.