The Oakland Raiders enter the 2013 season without a proven quarterback. Matt Flynn—with two career starts on his resume—is the presumptive starter, and rookie Tyler Wilson is considered his biggest threat for the job, leaving third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor stuck in between.
Realistically, if Pryor isn’t considered starting material by now, he never will be. Actions speak louder than words, and the offseason signing of Flynn and drafting of Wilson are a reflection on how Pryor is viewed within the organization, even if they won’t admit it publicly. However, it would be a shame to waste Pryor’s amazing athleticism because it can be used in so many ways.
The Raiders appear to be taking the path of least resistance by using Pryor only in certain situations. The Raiders have been dropping hints for quite some time that there will be a package of plays designed to highlight Pryor’s strengths (running and throwing deep on occasion).
A souped-up version of Tim Tebow minus the media frenzy isn’t a bad thing to have around if you have a creative offensive coordinator and your offense lacks firepower. All signs suggest that Pryor still has a long ways to go as a passer, but a package of plays buys him time without completely wasting his abilities.
The other option would be to move Pryor to a new position to make better use of his talents. This is hardly an original idea, but it’s one the Raiders should consider before it is too late. With two years left on his rookie contract, now would be the time for Pryor to switch positions.
Any position switch is going to take a lot of work and come with a learning curve, even for a former quarterback. It’s going to take precious time neither the Raiders nor Pryor has to waste, so as decision would have to be made before training camp starts July 24.
One of the biggest reasons the Raiders should consider a position switch for Pryor is because he has qualities that will translate to playing wide receiver in the NFL. No one would be talking about Pryor switching positions if he weren’t bigger, faster and stronger than many of his peers.
Specifically, Pryor’s size is an asset that is somewhat wasted at the quarterback position. Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick don’t need to be 6’4” like Pryor to be good running quarterbacks. If it wasn’t for the slight advantage of being able to see over the offensive line, Pryor’s height would give him no advantage at quarterback.
However, Pryor’s height would give him a significant advantage over smaller cornerbacks and safeties as a wide receiver. If Pryor were also to learn how to use his body to shield defenders, he’d be one heck of target for a quarterback in the red zone.
Speed is also something that’s brought up a lot with Pryor. It’s important to note that Pryor doesn’t just have track speed, but he also plays fast and accelerates quickly. Every good receiver needs to be able to get to top speed quickly, and it never hurts to be able to run past opposing defenders.
A good example of Pryor using his speed came in his preseason action against the Detroit Lions last year. On one run, Pryor easily got to the edge and then turned on the jets and ran past defensive backs. Pryor actually overran his blocking at the end of the play and got tripped up by a diving defender's shoelace.
Pryor’s experience as a runner would also make him excellent after the catch as a wide receiver. In his first (and only) career start against the San Diego Chargers, Pryor flashed why he would be dangerous in this area.
Pryor was trying to pick up a first down on a 3rd-and-1 read-option play and decided to keep the ball and run to his right. Pryor ultimately lost a yard, but it would have been a lot worse if Pryor hadn’t put a nasty stiff arm on veteran linebacker Shaun Phillips.
It’s scary to think about what the 233-pound Pryor might be capable of against cornerbacks and safeties who weigh 20-40 pounds less than he does. Phillips actually weighs about 15 pounds more than Pryor, and the stiff arm put Phillips on his behind.
Despite some important skills that translate, there are a considerable amount of unknowns involved with a position switch. More unknowns typically mean more risk is involved, and no one knows if Pryor will be able to run clean routes, catch the ball consistently or block.
Pryor could also be completely useless as a receiver for a few years while he learns the position and/or never develop as a receiver at all. The Raiders don’t have the luxury to sit on Pryor for two years and try to develop him all over again at a new position.
A lot of Pryor’s skills translate, but there are enough unknowns that you can’t blame the Raiders for not taking the risk. Hoping Pryor can be something more at the NFL level at a position he hasn’t played since at least Pop Warner could just be a pipe dream.
Making the Switch
Many prospects come to that conclusion during the predraft process and decide to make the best of a position switch in order to get a job. Denard Robinson will make the transition from college quarterback to “offensive weapon” for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season, and there have been plenty of notable conversions over the years.
Of course, most quarterback conversions have only been moderately successful, and it would be unprecedented for a player of Pryor’s talent level to make a position switch this late in his pro career. It could work, but the risk may not be worth the reward—it’s nearly impossible to set the odds on Pryor successfully transitioning to a new position. For all we know, the odds may be roughly equal to Pryor developing as a passer.
There is no blueprint for what the Raiders would be trying to do with Pryor nor would there be clarity on what position he should play. The Raiders' most glaring need on offense is at tight end, but unless Pryor can gain significantly more weight, that doesn’t seem like a good option.
There are plenty of great tight ends around 6’4” like Pryor, but virtually all of them carry upward of 250 pounds on their frames. Gaining weight would take time and could slow Pryor down, assuming it’s even a possibility for him to add the weight.
The best position for Pryor is probably wide receiver, where he could focus primarily on catching the ball and learn to block later. Pryor’s size advantage would also serve him well against smaller cornerbacks, making him a go-to option in goal-to-go situations.
Raiders fans are probably most familiar with college-quarterback-turned-NFL-wide receiver Ronald Curry. It took two years before Curry saw regular playing time with the Raiders, so the transition isn’t always quick and easy.
Curry ended up catching 193 passes for 2,347 yards and 13 touchdowns in his seven-year pro career, and for several years, he was a key offensive player for the Raiders. Pryor has vastly more potential, but would have to be convinced that he would have more success at receiver and could make the transition quickly.
The closest physical example to Pryor would be former Jaguars first-round pick Matt Jones. Like Pryor, Jones was tall, between 220-240 pounds and ran blazing fast. Jones washed out of the league after four years because of some off-the-field issues, but certainly flashed potential.
Jones had 65 receptions, 761 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games in 2008—his final year in the NFL. Jones was the Jaguars’ leading receiver in 2008 and had a shot at 1,000 yards if he played in every game. Jones also had five touchdowns his rookie season, so was able to make an immediate impact as a red-zone target.
The Path of Least Resistance
It’s possible the Raiders have already considered moving Pryor and decided to keep him at quarterback. A position change is not something that should be taken lightly, even if it’s easy to connect the dots between Pryor’s physical talent and the wide receiver position.
The path of least resistance is to keep Pryor at quarterback, even if that limits how his athleticism can be used. In the perfect world, the Raiders could just tell Pryor he is going to switch positions and everything would fall into place from there, but we all know it doesn’t work that way.
Pryor’s confidence could be shaken by telling him that he’s no longer good enough to play the position he’s been playing since high school. It’s a legitimate concern because Pryor admitted to Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated that he questioned his love for the game during his rookie season:
There was a point -- and I know it seems crazy -- but there was a point I was asking myself if I really loved this game anymore. That's where I was at [emotionally]. Throughout the whole season I wasn't playing, I wasn't getting no love toward me. I just felt some type of way. I started questioning myself, even though I shouldn't have. I was like, "Do I even love this game? Do I want to play this game? Is this what I want to do?"
By asking Pryor to switch positions, the Raiders would be telling him he isn’t even good enough to compete to quarterback at the NFL level. Pryor’s confidence could be shattered, which could certainly impact his ability to transition to another position.
The Raiders would also be throwing away all the time and effort already put in to making Pryor a good quarterback. Some players may or may not be receptive to switching positions because they are basically being told their life’s work has been pointless.
If the player hasn’t already come to the conclusion that he can’t make it in the NFL at his current position, it’s probably not a good idea to destroy his confidence. You never know if a player will be able to bounce back once his confidence is destroyed, so the Raiders could actually be sabotaging their own efforts with a position switch.
A gradual position change might make sense, but it is possible Pryor could be resistant to it like running back Michael Bush was when the Raiders asked him to play fullback in 2008. At the time, the Raiders weren’t even asking Bush to make the switch permanently and only needed him to play fullback because of injuries.
If the Raiders haven’t decided to take the risk and ask Pryor to change positions, it’s probably not going to happen. It’s a considerably safer play for the Raiders to salvage some value by using Pryor’s athleticism at quarterback and still hold out hope that he drastically develops as a passer.
The current situation works for both sides until the Raiders find a franchise quarterback. Once that happens, Pryor loses any value to the team because it doesn’t make sense to take a franchise quarterback off the field even for a few plays. Even Carson Palmer was good enough last year to keep Pryor planted firmly on the bench for 15 weeks.
At the moment, the Raiders appear more concerned with using Pryor as a running quarterback and salvaging some of his some value than trying to completely justify his selection in the third round of the 2011 NFL supplemental draft by having him learn a new position.
The new regime in Oakland knows it won’t be blamed if Pryor never becomes a starting quarterback, even though it’s still in its best interests to develop him. It’s certainly reasonable to assume the Raiders have had the discussion internally and decided it wasn’t worth it to force a change.
Should the Raiders consider a position change for Pryor? Absolutely, but it’s a high-risk, high-reward proposition. The Raiders are operating on razor-thin talent as it is, and they can’t afford to risk losing even the small amount of production Pryor is expected to provide.
Having Pryor play a position other than quarterback is a great idea in theory, but in practice, there is just too much potential for disaster.