Editor's Note: Longtime NFL writer Dan Pompei, who has covered 26 Super Bowls, will be writing a weekly column for Bleacher Report examining the league.
There is a reason Matt Flynn, Josh Freeman, Tyler Wilson, Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart are not on the Raiders’ 53-man roster.
The reason wears No. 2.
When Al Davis made Terrelle Pryor the last pick of his life in the 2011 supplemental draft, the Raiders knew Pryor was a big, athletic prospect who could make second-chance plays. What they weren’t sure of was whether he could ever be the type of quarterback who could consistently beat defenses with his arm.
They still are in the process of finding that out in Pryor’s first year as a starter, but so far this season he has been more than just another nice set of legs. Much more. His passer rating of 97.6 is eighth-best in the league. His yards per attempt of 8.13 is seventh-best in the league. And his completion percentage of 68.3 is sixth-best in the league.
If the Raiders have a chance of upsetting the undefeated Chiefs on Sunday, it’s because of Pryor’s big-play potential.
Pryor is coming off a victory over the Chargers in which he completed his first 10 passes and finished with a 135.7 passer rating. “People have underestimated him,” one pro scout said. “His skills are coming together, and he is showing command. He is playing with more confidence and throwing accurately. He beat San Diego with a little bit of everything. He threw deep, converted some 3rd-and-longs, moved in the pocket, made throws on the move, and he handled the intermediate and short stuff.”
To be certain, Pryor still is developing as a passer. But the salient point is he is developing. His completion percentage in the pocket is 72.7—fourth-best in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
“He’s been a lot better than a lot of people ever thought he would be,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “I’m happy we have him.”
Some thought the Raiders might be the destination for Freeman, in part because Freeman had his best season in Tampa when Olson was his offensive coordinator. But Freeman, interestingly enough, signed with the Minnesota Vikings during Pryor’s big game against the Chargers. The next day, interestingly enough, Flynn was released.
Just as Olson knew how to get the most out of Freeman, he also has played Pryor to his strengths and not asked him to do things that are out of his comfort zone. Most of Pryor’s attempts have been high-percentage throws—curls, screens and passes to the flat.
All that matters is that he’s executing. “He’s managing the throws we give him and making good decisions for the most part,” Olson said. “We’ve stressed not to bypass an open receiver, as simple as that sounds. Take what the defense is giving you. If the first read is open, get it there, don’t worry about trying to create the big play. The big play will happen if we continue to just take the throw the defense is giving you.”
The Raiders also are taking advantage of Pryor’s most special gift, his movement ability. They have integrated some read option in their offense, borrowing some from the Redskins, some from the 49ers and some from college teams.
Pryor’s 57.3 rushing yards per game is second-best among quarterbacks behind Michael Vick’s 61.4. Pryor is a completely different runner than Vick, though. Some have compared him to Vince Young. Olson sees some similarities with Cam Newton but says Pryor might have better escape instincts. Newton is a half-inch taller and about 18 pounds heavier than the 6'4", 233-pound Pryor.
“When things break down, he’s done some amazing things with his legs,” Olson said. “Being able to extend plays, he’s one of the best in the league at that right now because he is such a great athlete.”
The pro scout added this: “He runs with the ball so naturally. At 6'5", he runs like a guy who is 6'0" in terms of speed, acceleration, change of direction and ability to make you miss.”
The Raiders appreciate Pryor’s mobility more because their offensive line has been ravaged by injuries. Among the players who have been sidelined are Stefen Wisniewski, Jared Veldheer, Menelik Watson and Tony Pashos.
Pryor is going to be interesting to watch going forward. If he is going to be more than just another Vince Young, he’ll have to keep evolving as a passer.
His throwing mechanics when he came to Oakland left a lot to be desired, but there has been improvement. Olson said Pryor has worked at bringing his elbow up and getting more shoulder rotation in his throws, often practicing in front of a mirror. He plans on focusing more on mechanics in the offseason. Pryor also is working with throwing coach Tom House, a former MLB pitcher who has worked with Tom Brady and Tim Tebow.
It’s already safe to say Pryor is not the quarterback that people thought he was going to be. Except, perhaps, Al Davis.
• Chiefs insiders are crediting defensive line coach Tommy Brasher for some of Dontari Poe’s improvement in his second year. After having no sacks as a rookie, the freakishly athletic 350-pound nose tackle has 4.5 through five games. And it’s clear to people at Arrowhead that Poe has grown as a pass-rusher.
Because of his size, Poe is perceived to be a run-stuffer. But the truth is he can shoot gaps and make quick moves with the best interior rushers in the league.
Two other little-known facts about Poe: He works like a beast, and he has great play-to-play endurance.
• Here is one for you fantasy players: a veteran talent evaluator likes what he sees from Jeff Cumberland and thinks the New York Jets tight end might be poised to break out and become one of the team’s best receiving options.
Cumberland has the size, hands and speed to cause matchup problems for defenses. The talent evaluator said he had the measurables to be drafted out of Illinois in 2010 but wasn’t because of lack of production and a rep as a guy who didn’t work hard. But Cumberland has developed and could be ready to take his game to another level.
• The hope in Philly was that the transition to outside linebacker in a 3-4 from defensive end in a 4-3 would reignite Trent Cole. But so far, the Eagle who had double-digit sacks four times over a five-year stretch has yet to sack a quarterback for Chip Kelly.
One front-office man who knows Cole and has studied him said it’s clear he has struggled with the 3-4 transition. “When he’s just rushing the passer and he doesn’t have anything else to think about, he’s the same guy he always was,” he said. “He can still rush. But he has more to think about as a linebacker, and it’s challenged him a bit. In certain calls now he’s rushing, others he’s dropping. Now if he’s dropping, is it a curl flat drop, a straight drop, man coverage? He’s never done any of this, and there is some hesitancy.”
• Manti Te’o is off to a pedestrian start in San Diego. The inside linebacker missed the first three games of the season with a foot injury and has not impressed opponents since. Said a team exec who studied him, “He looked like a young player, an average guy. He didn’t run real fast or make a lot of impact plays.”
Remember the name: Alshon Jeffery
There are a lot of NFL front office men who are surprised at the production of Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Some had little interest in him in the 2012 draft. Jeffery had a disappointing junior season, playing at a pudgy 232 pounds, and then left South Carolina early. He was compared to Lions bust Mike Williams. One questioned his “personality makeup.” Another said he didn’t separate very well in his routes.
But Bears general manager Phil Emery was undeterred. He rated Jeffery among the top three receivers in the draft—and traded a fifth-round pick to move up five spots in the second round to select Jeffery.
Emery had great faith in Jeffery then, and he has more faith in him now. He has 823 receiving yards in 16 career games, more than three of the six receivers chosen ahead of him.
What’s funny is many of Jeffery’s supposed weaknesses have turned into strengths.
The soft body? In the offseason, Jeffery worked out with teammate Brandon Marshall in Weston, Fla., and trimmed his body fat to eight percent.
The personality? Jeffery barely says a word, which isn’t a bad thing in a locker room with Marshall and Martellus Bennett. But those around him say he is humble, smart, hard-working and very team-oriented. He also is well liked.
And the inability to separate? One talent evaluator said defenders are having difficulty anticipating when Jeffery will cut because he is running all his routes at the same speed and with the same pad level. After all the work he’s put in, his routes are more defined.
So, it seems, is his future.
Here is what you know: Eli Manning has not been very good under pressure this year.
Here is what you may not know: Eli Manning never has been very good under pressure.
It’s just coming to the forefront in 2013 because he’s been under pressure more than ever. The Giants quarterback has been knocked down 32 times this season, according to research by Stats LLC and Bleacher Report. He has been sacked an additional 16 times, tied for third-most in the NFL.
So he has been knocked down or sacked once for every five dropbacks.
Previously in his career, Manning was knocked down or sacked once for every 6.1 dropbacks.
When he has been hurried or knocked down this year, Manning has completed 31.3 percent of his passes and has a passer rating of 45.9. Previously in his career, he completed 36.2 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 46.5.
His big brother Peyton, incidentally, has a 107.9 passer rating in the same situations this year. Said one front-office man, “Eli is not special like Peyton when it comes to reacting to things.” And what’s even more interesting is Pryor has a 117.5 passer rating in those situations—best in the NFL.
• It remains unclear if anyone has been getting their jollies by harassing Matt Schaub. Unless you count defensive ends, linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks, that is.
• Seeing nasty is contagious, someone is sure to link Dominic Raiola’s treatment of the Wisconsin marching band to Ndamukong Suh.
• David Garrard is the Larry Holmes of the NFL. He just keeps coming back.
• Rex Ryan declared in a recent press conference that “Mark Sanchez is not dead.” However, if you play the tape of the press conference in reverse, you can hear him saying what sounds like, “I buried Mark.”
• Any team that has lost a game as a result of participating in Hard Knocks should be free not to be featured by the HBO show again. All others should take their turn.