What Does Terrelle Pryor Have to Prove on Sunday?

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystDecember 28, 2013

Dec 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (2) stands on the field before the start of the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Raiders head into Sunday’s season finale against the Denver Broncos hoping to get their final evaluation of quarterback Terrelle Pryor. After six games with undrafted rookie free agent Matt McGloin as the starting quarterback, the Raiders have turned back to Pryor, who was their Week 1 starter.

Despite having nine career starts under his belt, Pryor still has a lot to prove.

Given that Pryor’s third season in the NFL will come to an end on Sunday, the start could dictate his future at the quarterback position and his status next season with the Raiders. If Pryor isn’t effective as both a runner and passer, it’s conceivable that he will never get another start at the NFL level—particularly not with the Raiders.

It’s just too unclear if Pryor can ever be an effective passer in the NFL. For a short time after Pryor’s first start against the Broncos in Week 3, he did look like he had that ability. A midseason slump by Pryor thereafter erased the positive vibes and was as much the reason McGloin retained the starting job as Pryor’s knee injury.


Passing Efficiency

In his first four starts, Pryor was an efficient passer. In his last four starts, Pryor was an inefficient passer. Pryor’s ability to run remained regardless of how good or bad he was at throwing the ball.

Pryor completed 68.2 percent of his passes in his first four starts and just 50.8 percent in his last four. Quickly, Pryor went from being one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league to being one of the least efficient quarterbacks in the league.  

Terrelle Pryor's First 4 Starts vs. Last 4
PeriodComp %Yard Per GameYPATDINTSacks
First 4 Starts68.3211.258.14211
Last 4 Starts50.8178.56.01818

There were some red flags in those first four games; notably a lack of passing attempts, touchdown passes and passing yardage. At the time, Pryor’s rushing ability seemed to excuse the lack of yardage even though it didn’t totally close the gap.

Pryor was attempting just 26 passes per game in his first four starts and most of the completions came on quick drops or with Pryor extending plays by scrambling to his right. It all imploded on Pryor in Week 6 in Kansas City.

The Chiefs forced Pryor to his left by having outside linebacker Justin Houston contain him instead of rush him. Kansas City’s secondary also broke quickly on Pryor’s short passes. The result was three interceptions, nine sacks and a completion percentage of just 52.9 percent for Pryor.

A blueprint had been found to slow down Pryor and he hasn’t been able to complete more than 53.7 percent of his passes in any game since. In his three starts after the one in Kansas City, Pryor threw five more interceptions and zero touchdowns.

The Chiefs showed the rest of the NFL how to defense Pryor.
The Chiefs showed the rest of the NFL how to defense Pryor.Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Pryor needs to prove on Sunday he can be an efficient passer again, but he’ll have to get to his second read in the passing game more often and make smarter decisions to guarantee it. If Pryor can’t demonstrate an ability to be an efficient passer, his immense talent as a runner at the quarterback position will never be allowed to shine.

According to ProFootballFocus (subscription required), Pryor’s average time to throw is 3.46 seconds and his average time to attempt is 3.04 seconds. No quarterback in the league holds onto the ball longer than Pryor.

Pryor can get away with holding the ball at times because he can escape pressure, but the result is a breakdown of the design of the play. Just by the nature of offense being designed, passing efficiency is going do go down when this happens.

Pryor isn’t moving within the pocket as much as he is trying to get out of it. Pryor needs to prove that he can pass from and manipulate the pocket so he can use his legs as a sword as opposed to a shield.

Health & Running Ability

When McGloin was initially given the starting job it was partly due to the fact that Pryor played on a bum knee against the New York Giants. Pryor was hurting and it manifested itself in the passing game and the running game.

Pryor's Rushing Stats
Prior to MCL (7 Games)634857.71
After MCL (3 games)11423.81

Pryor rushed five times for just 19 yards against the Giants which was his lowest yardage output on the ground all season. Since then, Pryor has gotten some action here and there and rushed six times for 23 yards.

Believe it or not, Pryor needs to prove that he’s dangerous on the ground again.

Since it was revealed he had a sprained MCL, Pryor is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Clearly teams have learned how to slow him down, but such a low yards per carry average is alarming for a guy who averaged 7.4 yards per carry as the starter in 2013.

Of all the things Pryor needs to prove on Sunday, this one should be the easiest for him. 

Game Management

One of the areas that Pryor has really struggled in is game management. Pryor has committed a total of eight penalties in eight starts according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required). Only three quarterbacks have been called for more penalties than Pryor and every single one of them has started all 15 games this season.

NFL's Most Penalized Quarterbacks 2013
QuarterbackSnapsPenaltiesSnaps Per Penalty
Eli Manning9631280
Drew Brees10801198
Russell Wilson9389104
Terrelle Pryor548869

To be an effective starting quarterback, Pryor needs to get his team out of the huddle in a timely manner and get up to the line of scrimmage. By getting up to the line of scrimmage late, Pryor doesn’t even have the opportunity to make checks and get a clear look at all the defenders.  

Considering that McGloin didn’t have any trouble getting the team to the line in his six starts, we know it’s not an issue on the coaching end. Pryor simply needs to do a better job in this area to prove he can play the position.

It’s entirely possible that getting up to the line sooner could help Pryor in the passing game. Pryor can make some early determinations with where he should probably go with the football prior to the snap. If it’s not there, Pryor can tuck the ball and run.

Given Pryor’s ability to run the ball, an offense that only asks him to make one read and run can be somewhat effective. As long as Pryor makes good decisions with the football and avoids turnovers, the Raiders can stay competitive with that kind of offense.

The Future

Absent a great performance from Pryor, his time in Oakland could be coming to an end. There is a lot the Raiders coaches likely still want to see from Pryor, but if he doesn’t have some of this stuff down after three years in the NFL, it’s probably not going to happen.

Pryor will need to play his best football and do some things we haven’t ever seen him do on Sunday to lock up a roster spot next year. McGloin is seemingly already in the team’s future plans.

“I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen out of Matt McGloin since really the first moment he walked on campus here,” head coach Dennis Allen said via the team’s official website.  “I think we have a guy that can be in our plans for the future. I’m glad he’s on this football team.”

For Pryor, the team is still trying to “evaluate” him, suggesting his future with the team is questionable. Although he is under contract next season, the Raiders could try to trade Pryor or release him in the offseason.

Above all else, Pryor needs to prove to his coaches or to talent evaluators across the league that he can still develop. Absent that, it’s unclear what the future will bring for Pryor if he stays at the quarterback position.


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