What Went Wrong for Terrelle Pryor in Oakland?

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystApril 22, 2014

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The Oakland Raiders traded quarterback Terrelle Pryor to the Seattle Seahawks for a seventh-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft on Monday. Pryor was late owner Al Davis’ final draft pick, a third-round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft. The Raiders ultimately forfeited what would have been the 78th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft for Pryor.

Raider Nation had hoped that Pryor could develop into something special. For a brief period, he was. It’s as if hope became reality doused in lighter fluid and everything went up in flames with a simple spark. Pryor is now just the latest in a long line of busts at the quarterback position for the Raiders.

What went wrong for Pryor in Oakland? Why didn’t things work out for him in the silver and black?

For starters, Pryor was set up for failure. Even if he ultimately proved to be missing a few traits required to be a good starting quarterback, circumstances outside of his control may have prevented him from developing.

The Situation

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Pryor was the consolation prize for the Raiders losing out on the quarterback they had coveted in the 2011 NFL draft—Colin Kaepernick. Giving up a third-round pick for Pryor should have made him the quarterback of the future, but the Raiders never treated him that way.

Part of the problem was that Pryor was selected just three weeks before the start of the 2011 season and then was suspended for the first five weeks. Al Davis never did get to see Pryor in a regular-season game because he died just before the Raiders’ Week 5 game against the Houston Texans.

In Davis, Pryor lost his biggest advocate, a man that would ensure he was developed and his athleticism used. When the Raiders lost starting quarterback Jason Campbell in Week 6 of the 2011 season, the Raiders didn’t even consider Pryor as a realistic option. 

Pryor's Career Timeline
Aug 22, 2011Pryor Drafted in the Third Round of the Supplemental Draft
October 9, 2011Al Davis Dies
October 10, 2011Terrelle Pryor Activated After 5 Game Suspension
October 18, 2011Raiders Trade for Carson Palmer
January 11, 2012Hue Jackson Fired
December 30, 2012Pryor's First Career Start
December 31, 2012Offensive Coordinator Greg Knapp Fired
April 1, 2013Raiders Trade for Matt Flynn
April 2, 2013Carson Palmer Traded to the Cardinals
September 2, 2013Pryor Named Starting Quarterback of the Raiders
November 17, 2013Pryor Benched in Favor of Rookie UDFA Matt McGloin
April 22, 2013Pryor Traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a Seventh-Round Pick

Pryor probably wasn’t ready, but he could have learned valuable lessons that could have helped him later on. Instead of Pryor, the Raiders traded a first- and second-round pick for Carson Palmer and gave Kyle Boller a Week 7 start.

The trade changed everything for Pryor and the Raiders. First, it strapped the Raiders from a cap perspective and sent two premium picks to the Cincinnati Bengals. Had the Raiders not traded for Palmer, their first-round pick could have been as high as third overall.

The trade deprived Pryor of his first significant playing time, something that would have been inevitable had the team not traded for Palmer. The Raiders didn’t really know what they had before the 2012 NFL draft in Pryor. A lack of picks and a knowledge gap at quarterback is never a great place to be.

General manager Reggie McKenzie was without picks in the first, second and third rounds in 2012. Any of those picks could have turned into a quarterback from a class that produced five starters, or Pryor could have shown enough for McKenzie to surround him with talented weapons.

Pryor’s entire rookie year was a waste; his athleticism wasn’t utilized in any form or fashion because Palmer needed all the practice reps. Pryor got a late start on learning the playbook and the offense of then-head coach Hue Jackson, only to have the offense change on him in 2012 and to a lesser degree in 2013.

The Raiders fired Jackson and hired Dennis Allen in 2012, but the team was married to Palmer for at least one more year. Pryor’s athleticism was wasted again, as he played in just two games, with his first career start in a Week 17 loss to the San Diego Chargers at the end of 2012.

To recap: Pryor enters the NFL supplemental draft because of silly NCAA rules, gets into camp late and then is suspended for five games by the NFL. Pryor loses his biggest advocate in the front office within weeks of being selected, and the Raiders don’t treat him like a quarterback of the future thereafter.

All of this before Pryor’s first career start, which was a big success considering the circumstances. For some odd reason, the Raiders let Pryor’s athleticism waste away on the bench for two seasons before giving him much of an opportunity.

The Raiders still didn’t believe in Pryor after one start, so they exchanged Palmer for Matt Flynn and penciled him in as the starter. The Raiders also drafted a quarterback in the fourth round. Pryor had his third offensive coordinator in three years in 2013 but still demonstrated significant improvement.

Only when it was perfectly clear to everyone that Pryor gave the Raiders the best chance to win did the team finally commit to him over Flynn. The Raiders essentially wrote the guide on how not to handle a young developmental quarterback.

Organizational stability and support, opportunity and surrounding talent are all important for a developing quarterback, and Pryor had none of that. In many ways, Pryor just had bad luck getting drafted by the Raiders when he did.

On the Field

In his first four games in 2013, Pryor completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 845 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Pryor ran for another 229 yards and looked like the answer to the Raiders’ quarterback problem.

It wasn’t until a Week 6 game in Kansas City that things started to go wrong.

The Chiefs sacked Pryor nine times for 63 yards and limited him to just 56 yards rushing. Pryor completed just 52.9 percent of his passes for 216 yards with three interceptions and just one touchdown. It was Pryor’s worst performance of the season, but it also marked the end of his quality passing numbers.

Terrelle Pryor's 2013 Season
2013 SplitGSComp. %SacksPass YDS/GSPass TDINTRush YDSRush TD
Weeks 1-5468.311213.5422290
Weeks 6-16550.621190.6393512

From the Kansas City game onward, Pryor completed just 50.6 percent of his passes in 2013 with three touchdowns, nine interceptions and 21 sacks. Pryor added 351 yards on the ground with two touchdowns.

When healthy, Pryor demonstrated his ability to be a productive runner, but not a productive passer. So what happened? Defenses adjusted to Pryor, and he failed to take advantage of the opportunities those adjustments presented to him.

The crucial problem for Pryor is that defenses started to focus on the two things he does well, which is throw to his first read and run the ball. The first read started to turn into interceptions and scrambles instead of completions.

Unless Pryor can learn to get to his second and third read more consistently and quickly, he’s never going to be a viable starting quarterback. Pryor is still a great option to play in special packages because his athleticism is quite rare, but that’s about it right now.

Pryor is three years into his career, so it’s unlikely he is going to turn into a viable starter with this flaw in his game. However, his athleticism is rare and can be useful to a creative team.

At this point, Pryor’s best bet is sitting behind an established starter and trying to improve. If Pryor can reach the point that his passing is competent, he can be a primary backup who is extra useful because he can play in special offensive sub packages.