The great Terrelle Pryor debate

Is he or isn’t he a potential NFL starting quarterback prospect? I know it’s still a ways off before we know the answer to that question about Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, but ever since the end of the 2010 draft, it’s one I keep getting from readers across the country. And much like Tim Tebow and the arguments that took place projecting his game at the next level, Pryor seems to be generating similar debates as a future NFL prospect.

One train of thought is that if Vince Young can make it as a starting quarterback in the NFL, Pryor certainly should be able to.

The second is that Pryor simply doesn’t have what it takes mentally to handle the demands of the position and should ultimately be moved to wide receiver.

Up to this point, I have yet to choose sides. Pryor wasn’t eligible for the 2010 draft so there was really no need for me to evaluate his game. However, now that he’s three years removed from high school and could be eligible for the 2011 draft if he chooses, I decided to take a look at three of his games – Oregon, Iowa and USC -- and offer my take based on these performances. Here are my thoughts:

The breakdown

I came away a little more impressed with Pryor as a “thrower” than I initially thought I would. The guy has a strong enough arm to make all the throws at the next level, but what really stood out to me was his touch down the field on the move. He consistently was able to buy time for himself outside the pocket, and with the flick of a wrist was able to drop bucket throws into receivers’ outstretched arms. Plus, he’s a powerful strider when asked to create for himself as a runner and uses his stiff arm literally as well as any running back in college football. He never looks to be moving fast but consistently is able to outrun angles, break tackles and pick up necessary yards to move the chains.

However, what was particularly alarming to me about Pryor’s game at this stage is the overall lack of development he’s made both mechanically and as a decision-maker from the pocket.

The guy is loose with the football in his drop and in the pocket, consistently holding the ball down by his chest plate, which is one of the main reasons he’s had so much trouble taking care of it. And not to be overly critical, but his footwork and overall mechanics from the waist down are atrocious at times. He doesn’t typically stride toward his target when asked to reset his feet in the pocket and fails to consistently maintain the balance needed to instantly get the ball out of his hands. He has a tendency to get both too high and narrow in his base when scanning the field, which causes him to be late with throws since he isn’t always cocked and ready let go of the ball.

Mentally, he did a better job toward the end of the year deciphering how to eliminate bad decisions from his game. But at the same time, I don’t think he has figured out yet how to anticipate throws and definitely doesn’t trust his abilities when asked to work the middle of the field. He comes off his reads too quickly once he feels any semblance of pressure and too often drops his eyes/head and looks to take off. At the same time, he gets caught staring down his initial reads too long when he’s able to sit back in the pocket and doesn’t yet have a great grasp on the overall rhythm and timing in the pass game, especially outside the numbers.

The Ohio State coaching staff did a great job after the Purdue game making Pryor’s job a lot easier. They gave him less to worry about by letting him rely on the run game, work more out of play action and more or less only throw routes he was comfortable with, such as the fade and quick slant. But one thing I noticed about Pryor’s limitations in the pass game toward the end of the year is that he really only looks comfortable deciphering information toward the boundary. He consistently starts his initial read boundary side and rarely works back toward the field. However, if he does start his progression field side, it’s typically only a one-man route where he can either throw the fade or run.

If he’s ever going to take the next step and develop as a legitimate NFL-caliber quarterback prospect, it starts with his ability to decipher information more quickly in the pass game, learn/maintain proper mechanics through his lower half and become a more rhythmic passer. Now, in no way am I saying that this young man doesn’t have the skill set needed to play at the next level. However, it’s his ability to be a pocket passer and rely on attributes outside of his physical skill set that will be the key.

Nevertheless, the Vince Young comparisons are there to a degree. Both are tall, strong athletes who can create with their legs, have the arm needed to make plays in the pass game and are both at their best when asked to break contain and improvise with the ball in their hands.

But I think the biggest difference between the two as overall quarterback prospects is that Young was a more instinctive player with better overall pocket awareness and displayed a much better feel for when to take off and when to buy time in order to set up the pass.

Again, Pryor is only going to be a junior this season and still has a lot of development and maturing to do over the next couple of years. But based on what I’ve seen from him up to this point, he’s going to need to improve tremendously from a mental standpoint for me to feel comfortable projecting him as anything more than a development quarterback/wideout prospect.

Follow me on Twitter: WesBunting

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