The statistics used in this column are those acquired from the Reception Perception methodology for evaluating wide receivers. Use the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter to follow all the analysis from the series.
Five years ago the Oakland Raiders took Terrelle Pyror in the third round in the supplemental draft two years after he took home Rose Bowl MVP honors as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. Two years later Pryor would start nine games for the Raiders, throw for 1,798 yards with seven touchdowns and break the NFL’s record for longest run by a quarterback (a 93-yard touchdown), while throwing 11 interceptions and completing 57.1 percent of his passes. A knee injury and those inconsistencies eventually cost him his starting job.
What followed was a wild two-year series of events involved trades, wavier claims and relocations. Pryor was rostered and released by each of the Seahawks, Chiefs and Bengals as a No. 2 quarterback. In each spot he remained earnest about his desires to remain a passer. After the Bengals released Pryor in June 2015, something—perhaps a career near death experience looking him in the face—changed.
The Cleveland Browns claimed Terrelle Pryor in 2015 and an announcement followed that he would make the move to wide receiver. At 6’4, 223 pounds he had the frame a coach can only dream of drawing up. His work at quarterback proved he always had the athletic traits to make the move. Sure enough, Pryor stuck with it and the Browns stuck with him. He registered just one catch for 42 yards that season, but the progress was taking place behind the scenes.
The Browns drafted Corey Coleman in the first round, added three other receivers on Day 3 and looked ready to welcome back Josh Gordon from reinstatement. The project of Terrelle Pryor went foolishly overlooked. Yet, it was the converted quarterback who grabbed a starting job coming out of training camp. He led the team in targets with 17 after two weeks of the regular season, but it was in Week 3 that the transformation became apparent to anyone watching.
Pryor essentially was the Browns offense against the Dolphins last week. He played some option quarterback totaling 35 passing yards, 21 rushing touchdowns and a score on the ground. But it was his receiving work that demonstrated his new career path. Pryor saw 14 targets, catching eight of them for a whopping 144 yards in a close loss to Miami. He was a legitimate No. 1 receiver threat. It all happened.
The new Browns No. 1 receiver (Corey Coleman is out with a hand injury) saw usage all over the field. He took 44.4 percent of his snaps at left wideout, 32.1 percent at right and four snaps in the slot with another 15 coming at quarterback. Pryor ran 34 routes and Cody Kessler targeted him on a whopping 41.2 percent of them. No other Browns pass catcher saw more than seven targets or cracked 70 receiving yards.
As a route-runner, Pyror impressed. He didn’t execute many advanced patterns but ran legitimate NFL routes, especially high percentage passes that top targets often run.
We see here that the vast majority of Pryor’s Week 3 routes were the slant, post or nine. A whopping 70.6 percent of his 34 routes fell into one of those three branches and he did not run any other route more than two times in the game.
While this may seem like a negative, Reception Perception has harped on this not being a surprise over and over again in the series’ history. Those three routes in particular are far and away the most commonly run patterns. The average NFL receiver charted by Reception Perception in 2015 ran the slant, curl or nine on 55.3 percent of their routes. That’s lower than Pryor’s percentage, but it also shows he’s not at all far off from more traditional NFL wideouts.
With Pryor’s usage no so much in question, we can move on to his actual play. What’s more important to observe is Pryor’s execution of his assignments.
(SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)
Pryor’s 91.7 percent success rate on slant routes was notable. A quick look at his highlights showed him turning around Byron Maxwell on quick slants before sprinting into the open field. At his size with truly scary speed, Pryor looks like some sort of mutant gazelle running through an environment where onlookers don’t really know what they’re seeing. Unfortunately for the opposing teams, these onlookers happen to be their defenders in this scenario.
His 100 percent success rate on curls and comebacks was encouraging as well. Receivers have to integrate multiple layers of technique to release from the line, sell the vertical route and then break free from tight coverage at the break point to earn separation on these patterns. Pryor demonstrates his developmental progress on these two scores.
Pryor could stand to improve as a vertical threat. Despite his scary size/speed combination, he’s not yet converting deep reps with regularity. His 42.9 percent success rate on nine routes is below the league average. Pryor is capable of Mossing defenders, think back to his Week 1 big play against the Eagles, and at 6’4 he can win a jump ball. However, his poor 25 percent contested catch conversion rate from this game shows it is not a yet a strength of his game. Taking more physical punishment and engaging in physical clashes might subtly be the biggest adjustment point in the move from quarterback to tight end. Rounding out that point in his game will be the key to Pryor taking the next step.
Overall, Pryor’s success rate vs. coverage scores stand out as an optimistic point in his young career as an NFL wide receiver.
Coming above the NFL average at getting open against man and zone coverage is highly impressive for where Pryor is in his development. It’s easy to point to his stripped down route tree or some flaws at the catch point and say he still has work to do. Of course he still has work to do. However, we are much better off pointing the massively positive steps he took over the last year to become what Reception Perception quantifies him as: a legitimate starting NFL receiver.
If what this Reception Perception snapshot showed is all Pryor ever becomes, then his transition was still la smashing success. He got open on essential routes and made plays. If there is still upside to unlock down the line for Pryor, then we all need to be on high alert. Reception Perception hints that we have more to look forward to in the coming weeks and years from Terrelle Pryor the wide receiver.