The Oakland Raiders' prior draft mistakes make it easy to assume Terrelle Pryor is another draft mistake.
The Raiders gave up next year's third-round draft pick to select the former Ohio State quarterback in this year's supplemental draft. The Raiders already didn't have a second- or fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft, so drafting Pryor leaves the Raiders without a draft pick between the first and fifth rounds.
After Pryor ran his 40-yard dash in the 4.3-4.4 second range at his pro day, it was almost a foregone conclusion the Raiders would draft him. Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and Al Davis falling in love with fast players. While the Raiders' traditional tendency of overvaluing measurable traits has burned the team many times in the past, this time they have chosen a player who coach Hue Jackson can mold into a successful starting quarterback in the NFL.
Any talk of moving Pryor to a position other than quarterback is just a sloppy attempt at analysis. Suggesting Pryor should play receiver or tight end because of his size and speed is easier than breaking down game film and assessing Pryor's strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback.
For that reason, lazy analysts who want to sound like they know what they're talking about can just say Pryor can't play quarterback and should play receiver. Of course, if a player isn't ready to play in the NFL at a position he's played all his life, it's pretty tough to envision him succeeding at the NFL level at a position he's never played before.
As a quarterback, Pryor is definitely a raw talent, but a coach as offensively savvy as Hue Jackson can develop him into a more than serviceable starter. From watching game tape of Pryor, it's apparent his natural instinct is to drop further back when under pressure instead of stepping up in the pocket. However, for the most part Pryor suppresses his instinct and steps up in the pocket.
Pryor's best feature in the passing game is his passing to the middle of the field. Whether throwing short or deep passes, Pryor hits his receivers with a crisp, accurate spiral when throwing into the middle of the field.
On short passes, Pryor's ball placement will allow his receivers to catch the ball in stride easily and pick up yards after the catch. On deep passes, Pryor's accuracy in the middle of the field will allow him to fit the ball into incredibly tight seams in the defense. With the Raiders' collection of speedsters, Pryor's accuracy in between the numbers on the field will allow the offense's playmakers to make more plays all over the field.
One area where Pryor's footwork and passing need improvement is throwing to the outside of the field. When throwing from in the pocket, Pryor throws a wobbly spiral with shaky accuracy on passes to the outside. While it's not a huge concern, it does somewhat limit the routes the offense can run, and the sooner Pryor corrects it the better off he'll be.
Pryor definitely has the physical skill to grow into an above-average NFL quarterback, and he also possesses enough football intelligence to transition from college to the NFL. He ran a professional-style offense under Jim Tressel, and when interviewing ESPN host Jon Gruden demonstrated enough football knowledge to assertively but respectfully out-argued Gruden regarding the value of bubble screens in an offense.
Pryor demonstrated the type of intelligence and attitude a starting quarterback needs to have. In an NFL meeting room, a quarterback needs to be able to assert what he does and doesn't like when talking to the coach, but must remain coachable and not confrontational. Pryor struck the right balance of standing his ground while still being deferential to the coach.
In terms of passing mechanics, decision-making and intelligence, Pryor is superior to 2011 No. 1 draft pick Cam Newton and stands a legitimate chance of becoming a solid NFL starter.
Whenever Pryor ends up starting, Jackson should emulate the approach the Tennessee Titans took when reintroducing quarterback Vince Young to the starting role in 2009. After starting with a 0-6 record and averaging only 14 points per game, the Titans inserted Young into the starting lineup. Although Young wasn't an impressive passer by any means, the Titans went 8-2 and scored 27 points per game with him under center.
The secret to the Titans' ability to maximize Young's production in 2009 was the manner in which offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger tailored the offense to his quarterback's skill set. Instead of making Young read the entire field, Heimerdinger gave Young half-field reads, essentially simplifying Young's progressions to "primary receiver, checkdown option, run."
Pryor is even more of a rushing threat than Young, who never fully developed the instinct for when to give up on a passing play and run downfield. Pryor is a very instinctive runner with great balance and a very nice stiff-arm. He won't have they type of impact Michael Vick does on his team's run game, but will definitely force defenders to assign one player to contain him, which keeps that defender out of pass coverage and opens up passing lanes.
With the presence of running back Darren McFadden, who averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry last year, in the backfield, defenses' first priority will have to be stopping the Raiders' running game. The necessity of stopping both Pryor and McFadden on the ground will take pressure off the passing game, simplifying what defenses are able to do against the Raiders.
Additionally, Pryor's mobility will simplify opposing defenses even further by forcing defensive coordinators to call zone coverages a majority of the time. If defenders are playing man coverage their backs will be turned away from Pryor, making them unable to tell when Pryor runs with the ball. When he gets under center, Pryor will know the defense is likely to be a zone, and can tuck the ball and rush for yardage if he sees man coverage.
Pryor has another advantage over Young in that he throws much better on the run than Young does. Whether running to the left or the right, Pryor keeps his eyes upfield, keeps his feet underneath him, squares up his body and quickly releases an accurate pass. On throws to the outside of the field, Pryor is in fact a better passer when on the run than in the pocket.
Game tape shows Pryor could develop into a quite good, but not necessarily great, NFL quarterback if properly nurtured and developed. The question isn't whether Pryor can be a successful quarterback, but whether the Raiders' coaching staff can maximize his talents and hide his flaws as he's developing.
If Jackson follows the blueprint Heimerdinger laid out in 2009, Pryor could develop into a good NFL player. Jackson's Raiders are no longer the dysfunctional organization they were for many years after their Super Bowl loss in 2003. They have a core of talented skill position players who are coming into their prime, so Pryor will not lack help on the offensive side of the ball.
In another year or two, both Pryor and the Raiders could be outperforming the expectations of many pundits who doubt their ability to succeed.