Welcome to a new series here at Inside the Pylon called The Option Route. This one has a primary focus on the wide receiver position. The idea for this series stems from another great series you may be familiar with here at ITP, the Under the Microscope series from my ITP colleague Brandon Thorn who does great work with the offensive line position.
The major purpose of this series, starting from now and continuing into the 2017 NFL season and beyond, is to look at a chosen wide receiver and show what he does well. I’ll be demonstrating his traits, including athletic ability, route-running, hands, and more with a combination of written and video explanations.
I’ll mainly be looking at wide receivers that aren’t necessarily well-known commodities in the NFL. Players who aren’t considered your Antonio Brown or Julio Jones caliber receivers but players who perhaps don’t get the love and attention they deserve (wide receivers love attention, right?).
To kick this series off I decided on looking at Washington’s newly acquired wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor. At 6’4’’ and 228 pounds, Pryor’s measurables are ideal for an NFL wide out. A starting quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes from 2008-2010, he would go on to be drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft. He played at quarterback for the Raiders for three seasons before transitioning a wide receiver role with the Cleveland Browns in 2015.
The transition from quarterback to wide receiver has been an incredibly successful one for Pryor when we look back to his 2016 season with the Cleveland Browns. This is a perfect opportunity to recognize the great job done by Browns Sr. Offensive Assistant/Wide Receivers coach Al Saunders and Offensive Quality Control/Assistant Wide Receivers coach Bob Saunders, both of whom helped Pryor to a 77 catch, 1,007 yard, 4 TD season while starting all 16 games in 2016.
To transition to a completely different position in the NFL takes a huge change in mental processing, learning the nuances of the new position, and incredible athletic ability. Pryor has now shown all of us that his decision to transition to wide receiver has been a very good decision so far. Having signed a one-year deal worth a total of $8MM this offseason with Washington, Pryor will look to replicate his 2016 success in the country’s capital, in the hope for a multi-year, bigger payday in 2018.
As already touched upon, Pryor had a very good season statistically. To add context to his numbers – and what makes them look even more impressive – is who he had throwing his way in 2016. Josh McCown (5 games), Cody Kessler (9 games), Robert Griffin III (5 games), and Charlie Whitehurst (1 game) all played quarterback for the Browns last year. Despite the lack of stability and talent at the quarterback position, Pryor, a player transitioning to an entirely new position, still managed 77 catches for 1,007 yards and 4 TDs. That’s impressive and should not be overlooked.
Pryor should also be considered a deep threat heading into the 2017 season. Per Pro Football Focus, Pryor was third in the league in 2016 with 32 targets on throws of 20 yards or more.
Can Terrelle Pryor replace DeSean Jackson's production down the field in Washington? pic.twitter.com/8p4Q59SKDy
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 29, 2017
To add a little more context to Pryor’s numbers, the Cleveland Browns offense in 2016 was 30th in the league in yards per game with 311, including 28th in passing yards per game with only 204. When you contextualize Pryor’s numbers in 2016 it’s easy to appreciate the impressive season he had on a 1-15 team, while transitioning to a new position.
2016 Film Breakdown
The first thing that sprung to my mind when starting to watch film on Pryor was going right back to Week 1 of 2016 and watching his performance closely. This was especially important given how I wanted to get a sense of what I would be watching in the following weeks, and asking myself questions such as ‘does it look as though he will or has transitioned well to the wide receiver position’? While also, of course, looking at his footwork, body control, athletic ability, and route running.
Pryor’s first catch in Week 1 was in the 2nd quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns are down 10-0 and it’s 1st and 10 at their own 25-yard line. The Browns are lined up in 12 personnel with Pryor to the right of the formation on the outside. Facing man coverage, he is able to make use of the space given him to very well here on this comeback route. He times the break in the route perfectly using nice, quick footwork and body control, giving him room to not only make the catch, but to turn his body and move upfield for the extra yard or two to gain a first down.
A well-executed route and finish for his first NFL catch as a full-time wide receiver. This catch, however, would not be the last on the drive. The Browns are down 10-0 and it’s now 1st and 15 at their own 47-yard line. This time the Browns are lined up in 11 personnel and Pryor is facing man coverage to the left of the formation this time.
On this play the route is a simple one for Pryor as he runs a straight go route toward the end zone with cornerback Nolan Carroll (#22) matching him stride for stride. With the Browns needing a big play to get into this game, Pryor comes up with the goods here. He makes great use of his size and athleticism and in particular his height advantage over Carroll to win this one-on-one matchup and make the catch, giving the Browns a 1st and goal.
Perhaps a better example of Pryor’s ability to make big plays down the field is demonstrated below. Like the previous play the Browns are once again lined up in 11 personnel. This time, however, Pryor runs a stop and go route, using great timing and his hands well at the point where he stops. The CB then looks at the quarterback, at which point Pryor is already a few steps ahead.
Unfortunately for Pryor the ball is not thrown in front of him to allow him to catch it in stride, instead forcing him to adjust to a slightly underthrown pass, which he does extremely well and is able to gain an extra 5 yards before being forced out of bounds.
An impressive route all-round here from start to finish and certainly one of the better ones I saw from Pryor.
Now we get to see Pryor facing elite competition in the form of Washington CB Josh Norman in Week 4. Lined up on the outside as Pryor often was in 2016, in a 10 personnel package, we see a great example of how Pryor creates separation using footwork and enough misdirection to make Josh Norman think he is running inside.
Pryor stabs his right foot inside as the ball is snapped then breaks to the outside, giving him enough space to set up his route and ultimately use his body extremely well by elevating and twisting toward the sideline to wall off Norman from the ball and safely make the catch for a 1st down
So we’ve now seen snippets of how effective Pryor can be working down the field as well as working along the sideline on short-to-intermediate routes.
Now we get to see Pryor working in the redzone, this time out of the slot in Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans. Once again we see how Pryor can create separation by using a stutter-step to propel him to the inside before he is able to break across the endzone toward the corner. Pryor’s awareness here as the ball is released is what gives him further advantage.
As the ball is released, Pryor is already looking back at the quarterback and therefore is able to recognize the trajectory of the ball and catches the it away from his frame, despite being double-covered at the top of the route. Result? Touchdown Browns.
The more I watched of Pryor the more I saw – at times – plays where he had to make adjustments either in his route or during the catch, or both, to get to and secure the ball because the pass was either underthrown or slightly behind him.
Here is one such example. This is also an interesting personnel package the Browns are using in this area of the field, as they are lined up in what is considered a redzone or short yardage formation in 13 personnel against the New York Jets in Week 8 from their own zone.
Pryor here runs a simple post route and is given plenty of cushion to complete the route by CB Darrelle Revis (#24). But it’s what Pryor has to do at the end of the route that is key. The ball is actually underthrown, and as Pryor passes midfield he again has to break back toward the underthrown ball, but the recognition here is instantaneous and it allows Pryor to make the catch just as Revis is closing in on him.
To finish off this film breakdown, I wanted to highlight once again how good Pryor is at creating separation as the ball is snapped and how this trait allows him to develop the route he is running.
Again he is facing Darrelle Revis, but this time Revis is not giving him the cushion he did on the previous play. Pryor begins the route as if he is going outside and toward the sideline, but as Revis turns his hips outside, Pryor breaks to the inside and times it perfectly giving him 2-3 yards on Revis, making it an easy completion across the middle of the field for a first down.
It’s again worth mentioning just how impressive this transition from quarterback to wide receiver has been for Terrelle Pryor. It was certainly the right decision for his career as he has already proven that he is a better wide receiver than he ever was as a quarterback in the NFL.
The traits a good wide receiver needs to have – size, speed, footwork, separation, route-running, and hands – are all there for Pryor and we can see he demonstrated these traits in 2016.
It’s surprising the Browns didn’t sign Pryor to a long-term deal and surprising still that his new team, Washington, only signed him to a one-year deal for 2017. So now Pryor enters the season on a new team, playing for a long-term contract. Whether that’s in Washington or elsewhere remains to be seen, but Pryor is already a very good NFL wide receiver and Washington fans should be excited to watch him in 2017.