Meet Terrelle Pryor: Beyond The Numbers

In looking at Terrelle Pryor's freshman season statistics, I suggested the tempting, oft-heard comparison with Vince Young wasn't ideal. The raw numbers help illustrate the point, but in this post we'll look more closely at Pryor's game from a scouting perspective, throughout which the differences between the two will stand out. Why frame the discourse around VY? First of all, because Texas fans know VY -- contrasting the foreign with the familiar might be illuminating. And second, though Pryor is without question a freak of an athlete with stupendous size, agility, and speed for a quarterback, understanding the particular ways that Terrelle Pryor's is both not quite a rusher of Vince Young's caliber and much more of a threat in other ways VY was not (at least at that age) should help nail down what it is that Will Muschamp will be worrying about on Monday night in Glendale.

1. A PURE RUNNER VS. A RUNNING THREAT

More so even than the supremely gifted runner Michael Vick, Vince Young was the best pure running quarterback that I have ever seen play college football. Watching VY's high school highlights offers an excellent view not just of how insanely gifted he is as as a runner, but how natural it all is. Though in high school (and for much of his time at UT) he was unquestionably raw as a skill football player/passing quarterback, the pure rushing ability shines with blinding brightness beginning with the very earliest of his highlights. 

There's unfair speed, obviously, but what really stand out are Young's vision, anticipation, and -- because it truly approaches perfection -- an almost unnatural fluidity. Rushing the football, Vince Young looks comfortable like a caught fish returned to water.  

By contrast, take a look at some of Terrelle Pryor's high school tape; though absurdly impressive in its own right, Pryor's standout ability shines in a slightly different way. He's fast and possesses tremendous vision, but the rushes are noticeably more deliberate and frequently feature an element of power missing from the Young tapes.

If Vince Young was smooth and fluid like Michael Jordan, Terrelle Pryor is powerfully strong and explosive like Lebron James. Prideful fans needn't take sides here: I mean to characterize both as exceptionally talented... just in slightly different ways. Let's take this up a level to finish the point. Relive Vince Young's redhsirt freshman debut against New Mexico State -- from the get-go his unique talents as a pure runner were on full display:

Insanity. Vincanity. Whatever. He was one-of-a-kind, and it's no knock on Pryor to distinguish him as an inferior rusher to Vince Young -- one of, if not the best, all-time greatest pure runners at quarterback. Not only that, but while Pryor may not be a (or is a relatively less elite) pure runner, he's unquestionably still an outstanding rusher and rushing threat. One more time, take a look at some impressive video, taking note of the way Pryor is both fast, agile, and frighteningly powerful:

Bitch, please.

The kid is huge. Fast, slippery, and freaking powerful. More tape: Set aside for the moment (if you can) the impressive passing highlights and focus on his rushing ability, paying particular attention to the power displayed in numerous runs.

A true freshman, you said? You sure?

While I think it's pretty clear Pryor is a relatively less elite rusher than was Vince Young, if Texas fans should understand what he isn't, the video also makes crystal clear what he is: a top tier rushing quarterback with a huge stride, solid acceleration, deceptive power, and elite playmaking instincts. The worry, then, is less that Pryor will torch Texas like Vince Young did Michigan in 2004, but that his elite rushing ability adds a dimension to Ohio State's offense that makes the whole unit come together to fire on all cylinders -- Beanie Wells gaining gobs of yardage, with Pryor making efficient underneath throws, his reads simplified by a defense that has to account for his rushing ability or suffer the big yards he can and will pick up if left unattended.

To bring the point home to Texas fans another way, think about what Colt McCoy has done to defenses combining his exceptional passing with a pair of dangerous rushing legs. He's mobile in and out of the pocket, can buy himself (and his receivers) time, or tuck and run to do the damage himself. Ohio State's offense can be similarly dangerous because Pryor is a legitimate rushing threat. And even more so than the gutty McCoy, Pryor is a bit faster and more athletic than McCoy, enough so as to pose a greater danger of breaking big rushing plays and scores.

2. PASSING PROFICIENCY AND EFFICIENCY

As fun as it is to ooh and ahh at Vince Young the pure runner, and though our memories are heavily colored by VY's exceptional junior year performance as a passer, if we look back further -- to high school or most of his freshman and sophomore campaigns -- we're reminded that before VY was college football's best all-around quarterback, he was for all intents and purposes a one-dimensional one. As highlighted above, he so excelled in that one dimension that he was damn good anyway, but it truly wasn't until 2005 (his fourth year in the program) that he convinced anybody there was a future for him as a quarterback at the next level. The throwing motion was ugly, the accuracy was inconsistent, the deep balls often looked more like heaved lobs than controlled passes, and he made too many mistakes/wrong reads in his decision making as a passer. 

As a redshirt freshman, VY completed 58.6 percent of his passes at 8.07 yards per attempt, with 6 touchdowns against 7 interceptions -- good for a 130.6 QB Rating. As a sophomore, he was arguably worse as a passer, completing 59.2 percent of his passes at a terribly low 7.4 yards per attempt, with 12 TDs and 11 INTs -- his final QB Rating a meager 128.4. As a runner, he was naturally great, but as a skill football player, he was raw, the passing struggles a problem all the way through most of his third year in the program.

Not so with Terrelle Pryor, who as a true freshman completed 62.5 percent of his passes at 8.2 yards per attempt, with 12 TDs and only 4 INTs -- his 152.1 QB Rating higher than all but 16 Division 1 quarterbacks. Video:

Though part of Pryor's success is attributable to the conservative-but-effective usage patterns called by the coaching staff, the highlight reels make clear why Pryor was more than a QB-in-training this season:

STANCE:  Pryor stands tall in the pocket, does exceptionally well keeping his body vertically balanced -- even when on the move -- and generally takes excellent advantage of his 6'5" height.

MOTION/RELEASE: Too often Pryor aims the ball, pushing instead of throwing the football. However, he almost always does well releasing the ball up high, minimizing tipped balls at the LOS and improving sight and trajectory angles for his receivers. His motion at its best features mostly sound mechanics, is repeatable, and on the whole consistent.

ARM STRENGTH: His best throws are crisp and strong, but as noted above a significant percentage of his passes are floaters that he more pushes than throws. For the most part, it's not a problem, as his judgment about what kind of zip the ball needs tends to be excellent. When he needs to gun it, he will, but he's content with floating passes when there's time and space.

ACCURACY: Pryor is an accurate thrower, both when stationary and on the move. He's demonstrated a dangerous (to the defense) ability to maintain the pass as an option while scampering from pressure and considering a keep. If he spots an open man while on the move, he's not much less accurate than when planted still. The Ohio State coaches mostly implemented a simple, quick-read passing scheme that helped Pryor stay comfortable as he got his feet wet, but his accuracy from the get-go has been good enough that the coaches have felt comfortable steadily adding more to the passing offense.

DECISION-MAKING: Mostly covered in the above, Pryor's decision making for a quarterback this age is well above average. In part because he's so comfortable using his feet to his advantage and in part because his on-field instincts appear to be so good, he's managed to thrive in the controlled setting -- and especially so when Beanie Wells is consistently demanding seven and eight man fronts.

Altogether, Pryor has capably guided the Ohio State offense by being a smart and efficient passer playing the supporting role. In discussing all his strengths, I probably underemphasized how sparingly the Buckeyes have passed the ball this year (Pryor didn't even finish the season with enough attempts to qualify for the passing leaderboards). Part of his proficiency and efficiency is a byproduct of only passing a dozen times per game, and in support of a strong rushing attack that occupied significant defensive attention. In a more expansive role, his numbers likely would dip.

Even so, it would be a mistake to mislabel him as a fortunately situated game manager; part of the reason defenses have to focus so much attention on the rushing game is because Pryor himself is a dual threat. Like many other supremely talented QBs, he creates his own opportunities for success.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Were it not for Robert Griffin's mind-blowing debut at Baylor, I'd say Terrelle Pryor is as close to the full package you're likely to see in a true freshman quarterback. He's a threat to score with his feet and a solid, smart passer with excellent instincts and decision making skills. His game differs a bit from Vince Young's, but his potential is in the same class and he's doing things in the passing game Vince didn't sniff until his fourth year in Austin. As far as I can tell, his hype as the #1 prospect in the country last year was justified.

With that said, he does still have a way to go before he's as dominant on the field as his potential suggests he one day can be. If Texas fans should appreciate his supreme talents that make him a potential terror some day soon, he's "merely" very good right now -- impressively thriving and steadily developing at a young age in a controlled system. A break out party probably awaits him sometime relatively soon, but the smart money says it won't be in his first-ever bowl game, against a defense coached by Will Muschamp. 

Let's certainly hope not, anyway.

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