When Terrelle Pryor in the spring of 2008 finally announced his decision to play quarterback at Ohio State, he did so to great fanfare as the nation's top-rated and most highly sought after high school football recruit.
Suffice it to say his NFL quarterbacking career, if he even has one to look forward to, won't be starting with the same level of breathless acclaim.
Though other lower-profile options like the UFL remain on the table, Pryor is thought likely to apply for consideration in the NFL's supplemental draft. If conducted amid this year's labor uncertainty, the supplemental draft would be held in July for any and all players who have developed college eligibility issues since the close of the league's regular draft in late April.
I talked with a couple of veteran NFL talent evaluators this week, and it became quickly apparent that Pryor's decision to skip his senior season at Ohio State isn't being met with a buzz of anticipation in a league featuring several teams that still seek starting quarterback options. Pryor wasn't going to be playing for the Buckeyes in their first five games of the 2011 season due to a suspension for NCAA violations. But his wait to earn a spot under center for some NFL team could be far longer.
"He needs a ton of work,'' said one long-time club personnel executive who has watched Pryor's play. "It's a long-term deal with him at quarterback. He's a great athlete, very mobile, with big size. He's just not a great passer. He totally needs to refine what he's doing. He's a project, and in the end I'm not convinced he's a quarterback in the NFL. I think he'll end up at another position.''
In most years since 1977, the NFL has held a supplemental draft to accommodate players who have had college eligibility issues arise after the regular draft concluded and before the season started. When no players apply for consideration, no supplemental draft is needed, as was the case as recently as 2008. Though nothing has been scheduled as of yet, it is expected the NFL intends to conduct a supplemental draft this summer with or without a new labor agreement in place.
The supplemental draft has not traditionally been a gold mine of quarterbacking talent, with no passer selected in it since the Giants used a first-round pick to acquire Dave Brown out of Duke in 1992, just three years after Dallas and Arizona took QBs Steve Walsh (Miami) and Timm Rosenbach (Washington State), respectively, with first-round choices. Bernie Kosar going in the first round to Cleveland in 1985 remains the only QB selection of distinction in the 30-plus-year history of the supplemental draft.
Though he went 31-4 as a starter in his three seasons at Ohio State, and has intriguing size (6-foot-6, 233 pounds) and athleticism, Pryor is not going to remind anyone of Kosar as a passer. His throwing mechanics, accuracy and decision-making all leave a lot to be desired by league talent scouts, and his experience in the Buckeyes' running-oriented offense, with its simplistic passing schemes, did not serve Pryor's NFL interests well.
"I think he'd be happy to go in the third or fourth round (of the supplemental draft), but he'll probably be disappointed in the end,'' said the club personnel executive, adding that his team would have no interest in selecting Pryor. "He is what he is. He's really a running quarterback trying to learn how to pass. You hope he goes to a team with good coaching, a team that really wants him and will be patient with him. They'll probably put him on the practice squad for a year or so.
"If you get him in the fifth or sixth round, you'd be getting a really good athlete. Hopefully in those rounds all you're looking for are qualities that may predict the guy can contribute. With his athletic ability and size, he may have a chance to play a different position. I think he's a good buy in the fifth or sixth round, but I wouldn't take him any higher than that because now you're talking about players who should contribute as rookies, and to me he's a long ways away from that point.''
Which teams might be likely to shop in Pryor's market in the supplemental draft? You can pretty much round up the usual suspects. Take all the teams that entered this year's draft needing a quarterback, but didn't get one, and put them on the list. Washington, Miami, Buffalo, Seattle and Arizona all make sense on some level, and maybe even Cleveland, which saw Pryor's work at OSU up close the past three years. And you can't rule out a club that has no immediate need at the position taking a late-round flyer on Pryor, knowing he needs time to develop his passing skills. A Philadelphia, Dallas, New Orleans, Pittsburgh or even Indianapolis come to mind. If the price tag is just a sixth or seventh-round pick in the supplemental, what's the risk of that low-level investment?
The supplemental draft is in effect a bidding war, because interested teams, after their chances are weighted according to last season's finish, bid for a player's rights. The team willing to spend a pick in the earliest round is awarded the player, and then has to forfeit its choice in the corresponding round of next year's regular league draft.
Longtime NFL Films employee Greg Cosell serves as creator and executive producer of ESPN's
"I think he has very few attributes that transition and project to the NFL, at least at this moment,'' Cosell said Wednesday from his office at NFL Films. "Mechanically he's way below the curve. He pushes the ball. He's got a very stiff delivery, and he doesn't drive the ball at all. He's got a very bad tendency to lift his back foot off the ground before he throws the ball, and that prevents him from throwing the ball with any arm strength. You can't drive the ball doing that, because you don't have a good base.
"And I don't think his accuracy in the two games I've watched was very good. I thought he was scattershot. I don't think he's a naturally accurate passer. Just watching him the little bit I have, he's just an athlete who played quarterback because he was the best guy on his team from the time he was 3 years old. But he's got a lot to learn about throwing the football.''
Pryor ran for a QB-record 2,164 yards and threw for 6,177 yards in his three seasons at Ohio State. His completion percentage was 65 percent in 2010, with 27 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions, but Cosell said he saw little sophistication in OSU's passing offense. And that speaks in part to the development of Pryor's decision-making skills at this point in his career.
"I've always been a believer in the fact that by watching a team, whether it's college or pro, it tells you a lot about what they think of the quarterback,'' Cosell said. "The pass scheme concepts of the two games I've watched were very basic, with very simple route combinations, and half-field stuff. It was a lot of one read, a lot of under center play action, which simplifies the reading process. So this isn't saying he's poor at it. But this is what they did. The nature of their pass offense simplified things for him dramatically.''
Pryor's size, speed and running talents have drawn natural comparisons to Cam Newton's skill set. But the differences between the former Ohio State quarterback and the Heisman winner from Auburn are profound, Cosell said. One possesses an NFL-ready passing arm, the other does not.
"Cam Newton throws the ball far far better than Terrelle Pryor,'' said Cosell of the NFL's first overall pick in April's regular draft. "They're not even close in that area. Cam Newton has a big-time arm and throws a very, very good ball. Terrelle Pryor does not.
"They're both big guys, with similar height and weight, and yeah, they're both runners. But that to me is irrelevant. Forty-yard dash times for a quarterback to me are totally irrelevant. I know Michael Vick has had some great runs in this league, but no one is a top quarterback because of the way they run. The job of a quarterback in the NFL is to pass the ball, and there are 20 things that go with that, but that's the job.''
There has been speculation already that Pryor's smart bet would be to sign with a team in the UFL, where he could learn the craft of playing quarterback at the professional level, perhaps under the tutelage of an ex-NFL head coach and quarterback-minded teacher like Jim Fassel or Dennis Green. But the league sources I talked to don't expect Pryor to be able to resist the lure of the NFL, after being the center of attention at Ohio State the past three years. Same goes for the CFL, where the Saskatchewan Roughriders this week acquired Pryor's negotiating rights and quickly made an offer that the former Buckeye refused.
"Maybe he goes to the UFL or CFL, but he's going to want to be paid [NFL] money,'' the club personnel executive said. "I don't see him going that route. He'll play in the NFL. I think he'll probably try to play quarterback for a year, and then he'll make the conversion [to another position] like [Jets receiver/return man and ex-collegiate quarterback] Brad Smith did. But I'd be shocked if anyone took him higher than the fifth round. You couldn't unless you're convinced he gives you something this year, either as a receiver, a Wildcat quarterback or a kick returner.''
Pryor made big news splashes when he both entered and exited Ohio State. But his story is beginning far differently this time. His quarterback skills aren't likely to be sought after in the NFL until he shows more promise and progress than he has to date.
"The kid played quarterback and he's going to want to play quarterback in the NFL,'' said Cosell, noting that some scouts see Pryor as either a receiver or tight end in the NFL. "I know there have been changes made over the years, with guys like Matt Jones, and Kordell Stewart ending up being Slash. It has happened. But if this kid wants to play quarterback, he needs reps, and he needs to be taught. And what will happen is if he comes into the NFL this year, he won't even be a No. 2 off the bat in my view. He'd be a No. 3, which means he's not going to get reps.
"If he can go work with Fassel or Green [in the UFL], or someone like that, it would help him develop. He needs reps and he needs to be taught how to play, and he needs to be taught by someone who understands that he needs to learn how to play in the pocket, not just running around. Because sooner or later, you've got to be able to throw it from the pocket. Even Michael Vick. What do we say every single year? He's got to improve throwing from the pocket. Why do you think he played better last year? Because he threw it from the pocket better. At the end of the day, that's what you've got to do in the NFL.''