Can Terrelle Pryor make it in the NFL?
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has a college season left — albeit an abbreviated one — but he is already on the clock for the NFL draft.
Even as he sits out Ohio State's spring game Saturday because of January ankle surgery and then starts his senior season with a five-game suspension for violating NCAA rules, NFL talent evaluators are weighing his pro prospects.
So, flashing forward to next year at this time, Pryor is already assured of having two check marks in the negative column when it comes to attracting an NFL suitor.
No matter what he does on the field this fall, Pryor will have the “injury” box and the “character issues” box red-lined by scouts whose job sometimes appears tilted more toward finding what’s wrong with a player than what is right with him.
There are plenty of numbers to make a case for Pryor as an outstanding college quarterback, starting with Ohio State's 30-5 record since he stepped into the lineup the fourth game of his freshman season.
If he gets on the field as anticipated, Pryor will likely wind up the Buckeyes’ career leader in total offense, touchdowns (rushing and passing combined) and victories for a starting quarterback.
He might even leave Columbus with a host of passing numbers better than anyone in Ohio State history.
All of that means he will have a statistical argument as the best Ohio State quarterback of all time, which will mean exactly nothing to NFL teams in the market for their quarterback of the future.
The only thing that matters to them is whether Pryor can make the transition from college to the NFL, win a job and then win games.
The clues to that answer are folded into myriad smaller questions about whether Pryor possesses the maturity, leadership, football acumen, dedication, humility, competitiveness, athleticism and talent to become something no Buckeyes player has ever been — an elite NFL starting quarterback.
Only two former Buckeye starting QBs have won Super Bowl rings, with both Joe Germaine (Rams) and Mike Tomczak (Bears) doing so as backups.
Tomczak suffices as the best Ohio State quarterback ever in the NFL, playing 15 seasons, primarily as a backup, with several seasons as a starter.
Even Troy Smith, the only Ohio State quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, has been a third-teamer hanging onto a roster spot by his fingernails since he entered the league in 2007 as a fifth-round pick, No. 174 overall.
At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Pryor has the size Smith lacked to impress the NFL. Smith had much better mechanics than Pryor but wasn’t exceptionally accurate, by NFL standards.
That’s the biggest knock on Pryor right now. His 65 percent completion rate last season looks impressive, but it was noticeably poorer against the five best defenses on the schedule. Iowa, Miami, Wisconsin, Illinois and Penn State held Pryor to a 55 percent completion rate and six TD passes, against five interceptions.
Questions about accuracy and football acumen — reading coverages quickly, making proper decisions in the face of pressure — are killer negatives for any NFL quarterback prospect.
Ohio State’s offense may not do Pryor many favors in preparing him for the pros, since receivers are often stationary targets on mid-level throws and seldom work the middle of the field.
Pryor accumulated big numbers in a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon throwing to the sidelines, and he burned Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl throwing deep.
Those are the best aspects of his throwing skills, but he struggles when defenders flash in front of him on the pass rush or in underneath coverage, and he never has shown much consistency stepping up in the pocket to buy time and find a third or fourth receiving option.
A lot of players figure that out the longer they play in college, so perhaps Pryor will. If that’s a skill that forever eludes him, he can still make himself more appealing to the NFL by removing several red flags from his resume when it comes to maturity and leadership.
If his senior season is nothing more than what we’ve seen so far — Pryor piling up big statistics against bad teams and mediocre numbers against the best defenses on the schedule, with a liberal dose of his contributions coming via scrambles he surely won’t get in the NFL — Pryor can still raise his stock this year by being less petulant and more humble.
His Twitter outbursts last season often painted him as immature and thin-skinned, like in the aftermath of the Buckeyes' win at Iowa:
“None of you haters could fill my shoes with 10 socks on. Bums.“
And when Pryor didn’t make first or second-team All-Big Ten: “I must be the worst quarterback/player. I might quit football.”
And even last week, Pryor offered this is the face of mounting speculation about what the NCAA might find as it investigates his associations and various cars he has driven when ticketed by police:
“It's funny if y'all actually knew the story. I didn't receive free tattoos. I took money which I'm dealing w my wrongdoings.”
Pryor deleted that Tweet quickly, probably when scolded by Ohio State. He, or the school, would be wise to delete his entire Twitter account, because it seldom paints him or the football program in a flattering light.
If Pryor thinks scouts don’t pay attention to that stuff, he’s wrong, as he surely was last year to complain about what he might do in an offense where he is the focal point.
“You put me in any of their offenses,” Pryor said of Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Auburn’s
Cameron Newton, “where I can run the ball and have a chance to throw, and I would dominate college football.”
Pryor, of course, is in just such an offense.
It‘s what he wanted when he chose Ohio State over Oregon and Michigan. Pryor said the Buckeyes’ scheme would better prepare him to become an NFL quarterback.
The time is growing short for him to be proven right about that.
Follow Bruce on Twitter @BHOOLZ