So What’s the Deal with Terrelle Pryor, Really?
By Steve Thomas
August 5, 2017
The pending free agency of star wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson after the 2016 season seemingly put the Redskins in quite a quandary. It appeared as though the team might very well lose a significant portion of its starting wide receiver talent in one fell swoop. That came true when Pierre Garcon signed with the 49ers and Desean Jackson moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, both after seemingly little fight from the Redskins. Fans were justifiably concerned; however, lo and behold, redemption came in the form of a former quarterback turned wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor, on a one year, $8 million “prove it” contract.
Fans were instantly excitedly about the possibilities. Terrelle fits the mold of an elite #1 WR – he’s tall, almost 6’5”, runs in the 4.3s in the 40 yard dash, and can jump out of the gym. Terrelle’s background is well known: 5 star quarterback prospect out of high school, outstanding career at Ohio St. marred by an NCAA violation in which he sold memorabilia (note to the NCAA: your policy is ridiculous; it’s their stuff and they should be able to sell it). He entered the NFL’s version of hell at the time, the Oakland Raiders, via the 2011 supplemental draft. After three generally ineffective years, Pryor then bounced around the NFL until deciding to transition full-time to the wide receiver position in 2016 for the Cleveland Browns. At the time he made this decision, I doubt that very many people had much hope that his transition was going to amount to much. Pryor beat the odds, however, posting solid numbers for a first year receiver and showing potential despite having multiple subpar quarterbacks throwing to him. He now hopes that he can parlay this success into a new, long-term deal commensurate with a #1 receiver, whether here in Washington or elsewhere.
So…..the question of the day is whether Pryor can meet this goal and climb the ladder of NFL wide receivers to get into that small but elite group at the top. Here are his 2016 numbers:
Targets Receptions Yds Yds/Rec TDs Long Yds/gm Catch %
140 77 1007 13.1 4 54 62.9 55
Terrelle’s career receiver numbers are obviously very similar:
Targets Receptions Yds Yds/Rec TDs Long Yds/gm Catch %
149 79 1071 13.6 4 54 31.9 53
What do this tell us about Terrelle the wide receiver? Could he possibly develop into an elite, #1 wide receiver? Let’s find out.
Defining exactly what constitutes a “#1 wide receiver” is tough, principally because it’s a made-up term used by analysts without any real meaning. If asked to define the term, most analysts would likely just say that “I know one when I see one”. That having been said, in a hat-tip to numbers, we can attempt to put some sort of objectivity to this exercise. In my view, a #1 receiver can make catches in every pattern in the route tree and excels in the major receiving statistics, including number of catches, total yards, yards per catch, touchdowns, and catch percentage. First, here is a list of the 2016 top wide receivers by number of catches:
Rank Name Team # of rec yds Yds/rec
1 Fitzgerald, L. AZ 107 1023 9.6
2 Brown, A. PIT 106 1284 12.1
3 Beckham, O. NYG 101 1367 13.5
4 Edelman, J. NE 98 1106 11.3
5 Nelson, J. GB 97 1257 13.0
6 Evans, M. TB 96 1321 13.8
7 Baldwin, D. SEA 94 1128 12.0
8 Landry, J. MIA 94 1136 12.1
9 Thomas, M. NO 92 1137 12.4
10 Hilton, T.Y. IND 91 1448 15.9
10 Tate, G. DET 91 1077 11.8
27 Pryor, T. CLE 77 1007 13.1
Here’s the list of the 2016 top WRs by total yardage:
Rank Name Team Yds # of rec Yds/rec
1 Hilton, T.Y. IND 1448 91 15.9
2 Jones, J. ATL 1409 83 17.0
3 Beckham, O. NYG 1367 101 13.5
4 Evans, M. TB 1321 98 13.8
5 Brown, A. PIT 1284 106 12.1
6 Nelson, J. GB 1257 97 13.0
7 Cooks, B. NO 1173 78 15.0
8 Cooper, A. OAK 1153 83 13.9
9 Thomas, M. NO 1137 92 12.1
10 Landry, J. MIA 1136 94 12.1
22 Pryor, T. CLE 1007 77 13.1
The same list, sorted by yards per reception:
Rank Name Team Yds/rec # of rec Yds
1 Jackson, D. WAS 17.9 56 1005
2 Hogan, C. NE 17.9 38 680
3 Stills, K. MIA 17.3 42 726
4 Jones, J. ATL 17.0 83 1409
5 Jones. M. DET 16.9 55 930
6 Nelson, JJ AZ 16.7 34 568
7 Gabriel, T. ATL 16.5 35 579
8 Dorsett, T. IND 16.0 33 528
9 Hilton, T.Y. IND 15.9 91 1448
10 Bryant, Dez. DAL 15.9 50 796
52 Pryor, T. CLE 13.1 77 1007
As you can see from this data, Pryor was not in the top 10 of any of the major receiving statistics during the 2016 season. He did, however, do well in both number of catches (ranked 27th) and total yards (ranked 22nd). His yards per catch was merely average (ranked 52nd).
Of course, very few receivers are ranked highly in all categories. In fact, only the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton is in the top 10 in all three stats; however, Antonio Brown (Steelers), Odell Beckham, Jr. (Giants), Jordy Nelson (Packers), Mike Evans (Buccaneers), Jarvis Landry (Dolphins), Michael Thomas (Saints), and Julio Jones (Falcons) are all in the top ten of two of the three categories.
I’m not going to show another chart here, but as far as touchdowns go, the NFL’s leader was Jordy Nelson with 14, followed by Davante Adams, Antonio Brown, and Mike Evans with 12. Pryor’s 4 touchdowns on the season with tied for 36th. Number of touchdowns is a somewhat arbitrary stat for a receiver, in my opinion, as it is dependent on other things, but nevertheless, it wasn’t Terrelle’s strong suit.
I also didn’t show the leading catch percentages for wide receivers, but trust me when I say that the wide receivers with the best hands have catch percentages in the mid to upper 70s, whereas Terrelle’s 55% is average at best.
Finally, one more measure of a receiver’s talent is yards after catch. This list is shows the top 10 yards after catch posted by wide receivers in 2016 who had at least 30 receptions:
Rank Name Team YAC
1 Gabriel, T. AZ 7.9
2 Humphries, A. TB 7.3
3 Tate. G. DET 7.0
4 Williams, T. SD 6.8
5 Landry, J. MIA 6.7
6 Hogan, C. NE 6.6
7 Enunwa, Q. NYJ 6.5
8 Patterson, C. MIN 6.2
9 Hurns, A. JAX 6.1
10 Royal, E. CHI 6.0
84 Pryor, T. CLE 2.5
Most clearly, yards after catch is not Pryor’s strength. His 2.5 yards after catch in 2016 is one of the lowest in the NFL for receivers with 30 or more receptions; in fact, only 4 receivers posted a lower number. To be fair, only Jarvis Landry from Miami is on the top 10 YAC list and is also in the top 10 for any of the other statistical measures. Still, though, being 84th shows that Terrelle has a long way to go in this regard, and it’s frankly somewhat odd that a receiver with his physical gifts should be so low by this measure. The Redskins shouldn’t expect him to break many tackles after a catch this year unless he has made major strides in this particular skill.
Therefore, as you can see, Pryor was good last year, but not great. From a statistical production point of view, he was simply not in the same class as the top receivers in the NFL. The production of players like Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, and the others, are where we hope Terrelle arise up to this year and beyond. Right now, that group is above Terrelle’s pay grade.
Of course, there are reasons for Pryor’s “good but not great” level of production, the two most important of which being the fact that (1) it was his first year as a wide receiver, whereas all of the other top receivers played the position in college, and (2) he played for Cleveland, which had one of the worst quarterback situations in the league last year. With Kirk Cousins throwing to Pryor this year, the poor quarterbacking problem is solved. It is a fact, though, that Pryor’s lack of experience is obviously something that can only get better with time.
This begs the question of how Pryor compared to other first year receivers during the 2016 season. In 2016, only 6 rookie receivers had over 30 receptions, 500 yards, and 11.0 yards per reception: Michael Thomas (Saints), Eli Rogers (Steelers), Tyler Boyd (Bengals), Robby Anderson (Jets), Will Fuller (Texans), and Tajae Sharpe (Titans). In 2015, only five players met this same set of criteria: Tyler Lockett (Seahawks), Willie Snead (Saints), Stefon Diggs (Vikings), Amari Cooper (Raiders), and Dorial Green-Beckham (Titans). 2014 was an unusually productive year for rookie receivers, with 9 players meeting these criteria, whereas 2013 had just 6. Terrelle Pryor isn’t a rookie, of course, and a big part of rookie production is just adjusting to life in the NFL. Pryor did that years ago. Nonetheless, the point is that, while Pryor wasn’t amongst the NFL’s elite in 2016, he was almost certainly the second-most productive first year receiver behind the Saints’ Michael Thomas, who played with an all-world, future hall of fame quarterback, Drew Brees.
After looking at all of these numbers, it’s safe to conclude that, at a minimum, Terrelle Pryor is on the right track. He had a quality 2016 season considering that he played for the terrible Cleveland Browns and was in merely his first season as a receiver. Can he rise to the level of the NFL’s elite, #1 WRs this season? Meaning, when I write this column again next year, will Terrelle be on either two or three of the top 10 stat lists? Given how far he has to go, it seems possible but unlikely, particularly given that the Redskins have a number of other quality options, including All-Pro tight end Jordan Reed, who (when healthy) is the undeniable and undisputed first option in the passing game.
Pryor has potential and put up outstanding numbers for a first year receiver, but fans should probably not expect him to vault up into the ranks of the elite in just his second full season at his position. He will likely make progress, though, over his 77/1007/13.1/4 TD season in 2016, and appears to have been working hard at his new craft over the offseason.
What do you think? Let me know.
 My apologies to any fans of the Cleveland Browns who are reading this if you feel that I stole your team’s rightful title.
 I talked about catch percentage at length in my “So What’s the Deal with Jordan Reed, Really?” column: http://www.thehogsty.com/2017/06/12/so-whats-the-deal-with-jordan-reed-really/