Can Terrelle Pryor Become a Dominant NFL Wide Receiver?

With the announcement of his position switch to wide receiver, what can we expect from Terrelle Pryor moving forward?

God only makes so many humans with the athletic ability of Terrelle Pryor.

Unfortunately, he forgot to give Pryor the quarterback gene, causing the uber athlete to announce this week that he is finally willing to switch positions and give wide receiver a chance -- this after short stints at quarterback with the Raiders, Seahawks, Chiefs and Bengals in which he tantalized fans with his outstanding playmaking ability while struggling to develop as an accurate, instinctive player.

And while changing positions in the midst of an NFL career is often a recipe for failure, Pryor’s pedigree as an athlete and his success running the ball against NFL defenses certainly should cause the fantasy community to at least pause and evaluate his chances at being an impact player as a receiver.

Pryor the Athlete

Terrelle Pryor put his athleticism on full display in 2013, rushing for 576 yards in only 11 games, including a record-breaking 93-yarder against a dumbfounded Steelers defense. Watch the highlight. It’s awesome. Had he started the entire season that would have projected to 983 rushing yards over 16 games, which would have fallen just shy of Michael Vick's record of 1,039 yards in 2006.

However, Pryor’s Net Expected Points (NEP) scores aren’t as optimistic as a runner. NEP is our our in-house metric that compares a player or team’s production to league expectation level.

As a runner, Pryor maintained just a 0.19 Rushing NEP per play, a far cry from the 0.49 Vick put up in that 2006 season. Still, Pryor demonstrated the ability to beat NFL defenders as a runner, using his size, strength and speed to produce highlight plays on a consistent basis.

Pryor is a freak athlete at just under 6’5” and 232 pounds and running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash. Those are ridiculous numbers no matter what position you are playing. At his pro day he also broad jumped a functional 10’4”, but struggled a bit with the vertical (31”) and three-cone (7.2), drills designed to test an athletes’ explosiveness and change of direction ability.

When comparing his measurables to other NFL wide receiver prospects over the years, a lot of interesting names pop up.

YearNamePosHghtWght40 ydVertBroad3Cone20 ss
2007Calvin JohnsonWR6' 5"2394.3542½"139"  
2005Matt JonesQB6' 6"2424.3739½"129”  
2011Terrelle PryorQB6' 5”2324.3831"124”7.24.3
2005Vincent JacksonWR6' 5"2414.4639"129"6.844
2015Dorial Green-BeckhamWR6' 5"2374.4933½"119"6.894.45
2005Mike WilliamsWR6' 5"2294.5636½"123"6.984.23
2001Marcus WilliamsWR6' 5"2304.5641"130"7.374.2
2014Kelvin BenjaminWR6' 5"2404.6132½"119"7.334.39
2014Mike EvansWR6' 4¾"2314.5337" 7.084.26
2006Anthony MixWR6' 4"2354.4831½"111"  
2011Jon BaldwinWR6' 4"2284.4942"129"7.074.34
2015Devin FunchessWR6' 4"2324.738½"122" 

While his size and straight-line speed compare favorably to Calvin Johnson and Vincent Jackson, those two possessed a vertical and change-of-direction explosiveness that allowed them to develop into dominant receivers at the NFL level. That being said, Pryor (on paper) is a similar athlete to Kelvin Benjamin but with a lot more top end speed. And as a rookie, Benjamin was able to use his size and strength to win against smaller defensive backs consistently.

As an athlete, Terrelle Pryor is a freak, capable of stressing defenses with his speed as well as his rare size. But the question has never been about whether or not Pryor is athletic enough to be a NFL player but instead whether he is talented enough to excel at a specific position. For quarterback, the answer was no. But can the freak play receiver?

Pryor the Receiver

“I don’t know how to catch,” Pryor said last year, while with the Seahawks. “I’ve been a quarterback my whole life.”

Well that’s not a good start. Although it isn’t exactly accurate, as Pryor caught three passes (including two for touchdowns) during his college career. He looked good doing it, for what that’s worth. But three plays is not a great sample size for evaluating the ability of an NFL prospect, which is probably why the NFL landscape is littered with amazing college athletes who just couldn’t make the transition for quarterback to receiver.

Eric Crouch won the Heisman in 2001 after an outstanding career as a rushing quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. He was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Rams as a wide receiver and failed to record a stat during his short career.

Matt Jones, a good physical comparable to Pryor, was drafted in the first round of the 2005 NFL draft after measuring in at the combine at 6’6”, 242 pounds, running a 4.3-second 40 and posting a 39” vertical jump. It took him four seasons to emerge as a productive player before drug and alcohol arrests ended his career.

Ronald Curry and Antwaan Randle El were solid NFL players after making the conversion from college quarterback to NFL receiver but failed to reach any sort of fantasy relevance during their respective careers.

Hines Ward and Anquan Boldin are often cited as success stories, but both played extensively as wide receivers in college before being drafted, allowing them to learn the nuances of the position early on in their careers.

If there is a success story to be told, it is probably the Patriots’ Julian Edelman, who played quarterback exclusively for Kent State. He recorded only one reception in his college career before switching to receiver before being drafted in the seventh round. That being said, it took five seasons before Edelman became a solid starter.

Historically, there just isn’t precedent to indicate that a position switch is likely to produce anything beyond a role player at best. Even the great Antonio Gates had experience playing tight end in high school and during his redshirt year under Nick Saban at Michigan State.

Those who are productive generally require three to five years of coaching before breaking out in an offense, which doesn’t bode well for those interested in stashing Pryor on a dynasty roster. But, as the old adage goes, there is a first time for everything!

Pryor the Prospect

While anything is possible for an athlete as dominant as Pryor, history indicates it is extremely unlikely that he will be a viable fantasy option anytime soon, if at all. Dominant athleticism does not an NFL receiver make. Just ask Cordarrelle Patterson.

Still, anytime someone with his unique traits gets a chance on the field, it’s at the least worth monitoring. Pryor has proven his ability to “out-athlete” NFL defenders in actual games, which can’t be undersold. He is faster than most defensive backs, has good ability in the open field and possesses a destructive stiff arm.

As a receiver, he is a massive mismatch against most defenders, especially in the red zone. If he can learn how to run routes and show the ability to catch the ball in traffic, he has the chance to be a unique and dangerous player.

So yeah, I guess it could happen. Anything is possible. I just won’t be holding my breath.