Way back in May of 2008, a young quarterback from Jeannette, Pennsylvania committed to The Ohio State University. Terrelle Pryor was a big, athletic kid, and the top ranked high school quarterback in the country. His decision came down to rivals Ohio State and Michigan. In Ann Arbor, Rich Rodriguez was trying to revive the Wolverine’s program, while the Buckeyes were coming off of back-to-back BCS Championship games, and were only half a dozen years removed from winning the national championship.
Pryor chose OSU and had a good career for the Buckeyes, posting solid numbers as a passer, throwing for more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions. But it was his running that set him apart – he averaged six touchdowns and more than 700 yards on the ground in each of his three seasons.
His college career ended unceremoniously with NCAA violations, which led to his suspension by Ohio State University. In June of 2011 he left the school and entered the NFL’s Supplemental Draft. He was a high ceiling/low floor type of prospect, and thus, scouting evaluations were all over the place on him. Ultimately, the Oakland Raiders, and head coach Hue Jackson, used a third round pick in the Supplemental Draft on Pryor.
Pryor spent three seasons with the Raiders, completing 56 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Most of his playing time came in his third and final season with the Raiders. After the 2013 NFL season ended, he bounced to the Seattle Seahawks and the Kansas City Chiefs, but failed to play an NFL game in 2014.
Many thought his 6’6” height and 240 pound frame, coupled with his speed (timed below 4.40 in the 40 yard dash, depending on who you ask), could make him a good candidate for a switch to tight end or wide receiver. But, like Tim Tebow, Pryor insisted that he was an NFL quarterback. Pryor even avowed, “If I can’t play quarterback, I can’t play football.” He said this as recently as the summer of 2015 when he was a member of the Bengals... But, let’s back up to that.
Pryor reunited with Hue Jackson in May of 2015 and signed with the Bengals for a shot at winning a spot in training camp to battle for a backup quarterback position behind Andy Dalton. A.J. McCarron and Josh Johnson were his main competition for the second and third string duties.
Some speculated the Bengals may try to use Pryor as a wide receiver. Heading into 2015, they still didn’t know what they had with tight end Tyler Eifert, and his backups (Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah) were rookies. They also didn’t have a solid fourth wide receiver behind A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, and Mohamed Sanu. Also, Jones and Sanu were impending free agents, and 2015 would have been a good chance for him to get work behind some good professionals. But, as Pryor had insisted, it was quarterback or bust for him. A month after being signed, Pryor was cut by the Bengals.
Immediately after his release from the Bengals, Pryor’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, announced that Pryor wanted to try out for NFL teams at wide receiver. Apparently his quarterback-only resolve had a short shelf life. Pryor tweeted about his positional change saying, “Going to miss QB but I will make a great WR!"
He got in trouble with the Bengals for that Tweet – not because he wouldn’t consider playing receiver until they cut him, but because he decided to include high-angle coach’s video of full team drills from the Bengals' minicamp practices in his Tweet.
Shortly after announcing the positional change, the Bengals’ in-state rival Cleveland Browns, claimed him off waivers. Pryor appeared in three games for the receiver-starved Browns in 2015, hauling in one of eight targets for 42 yards. But this year, with a slew of rookie receivers on the Browns, Pryor has emerged as a pretty decent receiver, at least as far as production is concerned. He is averaging five receptions and more than 70 yards per game through the first four games of the 2016 NFL season. Over his last couple of games, he’s really produced well, catching 13 of 23 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown.
Several things make Pryor’s production impressive. First off, he’s only been playing wide receiver for one season, and is already producing at an NFL level. The Bengals got to see first hand that this is not an easy task, with former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones, and former Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal, who both tried, and failed, to switch from college quarterback to NFL wide receiver with the Bengals. Secondly, Pryor is the only receiver doing much of anything on the Browns (now that Corey Coleman is hurt), meaning opposing defenses can scheme extra coverage to him, but he is still producing. He has 40 targets this season, which is more than three times greater than the Browns’ second receiver. Third, Pryor is catching balls in an inadequate passing game, which uses quarterbacks from the lowest rungs of the NFL’s quarterback hierarchy. Since he’s been with the Browns, their quarterbacks have included Josh McCown, Johnny Manziel, Austin Davis, Robert Griffin III, and Cody Kessler. This season alone, Griffin, McCown and Kessler have all thrown him passes.
So this raises the question, what if Pryor had decided to make the switch to wide receiver before the Bengals had released him? What if Pryor entered training camp in 2015 as a wide receiver for the Bengals?
Last season, the Bengals had six wide receivers on their initial roster, including A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Greg Little, and Mario Alford. Pryor would have had no chance of supplanting the the top four wide receivers, with Green, Jones, and Sanu comprising the Bengals’ primary receivers with Tate returning kicks and punts. But both Little and Alford were easily replaceable. Little did not play in any games for the Bengals in 2015, as he was eventually cut in October 2015, while Alford had a chance to be unimpressive in his one game played (against the Browns).
As an athletic, promising prospect, Pryor could have been a real threat to Alford’s roster spot. Had that happened, Pryor would have been likely been with the team again in 2016, and poised for a chance to impress in the offseason and preseason, with Jones and Sanu departed in free agency. The Bengals likely still would have drafted Tyler Boyd as a move to the future, and in an attempt to replace the loss of two wide receivers. But would they have signed Brandon LaFell? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps Pryor would be starting opposite A.J. Green with Boyd in the slot. Or perhaps Pryor would be the Bengals’ current fourth receiver behind both Boyd and LaFell? With Eifert out for at least the first five weeks of the 2016 season, Pryor’s size could have given the Bengals a potential red zone target, which has been elusive for them so far in the season. It’s doubtful he would have received the targets, or had the chance to produce like he has in Cleveland, but he could likely have brought more as a receiver than the Bengals have in James Wright, right?
Ultimately the Bengals released Pryor, and he did not decide to play wide receiver until after that moment in time. But what if Pryor had budged on his insistence of playing quarterback before leaving Cincinnati? Would he have made the Bengals’ roster? Would he have been given a chance to produce? It’s impossible to know for sure, but interesting to consider what may have been.