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Player Spotlight: Terrelle Pryor

A detailed look at Terrelle Pryor's fantasy prospects for 2017.

Positives

  • Terrelle Pryor moves from one of the league’s least efficient passing offenses to one of the most efficient. His catch rate, yards per reception, and touchdown numbers will improve by default.

  • He’s one of the best athletes in the league, at any position.

  • The departures of Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson create a substantial target void in Washington.

Negatives

  • Pryor is still growing as a wide receiver and now has to learn a new offense.

  • No wide receiver has eclipsed a 20% target market share since Jay Gruden took over as Washington head coach in 2014.

  • If Gruden’s history in Washington is any indication, the team is due for some regression in pass attempts per game. Even with Garcon and Jackson gone, it may still take an injury to a Washington pass catcher for Pryor to reach the WR1 ceiling many are projecting.

If the initial reaction to his signing in Washington from the Footballguys staff members is any indication, Pryor’s 2017 fantasy prospects will be a hotly debated topic this draft season. While he doesn’t come without question marks in his new digs (look no further than the list of cons above), the case for Pryor as an ascending talent in one of the league’s most efficient passing offenses is overwhelming.

Talent

Any discussion of Pryor’s talent level should begin with his off-the-charts athleticism and end with what he accomplished in 2016 -- only his second year playing wide receiver after converting from quarterback.

Pryor came out of highschool as the top football recruit in the nation, as well as one of the top basketball recruits. His 2011 Pro Day measurables compare favorably with the combine results of the two best age-28 wide receivers in the NFL (Pryor turned 28 on June 20th):

Player Height Weight 40-Yard Dash Broad Jump
Terrelle Pryor 6'4" 232 4.38 124"
Julio Jones 6'3" 220 4.39 135"
A.J. Green 6'4" 211 4.5 126"

PlayerProfiler rates Pryor’s speed score (40-time adjusted for height and weight) in the 99th percentile and lists his closest athletic comparison as another unquestioned WR1 -- Demaryius Thomas.

None of this is to say Pryor is on equal footing with some of the best wide receivers in the game. If all it took to be a great receiver is elite athleticism, Jon Baldwin would still have a job in the NFL, and you wouldn’t need a site like Footballguys to provide you with in-depth player spotlights. But Pryor’s near-unprecedented success as a position-convert in 2016 (77-1,007-4 receiving line) proves there’s already more to his game than athleticism alone.

Skeptics will point to Pryor’s team leading 140 targets (12th-most in the league) and sub-par 54.6% catch rate as an indication his WR21 finish in PPR leagues was entirely due to being the only viable target in a terrible offense, which isn’t true.

Not only are targets earned by the receivers who get open most frequently, but it’s not as though Cleveland quarterbacks had no one else worth throwing to last year. As our Justin Howe pointed out during the off-season, Pryor commanded 10 more targets than Browns 2016 first-round pick, Corey Coleman, in the 10 games they appeared in together. And Josh McCown -- by far the most experienced quarterback on Cleveland’s roster last season -- especially saw the value in leaning on Pryor. In his three starts, McCown targeted Pryor 10, 12, and 12 times, respectively.

The low catch rate is inconsequential. First of all, playing with McCown, Robert Griffin III, and Cody Kessler at quarterback doesn’t help a receiver’s catch rate. Just as significantly, 818 of Pryor’s 1,007 receiving yards came at the catch point. He was catching passes downfield, which is precisely what we want in fantasy -- more opportunities for chunk yardage, even if it comes with a few more drops.

Pryor is far from a finished product as a wide receiver, but again -- there’s already more here than raw, overt athleticism. Take it from some of the best eyes in the business:

“(Pryor) displayed surprisingly advanced ball skills, route running and toughness at the catch point last year. He also has speed to threaten deep and size to be difficult to defend on deep balls, but he barely had any time with a quarterback that could effectively throw the deep ball last year.” - Sigmund Bloom, Footballguys.com

“Coming in above the NFL average at getting open against man and zone coverage is highly impressive for where Pryor is in his development. It’s easy to point to his stripped down route tree or some flaws at the catch point and say he still has work to do. Of course he still has work to do. However, we are much better off pointing to the massively positive steps he took over the last year to become what Reception Perception quantifies him as: a legitimate starting NFL receiver.” - Matt Harmon, NFL.com

“If a football fan were dropped into the NFL landscape today - with no knowledge of Pryor's path to the 2016 season - the takeaway would be he is one of the 15-20 best receivers in the NFL.” - Chad Parsons, UTHDynasty.com

Opportunity

If the main argument against Pryor in 2017 is a significant dip in target volume, it warrants a deeper look.

Since Jay Gruden took over as head coach in 2014, here are Washington’s pass attempts per game and where they ranked in comparison to the rest of the league.

Season Pass Att/Game Rank
2014 34.2 18th
2015 35.4 20th
2016 37.9 7th

A 9% increase over Washington's previous two year average in pass attempts per game marks 2016 as a bit of an outlier. We should expect more balance this year with Gruden taking back play calling duties from new Rams head coach, Sean McVay. Gruden last called Washington’s plays in 2014 when they finished 18th in pass attempts per game and his Cincinnati teams never finished better than 12th during his three seasons there as offensive coordinator. About 35 pass attempts per game seems a fair expectation for 2017.

If the Washington receivers must split roughly 560 targets (35 pass attempts x 16 games), exactly how big a slice of the pie will Pryor claim? We can begin by subtracting out the known values:

Player Targets Market Share Comment
Jordan Reed 112 20.0% Assumes 14 games played and a market share consistent with his healthiest season (2015)
Jamison Crowder 109 19.5% 17% market share last year; team envisions a bigger role
Chris Thompson 53 9.4% Closer to his 2015 volume
Vernon Davis 28 5.0% If Reed is relatively healthy, Davis is a non-factor
Flotsam and Jetsam 61 10.8% These are the stray targets guys like Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine, and Ryan Grant will absorb

197 targets remain unaccounted for in this scenario for Pryor to split with the team’s 2016 first round draft pick, Josh Doctson. Despite news Gruden envisions Doctson as the team’s Z receiver in three-wide receiver sets (the role vacated by Pierre Garcon, who led the team in targets last year), Pryor -- a more proven commodity who will remain on the field in two-wide sets -- has to be considered the safer bet for more targets.

Doctson is the NFL version of vaporware -- an exciting new product that exists, at this point, only in theory. He’ll essentially be repeating his rookie season, much like fellow former first rounders Kevin White and Breshad Perriman did last year. 100+ target first-year wide receivers are the exception and Doctson still needs to prove his Achilles tendons can make it though an off-season program.

105 targets (18.8% market share) is a fairly modest projection for Pryor. It would be rare in a Gruden offense that hasn’t featured a wide receiver with a 20% target market share in the last three seasons, but there’s also room for Pryor to come close enough to his 2016 volume. What if...

All of these are credible paths to additional targets for Pryor, which is a big deal when you consider the improved quality of those targets.

Efficiency

Last season, Pryor caught 54.6% of his targets for 13.1 yards per catch and only four touchdowns. Here’s why each of those rates are a near-lock to improve:

Category Cleveland Washington
Completion percentage 59% 67%
Completions per game 21.1 25.4
Yards per pass attempt 5.8 7.8
Passing TDs per game 0.9 1.6
Red zone plays per game 7.5 10.6

Even if Washington’s pass attempts regress to the norm, there’s no questioning Pryor’s new surroundings are more conducive to fantasy production than they were in Cleveland. Washington has ranked no lower than 6th in yards per pass attempt under Gruden, and Cousins’ career average sits at a lofty 7.9 yards per attempt.

More completions for more yards can only mean Pryor’s catch rate and yards per reception will increase. The player Pryor is replacing at X receiver -- DeSean Jackson -- caught about 60% of his passes during his tenure in Washington and never averaged below 17.6 yards per catch. Pryor’s catch rate bumping up from 54.6% to 60% (or even the league average of 65%) is not unreasonable. And considering Cousins led the league in both pass plays of 25+ yards and total air yards (total passing yards minus yards after-the-catch), Pryor’s yards per reception increasing from 13.1 to around 14.5 is more likely than not. Here’s what a full season of those rates would look like given his (low-end) target projection:

Targets Receptions Receiving Yards
105 63 914

If Pryor were to duplicate his four touchdowns from a year ago to go along with those numbers, we’re looking at a fringe top-40 receiver. But projecting Pryor for only four touchdowns is silly for several reasons:

  1. Garcon and Jackson combined for roughly one third of Washington’s red zone targets a season ago. Reed and Doctson will absorb some of those looks if healthy, but there’s plenty of red zone opportunity left for Pryor.

  2. Jamison Crowder (5’9’’, 174 lbs.) led Washington in red zone targets in 2016, but converted those looks into touchdowns only 18% of the time. At 6’4’’, 223 lbs., Pryor presents a far more attractive target for Kirk Cousins when Washington gets within scoring range.

  3. Despite the lack of touchdowns, Pryor was above average in the red zone last season while playing with awful quarterbacks. His 31% red zone touchdown conversion rate was higher than any Washington player in 2016 besides Reed (36%).

  4. Check out the first two plays on this highlight reel of Pryor scoring high degree of difficulty red zone touchdowns, including one in which he burned Josh Norman (press mute if you don’t appreciate the musical stylings of Meek Mill).

  5. Washington had eight passing touchdowns of 30 or more yards last season, which tied for second in the NFL. Cleveland had one 30+ yard passing touchdown, which ranked last. If Pryor is viewed by the team as Jackson's deep threat replacement (recent quotes from Cousins suggest he is), he’s sure to be on the receiving end of a few splashy touchdowns.

If the baseline reception and yardage projections above are accurate, Pryor would need eight touchdowns to match his 2016 fantasy point total, as well as his current ADP. It’s the only leap of faith in these projections, but it’s comforting knowing the opportunity will be there for a player who can score from anywhere on the field.

Final Thoughts

Drafting Pryor at his current ADP is not for the faint of heart. There are several higher-floor receivers being picked after him, including Michael Crabtree, Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, and maybe even Pryor’s new teammate, Crowder.

What makes Pryor more alluring than each of those players is the possibility of a WR1 season. If only one of several factors goes in his favor -- rapport with Cousins, continued improvement as a technician, Reed and Doctson (predictably) missing games, Washington remaining as pass heavy as they were in 2016 -- Pryor’s ceiling is inside the top-10 fantasy wide receivers.

His upward-trending ADP means you’ll have to pay a tax to find out if Pryor can produce WR1 numbers to go along with his WR1 frame and athletic ability. But even at a somewhat inflated price point, talent, opportunity, and efficiency suggest Pryor can still end up a draft-day bargain when we look back on the 2017 season.

Projections

Staff Member Receptions Rec Yards Rec TDS
Dodds 66 884 5
Wood 60 750 4
Henry 62 900 6
Tremblay 69 932 4
Alexander 63 914 8

Other Viewpoints

CBS Sports' Dave Richard believes playing in Washington makes Pryor a sure-thing top-50 overall fantasy option:

"So long as Cousins is his quarterback, Pryor should exceed the 1,000 yards he had with the Browns and at least double the four touchdowns as well. After all, not only will Pryor be in “prove it” mode with his one-year deal, but so too will his quarterback. Lock him in as a No. 2 wideout with a Round 4 pick."

In his 5 Players Whose Fantasy Football Stock Has Risen Since Free Agency Started, numberFire's JJ Zachariason writes Pryor has the upside to improve on last year's numbers:

"Pryor may see fewer targets in Washington, but efficiency should make up for it. On top of that, he's got a good bit of upside considering he's only played wide receiver for one NFL season, and his air yards profile could end up seeing a nice boost with Cousins tossing him the rock."