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Player Faceoff: Terrelle Pryor, Washington

Two staffers go head-to-head and discuss Terrelle Pryor

The staff members at Footballguys are full of opinions. In a Faceoff, we allow two members to voice their opinions on a specific player. One picked the high side, and the other took the low side.

High Side: Matt Waldman

There are multiple concerns about Pryor’s fantasy value this year, including Cleveland’s unwillingness to keep him, the amount of time it took for Pryor to find a public suitor, and his landing spot in Washington’s offense. Addressing each of these points is important because it reveals that much of the fear is irrational. Looking beyond those fears reveals a player on the rise in a great situation for him to increase his production.

Pryor’s 77-catch, 1,007-yard effort in 2016 happened during his sixth season as an NFL player and his second as a wide receiver. The fact that he’s in his late 20s with only one good statistical year makes him a less attractive option on the open market for NFL teams that operate with certain risk-assessment models for free agents. The potential problem with those models is that even the essence of Pryor’s career is an exception to the rule and it takes thoughtful investigation and consideration beyond those models to make the right decision about him.

Cleveland parted ways with Pryor due to cost and its belief that it can spend less money for equally productive options. We’ll see if the Browns are ultimately correct but thus far, they have also parted ways with Taylor Gabriel, Willie Snead, and Charles Johnson—all players with no worse than high-end contributor skills. When examining Cleveland’s player-personnel track record and the fact that these NFL organizations collectively loathe exceptional circumstances even when the ability is clearly strong, I would recommend dismissing the fact that Cleveland let Pryor walk and that he sat for a while unclaimed on the free agent market.

Last year, Pryor was on the receiving end of passes from three quarterbacks: a mid-round rookie with a mediocre arm (Cody Kessler), a once promising has-been whose came has deteriorated so much that he could not read the middle of the field (Robert Griffin III), and a veteran who couldn’t stay healthy. This year, Pryor will work with Kirk Cousins, who has more experience as a starter this version of a West Coast Offense that has many similarities to Hue Jackson’s scheme in Cleveland. Pryor will not have a huge adjustment schematically and anything he has to learn won’t be as difficult as what he had to digest as an NFL quarterback. If Pryor had one healthy quarterback to develop rapport with over the course of a season, it’s far more likely that he would have earned more than four touchdowns because red zone performance is about quick accurate decisions in compressed areas that come from developed rapport that Pryor didn’t get a chance to earn while working with a carousel of passers.

Although a lot of media discussion revolves around Jamison Crowder as the starter on the outside this fall, Washington uses a great deal of three- and four-receiver sets that also features two move tight ends in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, who create mismatches for Crowder in the middle of the field. Crowder is a match-up producer who will earn a high volume of targets. Even so, Pierre Garcon earned 79 catches, 1041 yards, and 3 scores with Cousins last year and that’s very close to what Pryor did in Cleveland last year. Where Pryor will build on that production is the red zone. Neither Crowder nor Garcon has the red zone capabilities that Pryor brings to town. This may not be apparent with Pryor’s 2016 totals, but Pryor’s traits show there’s much more potential than his production indicates. Pryor wins against press coverage (In fact, Pryor repeatedly beat Washington shut-down corner Josh Norman and forced Washington to double cover and zone cover the receiver during the second half of last year’s game) and displays rebounding prowess in the red zone on 50/50 targets. It gives him double-digit touchdown potential in Washington, especially with Josh Doctson being brought along slowly. Look for Pryor to start opposite Crowder and build on his 2016 campaign that would have been a top-12 fantasy campaign with his existing reception-yardage totals and eight scores instead of four.

Low Side: Devin Knotts

Terrelle Pryor’s first season as a wide receiver was a breakout season as he was a breakout star for the Cleveland Browns. Pryor who is 6’4’’ 230 pounds and has all the tools that you could want in a wide receiver. Pryor finished as the 20th wide receiver in 2016, and is currently being drafted in the top 15 of wide receivers so there is an expectation that Pryor will build off of his breakout season. The biggest reason for this is he is moving teams and moving away from the horrible quarterback situation he was in last season to a very stable quarterback situation with Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins. The Browns front office which is very analytics focused decided to commit to Kenny Britt over Terrelle Pryor at a higher price which shows that they do not view Pryor as the top end receiver that they felt was worth committing to. With Pryor signing just a one year deal this season due to many teams electing to go with other wide receivers instead of taking a chance at Pryor which is a concern especially since where Pryor is being drafted.

The biggest reason Pryor was such a significant fantasy asset in 2016 was the overall number of targets that he saw due to the Browns lack of talent at the wide receiver position last season especially when Corey Coleman went down with injury. Pryor saw 140 targets last season which ranked 17th in the NFL last season. Garcon saw 111 targets which under Kirk Cousins was the second most targets that any wide receiver has seen only behind Jordan Reed of 114 targets, so it is unlikely that Pryor will see the volume that he saw last season. With all of the options in Washington this season, Pryor’s targets will likely be around 110 which is a concern for a player being drafted where he currently is. Since Pryor is still learning the wide receiver positions he is not going to catch a higher percentage of targets so he needs the high volume of targets to have great fantasy numbers.

Another problem with Pryor was even though he had a significant number of targets, he was incredibly inconsistent. Pryor is currently being drafted as a top 15 wide receiver, and he only finished as a top 15 wide receiver twice last season which ranked tied for 40th.That stat alone should scare you off of him heading into this season. Pryor may score more touchdowns in 2017 which could increase his consistency, but that is not a guarantee as he has significantly more competition than last season in Cleveland.

Pryor has a lot of upside, especially if Jordan Reed were to get injured or Josh Doctson will continue to deal with injury struggles that he had in 2016, but the reality is that if you’re taking Pryor at where he is currently being drafted you should not have to rely on an injury situation for the player to reach value. Pryor has upside, but he should be drafted a few rounds later than where he is currently being drafted and for that reason you should avoid taking him in your drafts this season.