clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Terrelle Pryor trying to beat the odds as rare QB-to-WR talent

Transitioning from quarterback to wide receiver doesn't work out often, but Terrelle Pryor is trying to beat the odds with the Cleveland Browns.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Collegiate quarterbacks transitioning to a role as an NFL receiver isn't unprecedented. However, very rarely does a player begin their NFL career at quarterback and earn starting time before finally making the transition to wide receiver.

Terrelle Pryor started 10 games in his three seasons as a quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, and while he showed potential at times, he finished with a 3-7 record and 69.3 career passer rating. It wasn't enough potential to keep the Raiders from trading Pryor to the Seattle Seahawks, and after he was released by the Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals, Pryor's dreams of being an NFL quarterback looked shot.

So a transition to wide receiver looked like a last-ditch effort to keep a dying career alive, but the early reviews for Pryor have been positive. In fact, the Cleveland Browns coaches are raving about Pryor and he even has a first-team rep in training camp under his belt already.

Browns head coach Mike Pettine told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer that he's among those impressed with Pryor's performance just a few days into his first training camp as a receiver.

"He doesn't look out of place,'' said Pettine. "It's still very early, too early to tell, but he does not look out of place. He does some good things. He is just behind from the learning standpoint and the subtleties of playing receiver. If you had asked where he would be at this point, I would think we would all agree he is ahead of where we thought he would be."

The greatest example of a player making a successful transition to wide receiver after beginning their NFL career at quarterback was four decades ago.

Marlin Briscoe set the bar high

Marlin Briscoe started five games at quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 1968, becoming the NFL's first-ever black quarterback to start a game. He led the league with 17.1 yards per completion and racked up 14 touchdowns with 13 interceptions; however, Briscoe completed just 41.5 percent of his passes and finished the year with a 2-3 record.

The Broncos turned to Pete Liske to start in 1969 and just like that, Briscoe was out of a job. He signed with the Buffalo Bills of the AFL, but great depth at quarterback forced a transition to wide receiver. In three seasons with the Bills, Briscoe racked up 133 receptions for 2,171 yards, 18 touchdowns and a trip to the Pro Bowl in 1970.

Briscoe was later traded to the Miami Dolphins for future Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure, and helped his new team win back-to-back Super Bowls.

He retired with 61 career starts at wide receiver, compiling 224 receptions for 3,537 yards and 30 touchdowns.

Unsuccessful experiments outnumber success stories

Successful transitions like Briscoe's are hard to come by, though. In many cases, collegiate wide receivers dominate collegiate quarterbacks at being wide receivers.

Only truly special athletes even get the chance to make the position switch. And those that do typically have to find a niche to excel in before they can earn more snaps on offense.

Players like Matt Jones, Armanti Edwards and Isaiah Stanback were all drafted by teams that intended to move the successful collegiate quarterbacks into receivers. Jones was even taken in the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but was bounced out of the NFL after just four seasons and 15 starts. Edwards and Stanback combined for just 12 receptions and 183 yards.

The few that have been successful have typically been those that can contribute as returners while they hone their craft at receiver. Julian Edelman, a quarterback at Kent State University, caught just 69 passes for 714 yards and four touchdowns in his first four seasons with the New England Patriots before breaking out with 197 receptions for 2,028 yards and 10 touchdowns in the last two years.

Joshua Cribbs never really found his way as a consistent receiving threat, but earned plenty of chances thanks to his Pro Bowl ability as a returner.

★★★

Pryor isn't going to get that cushion as a returner with the Browns, meaning his play at receiver will have to speak for itself.

That means that the odds are still stacked against him, although his quick start at the position is a good sign for his chances. At 6'6, 240 pounds, Pryor certainly has the size to create problems for defensive backs and his performance against opposing cornerbacks in preseason will go a long way toward deciding his future at wide receiver.