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On Thursday night, Jets WR Terrelle Pryor makes his return to Cleveland, where he enjoyed a breakout season in 2016. The former quarterback converted to wide receiver full-time in 2015, but only caught one pass and was even released and re-signed by the Browns at one point. However, in 2016, Pryor was one of the biggest surprise packages around the league.
He ended the season with 77 receptions for over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns, adding another touchdown as a runner. In fact, it could have been an even bigger year than that as his production cooled off somewhat after the bye week.
Reviewing the footage from his 2016 season reveals that Pryor is a much more natural receiver than you'd expect for someone who was only in his second year at the position. He runs smooth routes, has natural hands and his size and athletic ability are assets in terms of getting downfield separation and being a threat after the catch.
Pryor's 2017 season in Washington was a bit of a bust, as he injured his ankle in the second game of the year and played through the injury for several weeks before eventually landing on injured reserve. Having caught six passes for 66 yards in the opener, he only managed 14 more for less than 200 yards over his other seven appearances.
A lot of people were writing off the 29-yard old Pryor's chances of being an impact player again when the Jets signed him for the bargain price of $4 million plus incentives during the offseason. While Pryor made headlines when he took full responsibility for Sam Darnold's second interception, he's not otherwise received much attention so far. However, he's quietly produced well over the first two games and is starting to show signs that he could be a key contributor for the Jets this season.
So far, he's caught seven passes for 133 yards. It's a small sample size, but if extrapolated over a full season, that would be on pace for over a thousand yards again. He's certainly well on the way to outstripping last year's production (20 catches, 240 yards). And Sunday's game gave a tantalizing glimpse into Pryor's potential.
Pryor produced well, with 84 yards on four catches, including a 44-yard play which matched his longest play from last season. However, it could have been an even bigger game for him. Unofficially, he had two drops, with a downfield jump ball going through his hands in traffic and another pass in tight coverage juggled off his chest at the marker. Based on his career to date, Pryor's drop metrics have generally been acceptable, and he's proven his ability to make those catches in traffic, so these are plays that he can be expected to make on another day.
In addition, if Darnold had connected with him on that third quarter throw to the end zone, then that would have pulled the Jets within a score and, with the momentum they had built, would have given them a good chance of coming back to win. As noted, Pryor admitted Darnold's interception on the play was his fault as he ran a poor route on the play.
However, this seems more likely to be a case of Darnold and Pryor not quite being on the same page yet rather than laziness or poor technique on Pryor's part. This should improve as Darnold establishes chemistry with all his receivers.
That play also shows that the Jets will look for Pryor, who scored a touchdown in his only preseason game with the Jets, when they get down into the red zone. His size is an asset there and all five of his 2016 touchdowns were in the red zone, so he's had some previous success.
So far, Quincy Enunwa has been Darnold's primary target and the team probably needs to find ways to get Robby Anderson more involved in the offense. However, they don't necessarily need to change much about how Pryor is being used for him to potentially be able to have a breakout performance.
Over the course of the season, the Jets will probably feature different players depending on their opponent and matchups. When facing a team who might have one or two top coverage defenders, the Jets have enough pass catching talent that they can create matchup problems by spreading out their options.
At 6-foot-4 and with his outstanding athletic ability, Pryor is a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Darnold starting to take advantage of these situations could be the key to the Jets offense becoming much more potent than it has been over the last two seasons.