Despite the zone-read/read-option once being considered a “gimmick” system or a “novelty,” it has not only found itself wrecking havoc in the NFL playoffs, but has led a team to the Super Bowl. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers have successfully utilized the zone read-option to near perfection. San Francisco’s success may have been a contributing factor in Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen’s decision to announce that incumbent Carson Palmer will be competing for the starting job with Terrelle Pryor. Despite his limited NFL playing time, Pryor brings an ability to extend and make the tougher plays that Palmer cannot, similar to Kaepernick and Alex Smith in San Francisco. But is Pryor the next Kaepernick? Let’s take a closer look and compare/contrast the two to determine if Pryor will be the next big dual-threat quarterback.
Both men have the ability to extend and make plays with their legs. This facet of their game is what makes them and the read-option so deadly. When you have a quarterback who is more than capable of running the ball, it makes the deception of the read-option deadly. Pryor and Kaepernick are both great with the ball in their hands outside of the pocket. They’re not only fast, but strong and difficult to take down, especially when they break into opposing secondaries and have to beat smaller defensive backs.
Kaepernick and Pryor both boast a cannon-like arm. Not only are passes quick, but their arm strength allows them and their offensive coordinators to open up the playbook and stretch the field vertically. Since he became a starter, Kaepernick has averaged the most yards traveled through the air per pass attempt. But what has separated him from other deep-ball quarterbacks is Kaepernick’s accuracy. His completion percentage is 62% and is even better on those deep passes. Pryor is able to throw deep as well, but didn’t display Kaepernick-like accuracy in his one start. More on the start will come later, but as for accuracy, Pryor could not match up.
Finally, both quarterbacks have successful run games to supplement the passing game. The key to a successful read-option is a successful running game. If the running back is having success, the threat of the read-option becomes even greater. If the defense is struggling to stop the back, they are forced to try and wait out the option to determine whether to collapse on the back or not. And these quarterbacks capitalize on the slightest hint of hesitation. The pause or collapse on the running back sets up the quarterback to be able to get good yardage carrying the ball himself. With Darren McFadden of the Raiders and Frank Gore of the 49ers normally running well, it opens up the likelihood of Pryor and Kaepernick running their zone-read plays successfully.
But that’s where the similarities end. Starting with accuracy, Kaepernick currently holds the advantage. Pryor completed only 46.4% of his passes in his one start; almost 16 percentage points lower than Kaepernick’s season average. Granted, it is a small sample size, but Pryor’s game did come against a team with an average secondary at best (the Chargers). However, while in college, Pryor actually had an accuracy percentage that was three points higher than Kaepernick. Pryor will likely be able to improve as he gets playing time, but that will all have to happen quickly. Pryor must perform well against Palmer come training camp in order to get the playing time needed to properly display his skills.
Another difference between Kaepernick and Pryor is actually their legs. In college, Kaepernick ran the ball far more frequently and with more success. He averaged two more yards per carry than Pryor. Although it was most likely a result of their respective college systems, Kaepernick averaged one more yard per carry than Pryor this season. Again, Pryor only had one start, so we can’t quite gauge what he is completely capable of at the professional level.
The final difference in determining Pryor’s future success compared to what Kaepernick is doing is that Kaepernick is not new to the offensive system being run by the 49ers. It is similar to what he ran in college at the University of Reno-Nevada, while Pryor is not in a read-option system, so it’s difficult to project what type of success he may or may not have. Should he win the starting position, the Raiders will have to implement an offensive scheme that best supplements Pryor’s abilities and doesn’t simply call for deep passes on a regular basis.
Whether Pryor deserves to become the new starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders remains to be seen, in large part to his limited experience. But if this season has shown the NFL anything, it’s to never underestimate the abilities of a young, dynamic quarterback. Pryor will be given the opportunity to supplant Palmer come training camp, and if he shows the type of ability that earned him a start in week 17, then the NFL will have one more dual-threat quarterback to worry about.