Matt Flynn just can’t catch a break.
After signing a three-year, $26 million deal to become the Seattle Seahawks’ starting quarterback last offseason, Flynn was overshadowed by a rookie by the name of Russell Wilson during the preseason and was banished to the bench for all but nine passes in 2012. Almost one calendar year later, Flynn must be having deja vu.
On Tuesday, the Raiders named third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor as the starter for Week 1, and presumably the 2013 season. Pryor winning the job makes it two consecutive preseasons that Flynn has lost hold of a starting spot, and it may signal the end of hopes that he could be anything more than a competitive backup.
When you glance at their final preseason numbers — which are eerily similar (Flynn: 19 of 27 for 180 yards, one touchdown and two interception; Pryor: 17 of 32 for 221 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions) — it’s clear that neither player established themselves as the clear victor. But, the lack of a true winner is actually what gave Pryor the edge.
The Raiders are not expected to be very good this year, or anytime in the near future for that matter. They are sitting patiently in the rebuilding dock in the Port of Oakland, choosing their players carefully and taking the risks necessary to succeed. That being said, a rebuilding team isn’t the type that needs to rely on a steady, efficient and limited passer like Flynn. They need a dynamic, explosive quarterback who’s capable of making plays with his legs as well as his arm. Pryor is that guy.
No. Pryor isn’t an experienced decision maker or a reliable passer. He still struggles with accuracy at times and, even with impressive arm strength, he lacks the touch to turn his deep balls into big plays right now. Those deficiencies will keep Pryor from comparisons to the likes of Colin Kaepernick or Wilson and they’ll keep the Raiders from making the playoffs anytime soon. But there is plenty to like about Pryor’s game already and room for improvement in those other areas as well.
Pryor, 24, does have that big arm that we quickly glazed over in the last paragraph. He’s also developed a good rapport with the Raiders’ motley crew of receivers, including expected No. 1 Denarius Moore, this preseason and seems to have a pretty good handle on the offense at this point.
Then, of course, there’s the obvious athleticism that puts him in a whole different category than Flynn. Pryor displayed gamebreaking speed during three seasons at Ohio State, which is what caught the attention of NFL scouts more than anything. Some experienced executives saw Pryor as more of a skill position prospect than a quarterback — and that might have been his evaluation if he ever made it to the combine, which just speaks to his athleticism. That elusiveness has already been on display this preseason as Pryor was the Raiders’ leading rusher, carrying the ball 14 times for 131 yards and a touchdown, and could be a huge advantage for an otherwise limited Raiders offense.
Pair Pryor with a healthy Darren McFadden and opposing defenses will have to gameplan for Oakland in the same way they do for Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks or even Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams and the Panthers. With Pryor under center they suddenly have the ability to run some read-option sets or even work out of the pistol, which will only further complicate things for defenses. That’s an element the Raiders would never have with Flynn and one that could steal Oakland an extra win or two.
The Raiders might only win three or four games this season, no matter who’s starting at quarterback, but Pryor offers far more upside than any of their other options. Flynn is what he is and has little, if any, room left to develop. On the other hand, Pryor is young, athletic and still has a ton of potential to unlock. There is a chance, whether good or not, that Pryor will be the Raiders’ quarterback of the future, and, with no realistic shot at the postseason, it makes more sense to give him the chance to shine now.
Maybe Pryor isn’t the best quarterback on the Raiders’ roster right now, but he is the only realistic hope for the future on the team today. Now, he at least has the chance to prove himself.