The fourth preseason game is pretty much a mirror of the first preseason game: fleeting, brief appearances by players of relevance, and then nothingness. Nearly 60 minutes of nothingness, with starters often not even on the field at all. As the month drags on and we get to only a week away from a time when football finally matters, the need to place any level of caring on the preseason sinks exceedingly low.
Basically, don’t watch any of the 16 preseason games tonight, with one exception: Raiders vs. Seahawks. Or as we’ll call it, the game when Terrelle Pryor will win a starting job while Russell Wilson-ing Matt Flynn, and then he could become fantasy relevant. So yeah, that game matters.
At some point, we’ll all conclude that Flynn isn’t capable of being a starting NFL quarterback, and perhaps it was unwise to inflate both his trade value and free agent value based on two spot starts. I know, I’m reaching here.
During a Week 3 regular season dress rehearsal in which the Raiders failed to get dressed at all, Flynn needed only six pass attempts to throw two interceptions, both coming on horribly thrown and inaccurate passes. He was then yanked midway through the second quarter in favor of Pryor, meaning the presumed starting quarterback became the backup quarterback during a half of football that was treated as a regular-season game. No pressure, kid.
What followed was moderate success against Chicago’s first-team defense, a unit that finished fifth in total yards allowed per game last year. On a drive that ended the first half, Pryor had a 13-yard run and a 26-yard pass to set up a 58-yard Sea Bass boot. Yes, much of his overall numbers (seven completions on nine attempts for 93 yards and a touchdown, and 37 rushing yards on four attempts, including a 25-yard score) then came against second teamers in the third quarter. But both the Bears’ second teamers and Seattle’s backups that he’ll face in a start tonight are better than anything Pryor ever throws against in practice. This is undeniable, and it’s science.
Barring a faceplant tonight in a Seattle environment that’s as hostile as a preseason atmosphere can possibly be, Pryor will likely win the starting job. When that happens, he could become 2011 Tim Tebow-lite. Explanation forthcoming.
Tebow can’t complete a forward pass with any consistency, a statement that’s also proven by science. But for fantasy purposes, that mattered very little during his brief Denver residency. Even when the Tebow experiment began with three garbage game starts to end the 2010 season, his fantasy value was clear, with a greater reward given for rushing yards. During those initial three starts, Tebow recorded 199 rushing yards at an average of 6.4 per carry while scoring three times. He also displayed some rare competence as a passer that contributed to an average of 27.1 fantasy points per game. Overall, 37 of his 81.5 fantasy points during that stretch came on the ground.
You see where this is going, and we’ll arrive at our destination in a moment. During Tebow’s magical 2011 season which gave us the plague of #Tebowtime and football discussions which end with “BUT HE’S A WINNER!!!!1″, he rushed for 622 yards during his 11 starts, with six touchdowns. His passing often famously almost didn’t exist in an offense tailored to his only skill through read-option plays (in Week 10 during a win over the Chiefs, he attempted only eight passes…eight). But again, that mattered little for us when Tebow could be plucked off the waiver wire and average 16.5 fantasy points per week, with the ability to boom for more (he also had weeks with 20 and 26 points).
Pryor is a better passer, though he’s similar to Tebow. His instinct in trouble is to duck, run, and find the corner, and he has the strength to drive a pile. We saw all of those attributes on display both a week ago, and in his lone regular-season start in Week 17 last year which stunk of Tebow (he completed only 46.4 percent of his passes, but rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown while totaling 22 fantasy points).
Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson was already installing a package for Pryor even before the questions about Flynn’s effectiveness surfaced, a package that will now grow. Here’s an accurate assessment from Raiders beat writer Scott Blair:
Pryor is a wild card. He’s an exciting player who still makes mistakes, still tries to create a big play when a safe one is available. His package of plays is expanding, but he’ll eventually need to master much more.
If we could be beamed back to late October of 2011 when the Broncos drove a final stake into Kyle Orton and Tebow was set to make his first start, we could pluck Pryor’s name out of that sentence and insert Tebow’s, and the same criticisms and gushing over running-based creativity would apply. Oh there’s more, as this is quite Tebow-like too…
“When you see Terrelle in a game, he just looks faster than the other players on the field,” Olson said. “That’s what jumped out at me, and probably jumped out at most people when they watch him play. He can run. He is a tremendous athlete, and he’s got the ability to make plays. Right now we’re looking for playmakers.”
The crack in this hopeful comparison is, of course, the supporting cast. If Darren McFadden can mercifully make it through an entire season, Pryor has fine backfield support, especially with Marcel Reece available as a more than capable receiving option. Then there’s Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, who both have fine speed, and even Rod Steater is pretty alright for a guy who went undrafted, and now he’s set to start. But Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas they are not, and the offensive line gap is even greater, particularly after the loss of Jared Veldheer. After Alex Barron was removed as the Raiders’ left tackle due a penchant for watching his quarterback get whacked, Menelik Watson — a rookie who’s never played left tackle at any level — is now protecting the blindside.
That will be painful, but keep in mind relative value here, and the potential for a high ceiling given the right matchup (there will be a few early too, including the Von Miller-less Broncos in Week 3, and the Jaguars in Week 2). In two-QB leagues, Pryor represents the ideal flier as a third quarterback, and in standard formats, ask yourself this question in the final rounds: who ya got between the higher per week sleeper production value with Pryor and his legs, and say, Philip Rivers, Josh Freeman, or Alex Smith, all of whom are being selected in the 13th or 14th rounds, and they offer mostly replacement-level play at best.
Being a poor man’s Tebow is usually the worst thing you can call a quarterback. Pryor could be the exception.