I always get nervous when we hit that one player I’ve never even heard of before.
I tend to get somewhere between 200 and 250 players done every draft cycle—and while it’s a grind, I like it and it’s important to me. Watching future seventh-rounder and UDFAs is valuable. If they’re on my watch list, they were some type of productive or athletic in college—and determining why I think they’re not great teaches me just as much as determining why the great players are.
Last year, it was Nate Gerry. The year before that, Blake Countess (RIP in peace Blake Countess). And this year, it was Matt Pryor.
If you followed my pre-Draft coverage, you know that I held offensive tackle as the biggest need on the roster, given the health of Jason Peters and suspensions of Lane Johnson. Every pick with which the Eagles addressed another need made me more and more worried—until finally, in Round 6, they took...
I was down for improving guard depth given Chance Warmack’s uninspiring play and Isaac Seumalo’s lack of development—but tackle was a bigger need. I wasn’t super thrilled.
Once you get deeper into Pryor’s tape, however, you find a player with guard and tackle ability--and if he can get his weight under control, a better profile as a tackle (in my opinion). Inexperienced on the outside, Pryor will need significant work if he’s to play on the outside in the NFL—but the raw skills are there to lock in a roster spot and push for significant depth reps.
Pryor is big, tall, long, and wide. He’s just plain hard to get around, which—while seemingly a tad obvious—is a necessary strength to highlight. Recovery ability in offensive linemen is typically illustrated by fleet-footedness or power through angles—both of which Pryor has, as we’ll see—but it also includes the sheer size to survive when a rusher generates a good path to the quarterback. Pryor has his slew of pass protection issues that you’ll see in these reps—and that we’ll discuss later—but his girth and length allows him to salvage reps he should have lost.
Pryor is #64 and playing RT
On top of that size comes power. But Pryor isn’t just a road-grader who can generate movement through straight lines—he’s a decently flexible athlete with a thick core. His torsion strength is impressive, and likely his best trait. On top of the power he creates through angles, he’s got excellent grip strength (when his punch is properly located!), and as a result, you see a player who can seal and lock defenders in pass protection.
We’ll get into some of the footwork stuff later—trust me.
Obviously that level of disrespectful, violent finishing is fun to watch—but the traits revealed are Pryor’s ability to disconnect defensive linemen from the ground by wrenching them with his powerful core. Predictably so, that trait translates into solid run blocking ability: Pryor can generate power through difficult angles, which makes him a good candidate to reach block and climb to the second level. He can also turn defenders out of gaps on zone flow, which creates clear running and cutback lanes for his back.
That last rep is especially impressive, and speaks to how well Pryor moves in space. As we’ll see on Pryor’s pass sets, his footwork is straight booty, but he’s an excellent mover, who can redirect in space quite well. This was the greatest surprise—and primary source of encouragement—from Pryor’s tape, as his athletic testing (8’ broad jump, 24 1/2” vertical jump, 4.90 short shuttle, 7.87 3-cone) does not illustrate a plus athlete at all. When you see explosive climbs like this, however, it indicates that his on-field athleticism may not have been accurately reflected in his testing.
If Pryor has the agility to play on the outside, that’s where Philadelphia should look at him first—and I believe he does. The sad reality is that Pryor’s technique on the outside hurts his projection there a ton, because he doesn’t have nearly the experience/practice time working OT reps. He plays tackle like you’d expect a guard to, at this point in his career—and he can certainly play guard for the Eagles. But some of the issues we’re about to see—punch timing and leverage, primarily—will hurt him on the inside as well.
Pryor doesn’t throw his punch with any consistency at all—and this is the issue that he’ll have to solve regardless of where he plays. As we said above, he’s long and he’s thick, which makes him very tough to get around on the edge when everything is squared away—but Pryor will give up a soft edge on those reps that he does not throw with any power or aggressiveness. He gets back on his heels, reaching out and leaning/screening instead of initiating contact with violence.
When we see a player lose to elite hand fighters, we have to acknowledge that this can happen on the inside and the outside. Pryor can play a bit upright—about as much as you’d expect for a 6’7 player, to be frank—and if you do not initiate contact as a tall/upright offensive linemen, you will lose your chest frequently to the shorter rushers who play with elite bend.
We also have to ask why a player evidently aggressive plays so passively in pass protection. It doesn’t always happen—we see much better punch firing on reps in other cut-ups in the post—but it’s irregular enough to be interesting. My hypothesis: it has a lot to do with Pryor’s mentality when playing at OT vs. OG, and the different pass sets necessitate by that position.
Understanding pass sets is key to understanding Pryor’s evaluation. There are three common pass sets in offensive line play: the vertical set, in which the offensive linemen drops back perpendicular to the yard lines to establish pocket depth; the 45-degree set, which is—get this—at a 45-degree angle to the yard lines moving away from the center; and the jump set, which is essentially a horizontal set, typically at a very slight angle to the yard yard lines. You can read more about offensive line sets here.
Because Pryor practices typically at guard, he is not well-versed in vertical sets at all—guards rarely take vertical sets, save for some of the most pass-heavy, Air Raid style offenses. Because guards and centers are far closer to their respective blocking assignments than tackles are to most EDGE alignments, gaining the depth of the vertical set would give up far too much ground and put them on their heels immediately. Interior offensive linemen take 45-degree sets and jump sets more regularly.
But on the outside, vertical sets help offensive tackles establish depth on the outside rush track—the corner of the pocket that EDGE defenders are targeting. In a shotgun-heavy offense of the Big-12, vertical sets from tackles are quite the norm. Pryor didn’t show any vertical sets, however—he likely hasn’t trained in them.
Joe Noteboom (LT #68) was drafted #89 overall by the Los Angeles Rams. A solid developmental prospect at tackle, Noteboom here illustrates the stance, technique, and advantage of the vertical set. Opposite him, Pryor uses the 45-degree set, with decent technique and decent results.
The biggest issue you see on Pryor’s tape from a results standpoint—not a trait or technique standpoint—is how frequently he loses the EDGE because of insufficient depth. Accustomed to playing on the inside, and unable to utilize a vertical set, Pryor regularly leaves the door open for outside rushers, despite the fact that he has the agility to establish good pocket depth.
This is a key issue. Practice reps at offensive tackle—mainly, the development of a vertical set—could make all the difference for Pryor, as he’ll be able to gain the appropriate depth and stop giving up the outside track so easily. If he establishes a vertical set—or even starts gaining better depth on his 45-degree set, which he’s not yet habituated to doing—he has a bright future at tackle. If he can’t, he’ll be stuck at guard.
We should take a moment to acknowledge that, when allowed to use the most aggressive set—the jump set—Pryor’s natural aggressiveness in terms of punch timing, power, and location re-appear. The jump set is as valid at guard as it is at tackle, and even gives big-time benefits when facing elite EDGEs at OT. Jason Peters uses the jump set at possibly the highest frequency of all NFL offensive tackles, and his technique therein is flawless.
Wherever he plays, Pryor’s jump set will prove a strength of his. (I know we’re in the weakness section, just roll with me.) It helps mitigate the concerns of his landmarks when gaining depth, and allows him to maximize his frame, reach and power.
It also covers up some of his footwork issues, because there is far less of a kick-slide necessitated by the jump set. Regardless of set—45-degree or vertical—we regularly see Pryor false step egregiously into his pass sets, which only exacerbates his depth-gaining issues. This is a key coaching point that, if unfixed, will limit Pryor’s effectiveness regardless of where he ends up on the offensive line.
Swing tackle ability is always a plus trait to have on your offensive line. The Eagles were rife with it in 2016, with Matt Tobin and Allen Barbre both rostered—but after a couple of trades, it was left to Isaac Seumalo to fill that void. Not great! Pryor’s ability to play ~4 spots on the offensive line makes him a verifiable lock for the roster.
All Eagles OL need to be scheme-versatile, as Philly asks almost everything under the sun from their big men up front. Pryor has the physical profile to succeed in zone and man concepts alike, which also boosts his fit in Philadelphia. Overall, the Eagles got a good one here.
The Pryor pick gets a B+ from me: it addressed a big and crucial need, with a high-upside, high-floor player given his experience at different positions, but lack of specialization thus far. Because he’s simply not yet a reliable player, Pryor can’t break into the A range—but I think he has the potential to push Halapoulivaati Vaitai for OT4 snaps in 2018 if his camp work proves worthy of development at offensive tackle.
The grade would likely drop to a B or B- if Pryor is relegated to guard from the jump—but I don’t expect Philadelphia to do that. It will be interesting to see, however, if Pryor gets more reps at guard in camp because Seumalo/Warmack are viewed as easier to upgrade on than Big V. If that is the case, I’d imagine Chance Warmack could find his head on the chopping block at the time of 53-man cuts, as he brings no versatility, no zone-blocking abilities, and a bigger cap hit than Seumalo.