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NFL Thursday Night; Browns at Ravens

There are several ways to find a game-changing receiver in the NFL. None of them are easy. Most end in failure. Not Terrelle Pryor Sr.

Terrelle Pryor was drafted by the Oakland Raiders as a quarterback in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL Supplemental Draft. He was considered a project then and until a few months ago was still considered a work in progress. The Raiders moved on from Pryor as a quarterback after limited time over two seasons. He then bounced through the league, spending brief stints with the Seahawks, Chiefs and Bengals before finally landing in Cleveland. He was then waived by the Browns before an injury to Josh McCown landed Pryor back on the roster near the end of the 2015 season. Pryor won the starting job at receiver in the 2016 offseason. He hasn’t looked back.

Pryor ranks 15th in the NFL in receptions with 46. He also has 579 yards and 4 touchdowns despite playing for the only winless team in the league and being the Browns most feared offensive threat. Pryor ranks among the top 10 in 1st down receptions and his 1st down percentage on receptions is 5th among receivers with more than 40 receptions. Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Greg Olsen, DeAndre Hopkins, and Michael Crabtree sit ahead of him. Each of those five were 1st round picks. Evans, Jones and Crabtree were top 10 selections. That’s impressive company for a former quarterback-now receiver making less than $2 million this season.

What may be most impressive about Pryor’s success in 2016 is that he’s doing it without stability at the quarterback position. Six different quarterbacks have lined up under center for the Browns this season. Pryor has caught a pass from five of them. The sixth quarterback? Terrelle Pryor.

Opposing defenses know the Browns will look to Pryor, and often. He makes up for 25% of the Browns passing targets this season. That percentage puts him in the same company as Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and Amari Cooper, who all range between 24-27% of the passing targets in their respective offenses. (AJ Green and Mike Evans are both above 30%.)

Cleveland’s opponent Thursday night would gladly welcome a discovered talent like Pryor into their receiving corps. The Ravens have been looking for an impact receiver since, well, forever. The ageless Steve Smith has been fine for Baltimore, but his game-breaking days are behind him. Anquan Boldin was also past his prime when he joined the Ravens. Since 2010, Baltimore has used nine draft picks on receivers. In a way, they’ve gotten what they’ve paid for because only two have been taken in the first three rounds. Torrey Smith was a fine receiver but certainly not worth the contract he received when he left Baltimore for San Francisco. The jury is still out on the Ravens 2014 1st round pick, Breshad Perriman, who has battled injuries and didn’t play at all his rookie year.

Finding good receivers is hard. It’s not as simple as taking one in the 1st round or taking flyers on guys beyond the 5th round hoping to find the next Julian Edelman or Antonio Brown. Through half a season, it appears the Browns unearthed a gem. It’s about the only positive thing in an otherwise dreadful season for Cleveland. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens -10

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