Commentary

Dual-threat QBs Pryor, Shepard have similar skills

Originally Published: December 31, 2008
By Tom Luginbill | Scouts Inc.

With offensive systems designed to maximize a quarterback's entire skill set, the position is as important as ever. In the past two recruiting classes, two players with exceptional ability -- Ohio State recruit Terrelle Pryor in the Class of 2008 and Russell Shepard (Houston/Cy-Ridge) this year -- have distinguished themselves from their signal-calling peers.

Pryor, for all his wonderful gifts, finished ranked No. 4 in the ESPNU 150; the 2008 class featured an elite playmaker in Alabama recruit Julio Jones (No. 2 overall) and a dominant pass-rusher in Clemson recruit DaQuan Bowers, who was the No. 1 player in the class. Like Pryor, Jones and Bowers were major impact recruits as freshmen.

Shepard is currently ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPNU 150. Unlike it the class that preceded it, this 2008 group doesn't seem to have a defensive dominator or elite wide-receiving prospects on par with what we saw last year. Shepard is going to have a chance to show why he's No. 1 while down in Orlando for the week of the Under Armour All-America game. Heading down the stretch, he should have plenty of competition for the top spot from guys like CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Gadsden, Ala.), QB Garrett Gilbert (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) and RB Trent Richardson (Pensacola, Fla./Escambia) among others in contention.

Although Pryor and Shepard are similar in that they can win games throwing and running, the two talents are hardly carbon copies of one another. It's also worth noting that Pryor has a year of college experience under his belt, which puts him ahead of Shepard in some areas. Here's a look at how the two quarterbacks stack up:

Delivery mechanics

Shepard
This was a real area of concern with Pryor coming out. For all his ideal measurables and height, he possessed a low delivery point and awkward release that negates his natural height. So instead of throwing from the highest point of his 6-foot-6 frame, his delivery makes him about 6-2. He can also be a bit of a pusher when he throws.

Shepard, on the other hand, has a smooth, compact throwing motion. His ball-carriage mechanics are very consistent -- the ball pops out quickly. The higher the release, the better for Shepard; he is not blessed with terrific height.

Scouts Edge: Shepard

Arm Strength

Pryor
Although Pryor might deliver the ball awkwardly, he shows great power and quality velocity on all his passes. He can drive the ball vertically when his feet are set and has the pure strength to make the deep comeback route on the sideline from the opposite hash mark. He has the ability to make all the throws when set in the pocket.

Shepard has quality arm strength and good overall zip. He lacks the power and pure velocity of Pryor. Shepard is more of a spread-offense passer, with all the short and intermediate routes at his disposal. His delivery can compensate for his lack of arm power.

Scouts Edge: Pryor

Accuracy

Shepard
Pryor is a great improviser on the move. Still, he can be erratic when rushed and force the ball, which can cause him to spray the ball around a bit. With Pryor, it is all about footwork.

This is an area that has every bit as much to do with balanced footwork as it does delivery mechanics. Shepard is simply more disciplined at this stage. He is less of an improviser in the passing game than Pryor was and shows more precision, patience and timing, which allows him to hit the strike zone more often than not. This is an area where Shepard can close the gap in arm strength.

Scouts Edge: Shepard

Size and strength

Pryor
Let's not belabor the obvious here. Pryor is 6-6, 225 pounds. You really couldn't make a more ideal form for the quarterback position. He is physically imposing much in the same way Vince Young is.

At 6-1, 195 pounds, Shepard is not the physical beast Pryor is. His frame is similar to that of a wideout or corner -- Pryor's more like a defensive end.

Scouts Edge: Pryor

Speed

Shepard
With Pryor's long strides, he can cover a significant amount of grass. Also, his top end speed is very comparable to Shepard's.

There is speed that you build to and speed that you bolt to. Pryor builds; Shepard bolts. Both can win foot races, but Shepard's speed is more explosive.

Scouts Edge: Shepard

Change of direction

Pryor is so elusive and graceful with his long stride and deceptive speed and quickness. For his size, he has terrific lateral quickness, and he can break down defenders in the open field.

Much like the speed category, Shepard's change of direction is more sudden. He has the ability to stop and start with little to no wasted motion. This is obviously a reflection of size and build -- Shepard is on a Miata frame and Pryor is driving a four-door Charger.

Scouts Edge: Push

High school competition

Shepard

Again, let's not overstate the obvious. Pryor was a four-year starter against smaller 2A Pennsylvania competition, but adapted extremely well ahead of schedule to the size and the speed of the game at Ohio State as a freshman.

Shepard competed against 5A Texas high school competition as a three-year starter. He was playing in one of the tougher states and divisions in the nation. Shepard has seen more stiff competition on a consistent basis entering into college.

Scouts Edge: Shepard

Versatility

In our opinion, this is what makes both Pryor and Shepard a cut above. We could see either one of these guys making an impact at multiple positions at the college level. It looks like Pryor, who was athletic enough to be one of the top basketball recruits in the nation, will stay at QB.

We will find out whether or not Shepard will stay behind center at LSU. A Percy Harvin-type playmaker, Shepard could be a threat lining up out wide, as well.

Scouts Edge: Push

Bottom Line

What all of this really comes down to is opportunity. As in life, being in the right place at the right time can be all it takes. With Terrelle Pryor deciding to sign at Ohio State and not being expected to be the guy from the moment he stepped on campus, he was able to acclimate himself to the college game with little pressure. Then, when Todd Boeckman struggled early, Pryor seized the opportunity and never looked back.

Time will tell if the same fate awaits Russell Shepard at LSU. The Tigers had QB trouble in 2008 and the position should be wide open in the fall. Although sophomore-to-be QB Jordan Jefferson looks to be the front-runner, Shepard should have a role early in some capacity. Don't be surprised if you see Shepard line up at QB, slot, the "wild-tiger" formation and in several spots to get him involved.

Looking down the road from a professional football standpoint, Pryor has a better chance to stay at QB because of his size. Shepard's size, regardless whether he plays QB in college, will more than likely force a move to wide receiver or cornerback if professional opportunities arise.

That's a long, long way away, and both players still have plenty to prove.

Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. He has an extensive background in professional football talent evaluation and coaching. He played quarterback at Georgia Tech (1994) and Eastern Kentucky (1995).