On the evening of Jan. 4, 2011, in the Superdome in New Orleans, the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks by the score of 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State, led by QB Terrelle Pryor, jumped out to a three-touchdown lead in the first half and then held on as Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett rallied his squad over the final 30 minutes.
Two days later, Mallett declared for the NFL draft, ending his time as a Hog. The quarterback had started his collegiate career at Michigan, playing in the pro-style offense of Lloyd Carr, but opted to transfer when Carr retired and Rich Rodriguez's spread attack was brought in. He ended up in Arkansas, where he wound up setting multiple school records, including 3,869 yards and 32 touchdowns during the 2010 season, and his stock was at an all-time high.
Back in 2008, Rodriguez had wanted a faster, more athletic player under center, not a classic, big-bodied passer like Mallett. Pretty much, the new Wolverines coach wanted Terrelle Pryor. However, the top player in the high school Class of '08 decided to spurn Michigan and instead sign with its rival from Columbus to play for legendary coach Jim Tressel. Following three seasons at OSU, the QB peaked in that Sugar Bowl win, throwing for 221 yards, rushing for 115 yards and helping his team finish with a 12-1 record. While there was some talk he would follow Mallett into the NFL due to a suspension that he'd be facing in 2011, Pryor declared he was staying in school.
Last spring, both Mallett and Pryor faced questions about their past. Mallett was grilled at the NFL Scouting Combine about rumors he had failed drug tests in school; he wound up admitting to NFL teams during interviews that he had used drugs. Pryor had to talk to investigators and compliance officers about an investigation that showed he broke NCAA rules by illegally accepting gifts during his junior season. The investigation wound up leading to Tressel's dismissal and a five-game suspension for the quarterback. Instead of facing the prospect of missing a big part of the season and playing under a new coach, Pryor hired an agent and then declared for the NFL supplemental draft.
In April, Mallett wound up being taken in the third round of the draft by the Patriots, a team known for its shrewd moves on Draft Day and an ability to outsmart its counterparts around the league by choosing players who will fit perfectly in its system. He will back up Tom Brady for a couple of seasons, play in mop-up duty and learn from one of the greatest coaches in the league.
On Monday, Pryor was selected in the third round of the supplemental draft by the Raiders, a team known for mismanaging draft choices and for picking prospects with speed and size instead of those who best fit their team. Because of the lockout and the delay of the supplemental draft, Pryor is well behind the other rookies who are entering the league. And because the NFL chose to carry over his suspension from college, he will miss the first five games of the 2011 season.
Like it or not, Mallett and Pryor will constantly be compared to one another. Mallett, almost exactly one year older than his counterpart, was the 10th pick in the third round of the 2011 draft. Pryor, the winner of their head-to-head matchup in college, was selected with the 18th pick in the third round of the supplemental draft. Both face major questions about their adjustment to the pros and whether they can fully overcome the scandals that caused their stock to drop. One is seemingly in a perfect situation, on a team that can afford to take a risk in the draft, but in a place where he's guaranteed not to play any time soon. The other is on a team that likely shouldn't have taken the risk it did, although there is a chance he could see extended playing time in his rookie year.
Just a few years ago, each was deciding whether he wanted to play for Rich Rodriguez. Just a few months ago, they were both leading their teams into a huge bowl game down in the Big Easy. Just a few weeks ago, they were each locked out, unsure of what their futures would hold. Now, as both Ryan Mallett and Terrelle Pryor attempt to make it in the NFL, they will always have someone else to compare themselves to.
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