Like any good researcher, Mark Schofield despises a small sample size. Unfortunately, prospect evaluation is almost always too early, or without all the information necessary. Thus, a new segment: On Two, in which Inside The Pylon examines two plays from a quarterback that address traits that scouts are talking about.
While not the recommended method of player evaluation, sometimes a single play or two can give a scout a window into the true capabilities of a prospect. Some great football writers, such as Matt Waldman with his Boiler Room series, do impressive work breaking down individual plays, but even they would concede that you need more than one play to complete a full evaluation.
The issue of whether a college quarterback is “pro ready” is one of constant debate in football circles. Kevin Clark with the Wall Street Journal recently penned an article illustrating the depth of the NFL’s “quarterback problem,” with anecdotes on recent draft prospects who were unable to identify the Mike linebacker, for example. While I would posit that no quarterback is ever truly ready to make the jump to the professional game (especially from game one) college QBs can demonstrate traits and abilities on film that suggest a smoother transition to playing on Sundays.
Paxton Lynch is a name rocketing up draft boards, particularly that of ESPN’s Mel Kiper. In his most recent edition, the draft writer placed the Memphis quarterback at #17 overall, highlighting the QB’s size and arm strength. To some, the junior signal-caller is reminiscent of Zach Mettenberger, albeit with more athletic ability. While his athletic ability does come through when watching his film, I want to focus on accuracy here, using two plays from Memphis’ game against Cincinnati.
Play One – Accuracy in the First
On this play from late in the first quarter, Lynch is in the shotgun as the Tigers face a 2nd and 10 on their own 18-yard line. Memphis has 11 offensive personnel on the field, with slot formation right and a tight slot alignment on the left. The Bearcats have 4-2-5 personnel in the game, showing Cover 6 in the secondary:Prior to the snap, the slot wide receiver comes in jet motion towards the QB. In response, the defense adjusts, sliding a linebacker down to the edge and a safety into the box, to guard against a potential end around:
Now the defense uses Cover 2 in the secondary.
Lynch fakes the jet sweep before immediately opening up to the right, where he has man coverage on a go route (in Cover 2, the cornerback will stay with a vertical release to try and sink under a go or corner route):
Watch the ball placement from the quarterback on this pass:
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Lynch drops this in the bucket with impeccable precision, right over the cornerback and to the upfield shoulder of wide receiver Anthony Miller (#3). What is really remarkable is the footwork from the quarterback. After meeting the slot WR at the mesh point on the fake jet sweep, Lynch uses one deep drop step before releasing the pass. This gives him depth from the impending rush, while also moving him away from the WR, avoiding any potential collision between the two players. A very minor point, but worth noting.
The overhead view illustrates why Lynch was so quick to get the ball out. The playside safety, Malik Clements (#24) is caught looking into the backfield here, rather than helping to the outside on Miller’s vertical release:
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Play Two – Accuracy in the Fourth
While the previous throw came in the first quarter, what will happen when Lynch has the same opportunity late in the game? With the score tied and just over two minutes remaining, the Tigers line up on their own 33-yard line. With the football on the left hashmark, Memphis empties the backfield with a bunch on the left and a slot formation on the right. Cincinnati has their 4-2-5 defense in the game showing Cover 2 in the secondary.
Watch how Lynch uses his eyes to freeze Clements along the hashmark. This quick glance is enough to prevent the safety from helping on the vertical route, and then the QB drops in another perfectly placed touch pass on the outside:
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Memphis would score the game-winning touchdown four plays later.
While quarterback wins are overrated as an evaluation tool, the ability of Lynch to execute such a precision throw in a high-leverage situation speaks volumes about his aggressiveness as a passer and ability to potentially transition to the professional game. Making a perfect throw in the first quarter is nice, but careers are made – or lost – on third downs, and in the fourth quarter. Lynch shows here, on these two plays, the accuracy with the deep ball and the ability to execute in the fourth quarter that scouts and NFL coaches crave.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy DraftBreakdown.