#1 best-selling author Mark Schofield reveals his list of the top quarterback prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. Schofield, who wrote 17 Drives – a chronicle of the 2015 college football season – has ranked Paxton Lynch as his 4th ranked prospect. Click here to look at all of his work on the 2016 QB class.
Paxton Lynch’s path to a potential first-round selection began with some bumps along the way. The quarterback was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, where he ran a Wing-T offense that focused more on his ability to run the football than his ability to throw it. A potential scholarship offer from the University of Florida fell through, and a late offer from the University of Central Florida was not enough to pull him away from the only school he visited during the process: Memphis. Lynch visited the school and, after only a few hours, he signed his letter of intent to play for the Tigers.
Lynch redshirted his freshman season, but was named the team’s starting QB as a sophomore. Starting all 12 games, Lynch experienced additional bumps in winning only three games in his first year under center for Memphis in 2013, completing 58% of his passes for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns, with ten interceptions. The following year, though, Lynch and the Tigers improved dramatically; the team finished with a 10-3 mark on the season, including a victory over BYU in the Miami Beach Bowl. For his part, the QB completed 63% of his passes for 3,031 yards and 22 TDs, throwing only nine interceptions.
Lynch and Memphis started the 2015 season just like they ended 2014, ripping off eight-straight victories to start the year. After a huge victory over nationally-ranked Mississippi in October, the Tigers cracked the Top 20 in the polls, rising as high as 13. But then they fell back to Earth, suffering three-straight losses to Navy, Houston, and Temple, which ended any hopes at a New Year’s Day Bowl game. They ended up in the Birmingham Bowl and suffered a loss to Auburn in difficult weather conditions. Lynch started the season just as hot, throwing for 17 TDs and only one interception over their first seven games, including four against Ole Miss. He joined the discussion as potentially one of the top QBs in this draft class when he led the Tigers to a big come-from-behind win against Cincinnati on a nationally-televised Thursday night game on ESPN. While his performance against Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl was not the way he wanted to end his college career, Lynch finished the season with strong numbers, completing 67% of his passes for 3,776 yards and 28 TDs, with only four interceptions.
There are absolutely no concerns with Lynch regarding his arm talent and velocity. He has the ability both to deliver throws to all levels and areas of the field with zip and to drive the football into the tightest of throwing windows. Every throw that scouts, evaluators, and even fans like to see is a box that Lynch can check. The deep out route or deep comeback route along the sideline? Check. Those same routes from the hashmark to the opposite sideline across the field? Check. The intermediate dig route into traffic? Check. The vertical route with touch and placement? Check. Every throw that a QB is asked to make, Lynch delivers on par with – or even better than – the majority of quarterbacks in this class.
Along similar lines, Lynch is very adept at throwing the deep ball and / or vertical routes. Whether rolling to one side of the field and throwing a back shoulder route to the other side (highlighted by Derrik Klassen here) or dropping in a vertical route over the cornerback and along the sideline to the proper shoulder, Lynch excels in this area.
Another impressive feature of Lynch’s game is his athletic ability. He moves very well for a quarterback of his size (6’ 7” 244). Memphis took advantage of this, rolling him out of the pocket a great deal.
Paxton Lynch had the highest grade in the nation on designed rollouts and Memphis rolled him out 16.3% of dropbacks, 3rd-highest in class
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 24, 2016
He throws fairly well on the move, too, with the ability to torque his upper body as necessary and point his shoulder at the target, creating sufficient velocity on each throw.
Aggression in the downfield passing game is another strength of Lynch’s. With his arm strength, he is more than willing to challenge the narrowest of throwing lanes, a trait that will serve him well as he transitions to the NFL where the lanes will get even smaller. There is a flip side to this, of course, in that sometimes he is almost too reckless or aggressive. I am of the mind, though, that it is easier to dial this back than it is to dial it up.
It is difficult to evaluate the coachability of a player from afar, solely on tape. But the evidence available at this point indicates that Lynch is a player that takes to coaching well and is able to adjust from season to season, week to week, or even drive to drive. He’s only a few years removed from running a Wing-T offense, and now he’s a potential first-round selection. So he has already shown the ability to transition from one offensive style to another with success. But even in-game, there is evidence of an ability to learn from a mistake, highlighted in this piece from earlier this season. His ability to soak in knowledge and execute on the field will be important to ensure a smoother transition to the NFL, as he still needs more development time.
While Lynch is generally accurate, there are two concerns in this area. First, even though the offense at Memphis took advantage of his athletic ability, rolling him out on designed plays a great deal, his general accuracy does dip when on the move. Secondly, while his throws to all levels are generally accurate, in the short– and intermediate-game, there is a bit of an issue with respect to ball placement. Putting the football on a receiver is good, but placing the throw on the appropriate hip or shoulder (depending on the route and coverage) is better. Lynch accomplishes the first task very well, but can be inconsistent with the second. When he places throws perfectly, it is a beautiful thing to watch. He just needs to be more consistent in this area. Given the film, I think he can accomplish this goal.
It should be no surprise that, when it comes to footwork, he is a work in progress. Again, coming from a Wing-T offense and now running a spread attack, his feet are not always in sync with the route structure. His footwork on drops is inconsistent as well. Like many of his weaknesses, this appears more of a work in progress than a permanent flaw. I think with some additional time, experience, and coaching, he will be able to refine his technique here.
While we stress “scout the traits, not the scheme,” there are some aspects to Lynch’s playing experience that indicate further development is needed. For example, he can make full field progression reads, as he does on this play here against Bowling Green:
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Lynch is in the shotgun with the backfield empty, and the Tigers have trips to the left with slot formation to the right. The offense runs the stick concept to the trips side of the field, and have a pivot / slant route combination on the right. At the snap, Lynch looks to the stick, but that route is covered well by the underneath coverage, with two defenders bracketing that receiver. He then flashes his eyes to the right, looking first at the pivot route. Not only is this covered, but the look to the outside influences the middle linebacker. This opens up a throwing lane for the slant route, and Lynch throws a well-placed ball to the right shoulder of the receiver, but the pass falls incomplete.
So Lynch can do this. It’s just an issue of doing it more and more, and more consistently. Memphis employed a number of RPO concepts, designed screens and rollouts, and one-read throws. Can he work through progression? Yes. Has he done it as much as other guys in this class? No. Once more, this is a work in progress issue, and not necessarily a permanent or fatal flaw.
This is an area where Lynch might have an advantage over some of the other quarterbacks in this class, as you can envision him being able to function reasonably well in any offensive design. Where he projects best, in my opinion, is in a vertical passing game that takes advantage of his ability to throw the deep ball and attack downfield.
Lynch, like the rest of the QBs near the top of my board, has a number of examples that could be used here. But I love these two completions back-to-back near the end of the game against Mississippi.
With the Tigers up by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, Memphis is looking for one more drive to seal the victory. First, they face a 3rd and 8 on their own 23-yard line, and Lynch displays his arm strength and velocity on this curl concept to keep the chains moving:
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On the next play, they line up with 12 offensive personnel and Lynch is in the pistol. The QB meets his running back at the mesh point and then rolls to the right, where the Tigers employ a Flat-7 route design with the two tight ends, one on a corner route and the other in the flat. Lynch makes an aggressive decision here, throwing the corner route into a tight window. But he drops it in perfectly, and the first down gets the Tigers another fresh set of downs:
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These plays haves everything you like from a QB, from ball placement to an aggressive decision in a critical moment for an offense.
Late First – Early Second
One- to Three-Year Projection
Lynch is a future starter in the NFL, and might very well benefit from the rise of Jared Goff and Carson Wentz. Where those two QBs might go to rosters that have holes, Lynch might fall to a team that is more complete and built to win. I still think, given the weaknesses identified and the refinement that he could use, Lynch would benefit from a year as a backup. Let him iron out the flaws he has right now and acclimate to the NFL. He’s your QB1 come year two in most situations, and has the potential to be a long term starter in this league.