Draft Daily: Paxton Lynch, A High Risk/Reward QB

The Memphis quarterback is one of the most intriguing players in the draft.

Paxton Lynch. (USA Today Sports)

Paxton Lynch. (USA Today Sports)

Between now and the draft, we’ll zero in on one prospect a day with an Eagles slant. We’ve already covered Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Vernon Hargreaves. If you have a player you want covered, shoot us an email ([email protected]).

THE BACK STORY

I thought I misheard Paxton Lynch at first. The Memphis quarterback fielded a question about his high school days at the NFL Combine, and his answer was pretty surprising.

“I didn’t really throw the ball at all in high school,” he said.

Wait, what?

“We were a Wing T offense but when I got to Memphis, that’s the first time I actually started throwing the ball in general. So we kind of tested a few things out, moving me in the pocket and stuff like that, but I’m confident in my abilities and what I can and can’t do.”

That excerpt from his media availability succinctly sums up the challenge of evaluating Lynch, whom the Eagles worked out yesterday. Because he’s so raw, and he wasn’t exactly playing in a pro-style offense at Memphis, it can be difficult to project what he’ll get better at, and what his limitations are.

Similar to Carson Wentz, though not to the same degree, Lynch has also faced questions about the level of competition he played in the American Athletic Conference. He was asked in Indianapolis whether the biggest questions he received from NFL teams were about the quality of opponents or the type of system he played in.

“At this point, it’s the type of offense I was playing in, because we played good teams like Ole Miss and also our conference was really strong this year with Temple and Houston and Navy,” Lynch said. “The schemes are obviously going to be a little bit different. I’m going to have to be calling plays from the huddle, I’ll have to learn the terminology, little small things here and there, but I don’t see it as a problem.”

During his three-year career at Memphis, Lynch — along with new Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente — helped lead an impressive turnaround of the program. After throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and finishing 3-9 as a redshirt freshman, he quarterbacked Memphis to its first conference title since 1971 and it’s second 10-win season in program history as a sophomore.

In 2015, Lynch exploded on the scene by helping the Tigers to an 8-0 start, including a 13-point win over then-No. 13 Ole Miss. During the season, some considered him to be the best draft-eligible quarterback prospect over Jared Goff and Wentz.

However, Memphis lost four of their last five games, capped off by a 21-point defeat against Auburn, in which Lynch completed just 16 passes for 106 yards and one interception. Now, with the draft just four weeks away, he’s widely considered to be a notch below Goff and Wentz.

But he’s still one of the most intriguing quarterbacks in the draft.

THE MEASURABLES

Among quarterbacks at the NFL Combine, Lynch finished first in the vertical jump, second in the broad jump and eighth in the 3-cone drill.

As you can tell by his spider chart, quarterbacks don’t come much bigger than him. Lynch addressed how he thought his size would help him in Indianapolis.

“Obviously seeing defenses a little more clearly, but I know the height difference will be a lot different in the NFL than it was in college,” he said. “In the NFL, all those guys are just freaks. They’re huge. Cam Newton’s basically playing every position in the NFL. Those guys are so big. But I think having the height that I have, I’m able to see the field a little bit easier than some guys that aren’t as tall. But the flip side of that is guys can see you just as easy.”

THE NO-22

Back in October, I hopped on the Lynch bandwagon. Up to that point, I hadn’t watched much college football, but Lynch’s performance against Ole Miss had me wondering if there was a better quarterback in the draft.

He made several impressive throws when the Tigers upset the Rebels, but this 31-yard touchdown pass is one of my favorites.

People often talk about the big arm Lynch has, and Mike Mayock even called his arm strength “elite.” In the games I watched, he seemed to be pretty aggressive and he made some great throws down field.

His 45-yard touchdown pass against Tulsa is another one that impressed me.

Lynch seems to have good anticipation and ball placement against man coverage, and he’s willing to take a big hit, as he did on this 43-yard completion against Cincinnati in 2014.

When his feet were set, he had impressive accuracy, and he helped his receivers get yards after the catch with good ball placement, as he did on this 82-yard touchdown pass against Cincinnati last season.

However, one valid concern with Lynch is how he had a lot of pre-determined reads at Memphis, and he sometimes didn’t even see defenders in zone coverage. Failing to identify those types of players led to several pass breakups, as well as two interceptions, in 2015.

Here’s a pass against Navy that obviously shouldn’t have been thrown.

And here’s another against Houston when a linebacker caught an easy interception.

Although Lynch clearly has a great arm and he makes impressive throws, he could be more consistent. He also explained what one big challenge will be in making the jump to the NFL when he was in Indianapolis.

“I’ve always relied on my athletic ability with my size and arm strength in college, but I know that’ll be a little different when I get to the NFL,” he said. “Those guys are a lot faster, those windows are a lot smaller and those defenses do a lot more tricky stunts than they do in college. But I’m working hard. I’m training. When I finally get to minicamp or rookie camp, whenever that is, I’ll know just how different it is, but it’s obviously going to take some time to adjust.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

I’d rank Lynch below Goff and Wentz, but I do think Lynch has a higher upside than Goff (although Goff is much more of a known quantity). It’s tough to see how the Eagles would land Lynch, unless they trade back to the early or mid-teens. Picking Lynch at No. 8 seems like a reach, especially compared to others Philadelphia may be able to select, namely Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves.

Lynch is also a guy that will need a lot of time to develop, so he could need more than just one season before he’s ready to play in games.