If you want an NFL starting quarterback your best choice is to pick one in the draft. Quality starters are in short supply and they generally do not get traded or allowed into free agency during their prime years. They simply offer too much value at the game's most pivotal position. There are exceptions, but if you wait for one to occur you might grow old before it happens. Players who have the physical traits to succeed in the league and show the potential for growth will be chosen high in the draft every year. It's football economics 101: the supply of good signal callers is too small and need is too great for teams to take a wait and see approach. If a football team does not have a certified starter they must do everything in their power to get one. The modern NFL is built to ensure that if you do not have a solid passer behind center, the odds of winning will be stacked against you week after week.
Paxton Lynch, Quarterback, University of Memphis
Paxton Lynch is not likely the best QB in the draft. He might not even be the second best. But the mere hint that he might progress to the level of successful NFL starter is more than enough to ensure he will not make it out of the 1st round of the NFL Draft. If you grade his current level of talent as total football player that kind of placement in the draft is ludicrous. There are literally a couple of dozen college players who are currently much better at their jobs than Paxton is at his. However, Paxton plays the most focused-on position in American professional sports: NFL quarterback and that fact alone will propel him to a much earlier slot than he would otherwise deserve. Because if teams wait to pick him, they will go home empty-handed. Such is the power of the passer in today's league.
You might read the opening paragraph and assume that Paxton Lynch is not a talented football player. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is simply not as currently talented as his draft slot will likely indicate come late April in Chicago. Lynch is dripping with physical talent and definitely displays some of the intangibles that great athletes need to become great QB's. When he melds those two variables together on the football field it will take your breath away. Of course he doesn't always achieve that goal, few young passers do with regularity. Even the glimpse of such a thing is enough to send scouts sprinting back to their general managers with tales of a passer whose arm resembles a lightning bolt when he really lets it loose.
It is impossible to tell the tale of Paxton Lynch without talking about the appendage that hangs off his right shoulder. Simply put, Paxton's got a cannon for an arm. Chicago fans have been lucky enough to witness one of the best arms in the league calling Soldier Field home now for quite a few years. Jay Cutler has incredible arm talent. He can absolutely sling it when he wants to and that gets him well-deserved mentions as one of the top 5 arms in the league when the subject is raised. Based on that a lot of what Lynch can do will look familiar to Bears fans. To many fan bases in the rest of the league it will look like Paxton is an alien who came from another planet; they simply won't be able to comprehend how much power he can put behind his throws. In all honesty Lynch might have a better arm than Cutler, and that is really saying something.
After you get done picking your jaw up off the floor based on his arm strength, the next thing that pops off Lynch's tape is his physical size. He's huge. He stands fully 6'7" tall and weighs 244 pounds. He just looks a lot bigger than all the players around him, even his offensive linemen. Already having been surprised by him twice you should brace yourself for a third, jarring revelation. He's quick. Not quick for a guy his size (which would be impressive enough) but actually really quite agile. The first time you witness him get flushed from the pocket you'll likely do a doubletake. He moves as well as a much smaller and lighter athlete. His long speed is decent too but his ability to dart, twist and sprint away from oncoming pass rushers in the short area is startling from leverage perspective alone.
So what does this giant with cat-like reflexes and a Howitzer hanging off his shoulder have to get better at to be an NFL starting QB? It's a good question and really where the analysis of Lynch's transition to the next level starts to get "sticky". Assuming Paxton Lynch is the next sure-thing at QB in the pros is an exercise heavy with projection. He shows the ability to do all of the things he needs to separately at different times; and occasionally most of them at the same time. But assuming he will do most of things most of time AND improve on the skills he has not been asked to use as much is where you can get yourself into serious trouble.
Memphis does not ask Paxton to do a wide variety of things in their offense. Like most modern college QB's he operates exclusively out of the Pistol or Shotgun formations. He is never under center unless there is a QB sneak called. Fun fact: having a very tall QB with very long arms means that almost all your QB sneaks will be successful. The Tigers also don't ask him to throw to receivers who are running directly away from him very much at all. Many of the routes in their offense have the receiver cutting back towards the QB (comeback and curl) or perpendicularly across the field from him (short slant, cross, in and square out routes). They rarely throw the go, skinny post or corner post routes where Paxton would be forced to drop the ball in over their heads with a lead. Those throws are staples of an NFL offense and Paxton needs to improve his accuracy on them, quite a bit.
Lynch was not asked to make more than 2 reads on most plays in college either. The offense he ran featured multiple routes and targets but only 2 of them (and a check-down/bailout to the RB) are ever real options to receive a throw. Many of his colleagues will face the same challenges as they adapt to running a pro-style offense; starting under center and dropping back with multiple reads on every play. If Lynch is to maximize his impressive physical talent he will have to hone his mental game quickly. Most importantly he has to decrease the amount of time it takes to get off his first read and through the next 2, before deciding to toss the ball to a back or just heave it out of bounds. Right now that is taking him nearly 4 seconds on some plays. He'll have half that in pros, if he's lucky.
So why even make the leap of faith that Paxton is worth the effort or can make the substantial jump from where he is to where he needs to be to lead an NFL team to victory on a regular basis? There are 3 reasosns. First there is the scarcity of talent question I mentioned at the top of the article. If there is even a slim chance he can be a legit NFL starter a team without one has to take him. There is no other way to get an NFL QB. Second, his gifts are impressive. Arms like his only come along once every 4-5 years. He is truly gifted in that department. Lastly there are those times where he shows you exactly what you need to see. Those times where he puts it all together and you just have to say "wow'. The throw in the video below could only have been made by a handful of QB's in the world and Paxton not only made it he made it perfectly.
It is a laser throw to a covered WR in a tiny corner of the endzone that hit him right in the numbers. It is a 40-yard toss, on a line and it is perfectly accurate. That kind of throw, with Lynch's brand of velocity is the nightmare fuel for defensive coordinators and cornerbacks league-wide. It is simply indefensible.
The Bears don't need to draft a QB this year because they are lucky enough to have a guy they can with with behind center. Many franchises in the NFL are not as lucky. For those teams a player like Paxton Lynch represents the worthy gamble they simply have to take. An above average athlete, with a solid understanding of timing and how move a football team from one end of the field to the other. Will he need to land in the right spot and require coaches who help him understand all the additional complexities of the NFL? Absolutely, almost all rookie QB's do. But if the coaches do their job and Lynch puts in the mental and physical reps required, we could be talking about him as one of the upper-echelon QB's in the NFL in just a few years.