It’s a foregone conclusion that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz will go No. 1 and No. 2 in the 2016 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday.
It’s almost as certain that Memphis’s Paxton Lynch will be the third quarterback taken, though it’s unclear if he lands in the top 10 or the latter half of the first round. Yet don’t be surprised if he’s considered the best quarterback of this class three years from now.
Lynch’s NCAA resume speaks for itself. Despite the fact that the Tigers were 7-29 in the three seasons prior to him landing with the team, he went 22-16 in his three years there. In 2015, he was a first-team all-AAC selection after putting up 3,776 yards and 28 TDs against just four interceptions.
Physically he’s a tantalizing prospect. At six-foot-six and 244 lb., he has the athleticism and competitiveness of Wentz, and the size and arm talent of Goff. In fact, he may have the strongest arm in the entire draft class.
His size likens him to Brock Osweiler—and that level of play might be his floor. When you look at his ability to throw on the run and escape the pocket, his ceiling could be a poor man’s Cam Newton.
He’s not as fast as the current MVP and isn’t likely to gobble up rushing touchdowns at record rates (he racked up 17 in three seasons at Memphis), but one similar aspect of their games is how Lynch uses his athleticism effectively against the blitz. Last year he had a 67.9 completion percentage with 11 TDs and just one interception versus the blitz.
The main knock on Lynch is that he’s never thrown from under centre, and he’ll have to learn the ins and outs of NFL offences. He’s also coming off a poor bowl-game performance that has undoubtedly dropped him down a peg in some scouts eyes.
That said, when he single-handedly beat Ole Miss earlier in the year he was being mentioned as a first-overall pick contender.
Simply put, he’s both a project and a potentially transformational player. The beauty is, because of where he’s likely to be drafted, he won’t be forced to do too much right away.
The New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets all are teams who can afford to take him and bring him along knowing that when he’s ready he’ll be a viable succession plan that will extend their championship window.
Imagine Lynch learning at the feet of Drew Brees and Sean Payton. Or going to Denver with a championship defence and eventually becoming the starter for former QBs John Elway and Gary Kubiak. Or becoming the next in a long line of QBs Bruce Arians leads to success in Arizona.
According to Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys are unlikely to use the No. 4–overall pick on a QB, but there’s nothing stopping them from making a move to get into the back end of the first to grab Lynch should he fall. Tony Romo is 36 years old and missed 12 games last year. He’s broken his collarbone twice. He’s a depreciating asset at this point and will need a successor sooner rather than later.
Smart teams should be looking at Lynch as an answer to a burgeoning league-wide problem: the aging out of the current crop of all-pro quarterbacks. The top six QBs in the NFL in terms of passing yards in 2016 are 30 years are older, and the truth is few signal callers age the way Tom Brady has been. With a weak QB class on the way next year, the time to grab and start developing a successor is now.