The pre-draft process is an intel-gathering mission on prospective employees. And although certain prospects tend to attract groupthink in the scouting community, others generate the varied opinions that come from 32 different franchises with 32 unique approaches to talent evaluation. Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks is taking a closer at some of the most notable -- and polarizing -- prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft, to determine draft range and team fits.
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Today's subject: Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch
LYNCH'S PRO DAY: April 6.
What I like
Lynch is an athletic dual-threat playmaker with exceptional size, movement skills and arm talent. It is hard to find a 6-foot-7, 244-pounder capable of executing the zone read and quarterback power while also possessing the ability to throw fastballs to the perimeter from the pocket or on the move. That's why scouts have been salivating over Lynch's potential as a franchise quarterback since he burst onto the national scene with a spectacular performance (39 of 53 for 384 yards with three touchdowns and a pick) in the Tigers' 37-24 win over Ole Miss last October. Lynch has all of the physical tools to shine in any offense, but it is his combination of arm talent and athleticism that has piqued the interest of creative offensive minds. Play designers with extensive experience melding RPOs (run-pass options), sprint-out passes, bootlegs and traditional concepts could view Lynch as the ultimate prospect to develop as a franchise quarterback. Although he is far from a finished product as a dropback passer and lacks extensive reps taking the ball from under center, Lynch could quickly master those maneuvers and become a deadly playmaker from the pocket.
Studying the All-22 coaches tape, Lynch's arm talent is intoxicating. It is hard to find a passer capable of delivering the ball with more zip and velocity -- to every area of the field -- as effortlessly as Lynch. He fires the ball to the boundary from the opposite hash on a rope. The combination of ball speed and placement makes his passes nearly impossible for defenders to catch despite terrific anticipation or timing. Thus, Lynch could develop into an exceptional tight-window passer at the next level when he understands his limitations as a gunslinger.
Why the range?
Despite Lynch's immense potential as a franchise quarterback, there are plenty of concerns surrounding the Memphis standout. He entered the NFL early, after his redshirt junior season, and will need some time to acclimate to the speed and tempo of the pro game. In addition, Lynch spent his college days in a spread offense that prominently featured RPOs, bubble screens and quick routes. Thus, he hasn't been exposed to complex passing concepts (full-field reads or pure-progression passes) and his lack of experience with those tactics could make it tough for him to get onto the field -- unless a coach is willing to use part of Memphis' offensive system in the basic game plan.
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The lack of elite competition is also a concern for scouts evaluating Lynch. The Tigers played in the American Athletic Conference, and last season, Lynch faltered in the team's three biggest conference games (Navy, Houston and Temple) down the stretch. Most importantly, he struggled mightily against Auburn in a Birmingham Bowl performance (16 of 37 for 106 yards and an interception) that exposed his flaws as a playmaker on a big stage. Although Lynch's supporters point to the circumstances affecting his play -- Memphis head coach Justin Fuente accepted a job at Virginia Tech and didn't coach the bowl game -- the fact that Lynch didn't perform well in a series of big games raises some concern over his ability to lead his team to the winner's circle.
Where would he excel?
It is important for any team considering Lynch as a franchise quarterback to entertain the possibility of blending some of the RPO concepts and lay-ups (bubble screens and quicks) into the game plan, to help him find his footing as a young playmaker. In addition, I believe a team with a strong running game and a diverse, complementary play-action passing attack would be a great fit for Lynch, based on his inexperience as a traditional dropback passer. Thus, teams like Denver and Los Angeles strike me as ideal environments for Lynch to grow into a franchise guy. The Broncos, in particular, have a structure in place (strong running game and dominant defense) to help Lynch slowly develop as a playmaker. He could lean on the C.J. Anderson-led ground attack, thus allowing him to throw high-percentage passes off run-action plays on various flood concepts and half-field reads. Also, Lynch could focus on learning how to manage the game with a nasty defense that's capable of holding the score down.
The Rams offer Lynch a terrific opportunity to play alongside a pair of electric talents (Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin). Moreover, he would play for a coach (Jeff Fisher) who is comfortable featuring an athletic quarterback. Fisher enjoyed success with Steve McNair and Vince Young at the helm in Tennessee; he could take advantage of Lynch's running skills and mobility as a complement to the Rams' hard-hitting rushing attack. In addition, he would give the Rams a young, dynamic quarterback to build around for the foreseeable future.
The Cowboys and Chargers also would qualify as good landing spots for Lynch, based on the presence of a veteran quarterback and experienced quarterback teachers. Each team needs to identify a young signal caller to develop for a prominent role down the road; Lynch could be an intriguing prospect to groom.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.