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Is hype about Memphis QB Paxton Lynch warranted?


Watching television can be a very enjoyable ritual -- especially if it's highly anticipated programming. My personal ritual is to sit down with a lunch in front of the television (or tablet), alone, and catch up on my favorite shows that I no longer have time to watch live because of, you know, life.

I was able to enjoy my ritual again this week, but there was no lunch involved. Instead, I sat down at a table in the ice-cold meeting room for linebackers at the University of Houston with a "cowboy clicker" (remote for coaches tape) in one hand, a blank notepad in front of me and a queue full of tape on Memphis' junior quarterback, Paxton Lynch.

"Sudden-hype" prospect

The recent surge in media hype surrounding Lynch isn't random or without merit, but it is "sudden." Lynch didn't have the success that J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones had at Ohio State and he didn't post the gaudy numbers that Trevone Boykin (TCU) or Jared Goff (Cal) did in 2014. The junior caught my eye during the summer when I was watching 2014 tape, but he just missed out on my "Quarterbacks to Watch" list heading into this season.

So, why the sudden hype? His play has improved exponentially -- it's that simple. Lynch's completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio and yards per attempt have all improved dramatically. If you factor in his 6-foot-6 frame and outstanding athleticism, his ascension into the limelight was a no-brainer.

What the tape loves

Size and speed: We all know that NFL teams prefer their quarterbacks to be tall enough to see over the trenches in front of them and at 6-6, Lynch can do just that. What differentiates Lynch is the rare foot quickness and overall athleticism he possesses for his size.

While watching tape, I couldn't help but think of Colin Kaepernick coming out of Nevada. Raise your hand if you just groaned after reading Kaepernick as a comparison. Well, stop groaning because their size and speed outside of the pocket are about the only comparable traits between the two.

Scheme and progressions: While Lynch operates from the shotgun or pistol 95.2 percent of the time, his passing scheme isn't just quick-hitters and single-read throws. Sure, 23 percent of Lynch's throws have been behind the line of scrimmage (typical of many college passing games), but he has the same percentage of throws from 11-20 yards.

Memphis' passing game attacks the short throws in space like most spread offenses do, but it also features a more layered, intermediate attack that asks Lynch to work through more progressions than most spread quarterbacks are asked to do.

Pocket poise: Despite his outstanding foot quickness, athleticism and ability to gain yards as a runner, Lynch's instinct seems aligned with making his living from the pocket. Lynch's offensive line isn't all-world by any stretch, but he doesn't seem overly anxious when the pocket begins to constrict and he is showing an ability to slide inside the pocket and buy time.

Lynch has scrambled from the pocket just 13 times this year, but when he does break the pocket, he shows a willingness to keep his eyes trained down the field, looking to strike through the air rather than just run.

Needs improvement

Accuracy on the move: While studying the tape on Lynch, I was very excited about his athleticism and willingness to continue to look for open targets when leaving the pocket, but his accuracy on the move showed room for improvement.

Lynch's completion percentage from inside the pocket is an impressive 72.4 percent, but it's just 38.9 percent when scrambling right and 45.5 percent when rolling out to the left. On the flip side, his 65.5 percent completion rate when rolling right shows the potential to improve his consistency in this area. Ball placement on easy throws to play-action running-back or tight-end targets was erratic and didn't always allow his receiver to catch the ball in stride to continue gaining yards after the catch.

Level of competition: Quarterbacks from schools outside of the "Power Five" conferences always have the potential to have the "lack-of-competition" tag attached to them, depending on their non-conference schedule, and Lynch is no different.

I poured over my list of senior draft prospects, which is 700 deep, and Lynch has yet to face a senior cornerback who carried a draftable grade coming into this season. Unfortunately, University of Houston cornerback William Jackson -- whose size and athleticism will make him a drafted cornerback in 2016 -- was injured last week and isn't expected to be available to challenge Lynch when the Cougars host the Tigers on Saturday.

Inconsistent arm strength: While Lynch doesn't possess a pop-gun arm, the tape didn't show the consistent zip on his passes that I was expecting to see. His release has a slight wind-up and the ball rarely comes out cleanly in a tight spiral. When he's throwing between the hashes, Lynch will usually step into his throws and drive the ball with pretty good velocity, but on his field-side throws, there is way more air under the ball than I expected. I would like to see more consistency with his velocity on all throws when needed.

Is Lynch the real deal?

While there are still games to be played and a decision for Lynch to make about whether or not to apply for draft eligibility after the season, my early look at Lynch was a positive one, though not quite as overwhelming as some of the recent scouting reports I've been reading through the media.

Lynch appears to lack some of the polish I'm seeing with Goff, for example, but draft decisions aren't made based on how a player is performing right now. They are made based on the long-term projection of ceiling vs. floor. Lynch has the physical traits teams will covet and I liked his mental makeup in the five Memphis games I watched. I'm hoping to add more pieces to the Lynch puzzle this Saturday when I scout him in person vs. Houston.

Follow Lance Zierlein on Twitter @LanceZierlein.

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