HOUSTON -- Houston is my home base, so I was happy to be able to stay home in order to cover this matchup between the Houston Cougars and Memphis Tigers. Usually, traffic and parking aren't too much of a problem near the Cougars' new TDECU Stadium, but Saturday evening was different.
The stadium was packed as everyone was out to see if the Cougars could remain undefeated against one of the rising star quarterbacks in college football, Paxton Lynch. On the Cougars' sideline stood the Houston Texans' J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins (scouting?). I live in a bit of a draft bubble, so it's hard to know if they were out to see the upstart Cougars team or the upstart Memphis quarterback. Maybe it was a little of both.
Lynch is a junior who hasn't given much of an idea about whether or not he is considering early entry into the 2016 NFL Draft. Based on the tape I saw heading into this game and how he played tonight, it is highly likely that Lynch will be a heavily targeted prospect by NFL teams when he does pull the trigger, but I want to stress that he's still a work in progress.
Lynch hasn't been challenged by very talented secondaries this season and I would have liked to have seen him battle against Houston cornerback and draft prospect William Jackson. Unfortunately, Jackson missed this game with a knee injury.
As a draft prospect, Lynch played well and showed all the qualities that I wanted to see. However, it is worth noting that he couldn't close out game with a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter. He led a drive late in fourth quarter, but a missed 48-yard field goal sealed Memphis' fate in a 35-34 loss.
Even though he lost the lead and ultimately the game, he showed good poise throughout the contest.
Body type: Lynch is very tall with an average build, but there's room for more mass on his frame. He should have more than enough size to take the rigors of NFL hits from inside and outside the pocket.
Decision-making: There was one throw in the first half that was ill-advised, but other than that, Lynch made relatively good decisions with the ball for the first 52 minutes of the game. Granted, he had plenty of throws that were designed or off of a single read, but he did show an ability to dart his eyes from target to target quickly when needed.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, off of an inside play-fake from the shotgun, Lynch popped up and tried to rifle a throw into the seam that was intercepted. His throw wasn't even close to being on target, so I don't know if that was on Lynch or his receiver, but I do know that the interception led to a touchdown drive that closed the Memphis lead to seven.
Athleticism: He is an absolutely outstanding athlete. Lynch plays with very good balance and body control, and has rare quick-twitch for a quarterback with his pocket-passing potential. When running, he shows a good understanding for making the most out of his carries before deciding to end it without taking a big shot. His combination of size and athleticism separates him from most every draft-eligible quarterback.
Mechanics: Lynch has a little bit of a windup, but it's not enough to allow defenders to close the throwing windows on him. From the pocket, he did a nice job of setting his feet and throwing with a balanced base. Lynch does a good job of keeping the ball tight to his body and near his chest when he's in the pocket. He made a good effort to square up to throw when he was on the move, but there is still room for improvement in that area.
Accuracy:I could try and nitpick about ball placement on a crossing route or how he sailed a boundary side throw that he made the wideout sky for, but the reality is that Lynch was more than accurate enough in the game. I'll need to see the tape to get a better idea of whether or not he was throwing receivers open on a couple of his snaps, but his accuracy was a plus in this one.
Poise: Pocket poise is clearly a strength for Lynch. He won't sit in the pocket unnecessarily, but when he left the pocket on Saturday, making a play with his arm was his primary concern before he would finish with a run. One of the more underrated elements of Lynch's game -- and I saw it tonight -- was his ability to set play fakes and disguise screens.
Arm strength: In my write-up of Lynch earlier this week, I commented that his arm strength looked inconsistent and that I wanted to see him put more velocity on his throws to the perimeter. I saw that from him against Houston. When he really commits to a throw and gets his lower body into the throw, he can rip it. I'm not going to tell you he has a cannon for a right arm, but it is more than good enough.
Extending plays: It was interesting listening to the NFL scouts in the press box because it was clear they hadn't seen much of Lynch up to this point. There were plenty of "oohs" and "ahs" about Lynch's quickness and overall running ability outside of the pocket. What was really impressive, however, is that Lynch was easily extending plays with his feet, but doing a nice job of balancing his scramble runs with his scramble passes.