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VOL. 131 | NO. 70 | Thursday, April 07, 2016

QB Paxton Lynch Passes Pro Day Test, But Questions Remain

By Don Wade

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In the immediate aftermath of Paxton Lynch’s pro day at the University of Memphis, it sort of felt like the postgame following a season-opening victory over a lesser non-conference opponent.

Good, satisfying in the moment, and hopeful for the future. But not necessarily an accurate predictor of what is to come.

Former Tigers quarterback Paxton Lynch completed 57 of 69 ‘scripted’ passes during his Pro Day workout before more than two dozen NFL teams on the University of Memphis South Campus this past week.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

In front of talent evaluators and decision-makers from more than two dozen NFL teams, Lynch fought through winds of about 25 mph to complete 57 of 69 scripted passes, mostly to old teammates such as tight end Alan Cross and receivers Tevin Jones and Mose Frazier.

Wearing a white shirt with “Memphis” in blue across his chest – nice pub for the Tigers as the NFL Network carried Lynch’s Pro Day – he made short throws and long throws. He threw crossing patterns and out routes aimed to test his arm strength.

He missed some throws – “there were a couple of times I was just a little off,” he said – but many of his throws went right where he wanted: “I was really happy with the placement.”

And placement is the key word going forward, as in his placement in the April 28 NFL Draft.

Judging just by the business of Lynch’s calendar – in Kansas City one day, in Cleveland another – “it was cold,” he said – Lynch could end up just about anywhere. He has worked out and/or met with Philadelphia and Buffalo, was scheduled to go to Dallas, and is supposedly on the radar of the New York Jets and Los Angeles Rams, and Denver Broncos, and, well, we could list just about every team in the league if we start trying to read into things.

Consider: Former Tennessee Titans head coach and current San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt asked Lynch to throw specific routes at his pro day. Some scouts from other teams paid more attention than others. And sometimes, teams intentionally try to throw other teams off by feigning only mild interest.

So next time you scroll down another “mock” draft, keep this in mind: The definition of mock is “not authentic or real …”

Lynch’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, has had about 60 first-round draft picks in his time in the game. He doesn’t even have a great read on things at this point. But he does know how to frame a client’s best attributes.

“He has the highest upside of any quarterback in the draft,” Steinberg said. “He’s that new mode, Roethlisberger (Ben), Newton (Cam), big and strong, can fend off the rush, but also has escapability, which you wouldn’t think someone 6-7 would have. Natural leader. Teammates love him.”

The funny thing about that? Only the first part about Lynch having the most upside can be put up for debate. Generally, Lynch has been considered the third choice at quarterback in this draft behind Carson Wentz of North Dakota State and Jared Goff of California.

But look at the other parts of Steinberg’s statement, biased though it may be: Lynch is similar to Big Ben and Cam Newton. He is big and strong and has a rocket arm. He can scramble and run. He did show good leadership characteristics with the Tigers. Teammates did love him.

Of course, from the perspective of NFL teams, some of that falls under the category of intangibles and is down the list from reading defenses and playing in a pro-style offense, which Lynch did not do under Justin Fuente here.

Lynch says in conversations with teams he has consistently been told two things need improvement.

“Footwork and tempo,” he said.

He does not sound overly concerned about either, or worried about the team that might draft him. There are teams, such as the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos or Rams, which might force the issue and press Lynch to start during his rookie season.

In other places, such as Arizona where the Cardinals have Carson Palmer, or Kansas City where the Chiefs have Alex Smith, the teams might be quite content to wait a couple of years while grooming Lynch.

“I’m going to come in prepared to be the starter wherever I go,” Lynch said of his mindset. “Whether there is an established guy or you are the guy.”

Steinberg believes Lynch is a franchise-quality quarterback. Whether that turns out to be true or not only time will tell us, but the agent is right when he says what NFL teams want: “You’re looking for someone you can win because of, rather than with.”

The draft experts are naturally split on Lynch. Some concur Lynch has the most upside. Others don’t think he’ll ever make a full transition to a multiple-read, pro-style quarterback.

Lynch is aware. And unmoved.

“Everybody has their own opinion,” Lynch told The Daily News. “Like Leigh, my agent, always says, if you post a tweet about Santa Claus being the best fictional holiday character, half the people will say, `Yes, Santa Claus!’ And the other half will say like, `Santa Claus sucks.’”

Lynch laughs and it’s worth a laugh.

But also a teaching point if he’s drafted by Philadelphia, where they were booing Santa Claus long before anyone had ever heard of social media.

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