When the Memphis Tigers go up against the Auburn Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl on Wednesday Dec. 30th all eyes will be on Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch: Possibly the best QB in the 2016 class and possibly the first QB to be drafted. But just how good is he?
When evaluating a prospect at any offensive position I always start with their age as it provides the necessary context for their production and efficiency. Lynch is currently 21, turning 22 in February. Younger is better, and Lynch is fairly young. Ideally he would be younger, but he’s not so old that I would hold it against him in a vacuum. I would probably only factor it in when comparing him directly to another QB prospect.
Part of the reason I’m not that concerned about Lynch’s age is because he was so efficient as a passer. My stat of choice for evaluating QBs is adjusted yards per attempt, a variant of yards per attempt that factors in interceptions and touchdowns. Ideally, a QB will throw for at least 9.0 AY/A in their final collegiate season. Lynch has passed for a tremendous 10.1 AY/A so far this season, throwing 28 TDs to only three INTs. Lynch was the fifth most efficient QB in Sports Reference’s database this season according to this metric.
As a cherry on top, Lynch seems to not only be an efficient QB, but an accurate one as well. He’s completed 63.5 percent of his career passing attempts, peaking at 69.0 percent this season. No worries there.
Strength of Schedule
Memphis plays in the American Athletic Conference- not a “Power Five” conference. So I can understand why someone might be concerned about the quality of defenses or general strength of schedule that Lynch has faced this season. But I think those concerns may be unfounded. Here are his game logs from this season against teams that finished in the AP’s Top 25:
Aside from a terrible game against Temple, these numbers really don’t look that bad. And it’s interesting to note that Lynch actually played more top 25 teams than Jared Goff, who only played three. Here’s how Lynch fared against ranked teams compared to unranked teams:
Lynch was better against unranked teams, but that’s to be expected. His 6.9 AY/A against ranked teams is better than Derek Carr, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, and Matthew Stafford. His AY/A is also better than that of Jared Goff, who came in at 6.4 AY/A. I don’t think the level of Lynch’s competition is a legitimate concern.
Rushing efficiency can be a predictive variable when evaluating QB prospects. So it’s something I always want to look at. But it’s of particular interest to me in regards to Lynch because his draft evaluations often refer to his “mobility” or “athleticism”. If Lynch is a talented runner, it’s not evident just from glancing at his numbers. This season Lynch has 82 rushing attempts for 240 yards, a 2.9 yards per rushing attempt average. He also only had two rushing TDs, though it’s worth noting that he had 13 rushing TDs in the 2014 season.
But it’s important to remember that college QB rushing numbers also include sacks. Football Study Hall’s Bill Connolly has taken the time to separate those numbers. Lynch really had 67 rushing attempts for 345 yards, a 5.1 Y/A average. That’s certainly solid, but doesn’t seem particularly impressive. It is less efficient than stars like Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota were while including sacks.
Using some simple subtraction, we can determine that Lynch was sacked 15 times for -105 yards. I don’t know of an actionable way to analyze that particular data, but thought I’d provide it. The bottom line for me is that Lynch doesn’t seem like a particularly good rusher, which I care about because of the obvious fantasy implications. He is for instance less efficient than Blake Bortles and Alex Smith were as runners- QBs who derive significant fantasy value from their rushing but aren’t typically thought of as rushing QBs. This seems like a good time to mention that Lynch is listed at 6 – 7 and 245 pounds. It’s fair to wonder if his perceived athleticism, mobility, and upside are more theoretical than real.
The Unanswered Questions
There are still a number of things to be determined in regards to Lynch, including:
- How will he perform in the Birmingham Bowl?
- How will he measure up at the combine, especially in the forty yard dash?
- How early will he be drafted?
- Who will draft him?
As things stand right now, I consider Lynch a good-but-not-great prospect. I currently prefer Jared Goff because he’s a bit younger and he’s favored in the RotoViz Scouting Index. But my preference could easily change, especially if Lynch is the first QB off the board in the 2016 NFL Draft.