When the Ole Miss defense takes the field on Saturday against Memphis, the opening third-down conversion they surrender won't come off the arm of some average-to-below average quarterback. No, that creation of exasperation among Ole Miss fans will be due to Paxton Lynch, Memphis' talented redshirt junior quarterback.
In case you're not up to speed on Lynch, allow me to provide a lightning round of facts (#facts): Lynch has thrown zero interceptions in 2015 (out of 146 passes), completed over 70 percent of his passes, and is third in the nation in passing efficiency ratio -- all of which have helped build Memphis to a 12-game winning streak.
Combined with his performance from last season (3,031 yards, 22 TDs, 9 INTs), Lynch is commanding the attention of NFL-related people, who have started to make more room for him on their various draft boards. It's only a matter of time until Lynch is the subject of one of ESPN's two-minute segments, WHEN I PUT ON THE TAPE OF PAXTON LYNCH, A FEW THINGS JUMP OUT AT ME.
(cue the fancy graphics and spinning camera)
(cue the elementary film breakdown)
(cue the satisfied smug look of being on TV)
AND THAT'S WHY PAXTON LYNCH IS CLIMBING NFL DRAFT BOARDS, GUYS.
While those things will come to pass, what actually makes Lynch as good as he is? To answer that, we'll need to do our own breakdown, minus any real production value. So let's get to it.
1. He's had competent coaching
When Justin Fuente arrived at Memphis after the 2011 season, the Tigers were, to put it generously, a grease fire burning with the intensity of 100 Gus's Fried Chicken kitchens pooling their grease together and setting that lake on fire. Larry Porter had just led Memphis to a 2-10 season (one game better than the 1-11 season the year before!) and was shown the exit door, leaving a program with little talent and even less fan support.
In just over three seasons of work, Fuente has changed everything about Memphis. But specifically for our purposes here today, take a look at the overall offensive S&P rankings under Porter and Fuente.
S&P under Larry Porter
- 2010: 119 out of 120
- 2011: 119 out of 120
S&P under Justin Fuente
- 2012: 117 out of 124
- 2013: 102 out of 125
- 2014: 78 out of 128
- 2015: 16 out of 128
My first thought is that there are 128 teams in FBS? HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN ASLEEP?
Anyway, as you can see, there was slow improvement initially under Fuente, followed by a massive jump this year. Obviously, it helps to be talented, but a coach who knows what he's doing can maximize that talent.
2. He's a large human being
Based on what link you click, Lynch is listed in the height neighborhood of 6'6 and weighs somewhere around 230 pounds. To give you an idea of how big that is, Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes, who looks tall and lean running around on the field, is listed in the 6'3, 220-pound range.
Now, Lynch's height is not that of Brock Osweiler (6'8") and thus won't be mentioned by every announcer at all times during all games, but 6'6" is still pretty tall. In terms of height, I wouldn't call him a poor man's Osweiler, but more like an upper middle class Osweiler.
Regardless, that height allows him to see for miles on a clear day, and his overall size adds a degree of difficulty for defenders trying to get him on the ground.
3. He has an arm that works
We've covered Lynch's accuracy numbers, which are outstanding, but anyone (note: not anyone) can sit back and hit short passes over and over again to drive up that completion percentage. While short passes are a big part of Memphis' offense, Lynch has proven he can make a variety of throws (except this one), which includes accurate deep passes.
The film in the link below comes from Inside The Pylon, who put way more effort into an assessment of Paxton Lynch than I did, and I salute them for making this way easier for me. In both of these videos, you'll see that Memphis creates one-on-one matchups on the outside, and Lynch puts a deep ball in the perfect spot both times.
But if perfectly placed passes don't impress you as they should, here's a little taste of his arm strength from the Bowling Green game. Memphis is in the middle of running a reverse pass play, and the wide receiver has just flipped the ball back to Lynch.
Was this a dying duck that fluttered to the earth around the 10-yard line, yet was caught because the two defensive backs never found the ball and ran into each other?
By my calculations, just your average pass that traveled 66 yards in the air and hit its intended target, who didn't have to slow down, squarely in the hands. No big deal.
So as the film shows, Lynch absolutely has the arm talent that *Trent Dilfer voice* THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE LIKES TO SEE.
We shall see how Lynch and his offense perform against an Ole Miss defense with more speed and size than any defense they've seen since playing Ole Miss last year, but Lynch has the coaching, size, and ability at his disposal to make Saturday quite stressful for Ole Miss.