The Denver Broncos are putting the final touches on their draft board with the 2016 NFL draft less than one month away. At the end of April in Chicago, NFL teams will do their best to find impact players who can shine at the next level.
With a few weeks ahead of us, many mock drafts around the Web have the Broncos taking a quarterback to fill their biggest team need. These mocks could be proved correct even if the Broncos acquire Colin Kaepernick from the San Francisco 49ers.
General manager John Elway may indeed take a passer at some point in the draft, and he could decide the top of the draft is the best place to find his future franchise quarterback. The player who might be on the board at the end of Round 1—and has the potential to be a franchise quarterback—is Paxton Lynch from Memphis.
He played in a passer-friendly system in college, and Lynch put up strong numbers while making few mistakes with the football. Was his success a product of the system? Lynch needs to prove that he can work in a more traditional system while also producing in a similar manner to how he did in college.
Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak likes the group of quarterbacks in this draft class.
“I think it’s a good group of guys," Kubiak said. "We’ll do our work on all of them. Hopefully when we want to come out of the draft, we’ll be a better football team at a lot of positions, not just quarterback."
In this article, we’ll make the case for Lynch to be the Broncos’ top choice in the 2016 NFL draft.
He was not highly recruited coming out of high school, so Lynch wound up going to Memphis to play college football. Playing high school football in Florida, one would assume Lynch was on the radar for multiple teams, but he wasn’t and fell through the cracks in the recruiting process.
Earlier this year at the scouting combine, Lynch explained why he wasn’t a hot recruit as a prep.
“I didn't really throw the ball at all in high school because we were a Wing T offense but when I got to Memphis, that's the first time I actually started throwing the ball in general," Lynch said. "So we kind of tested a few things out, moving me in the pocket and stuff like that but I'm confident in my abilities and what I can and can't do. Throwing on the run is not one of the things I can't do but standing in the pocket and making sideline throws is also something I don't think I'll have a problem with."
|Paxton Lynch Passing Stats at Memphis|
He stepped onto the field as a redshirt freshman and ended up starting 39 consecutive games for the Tigers. This past season, Lynch finished with 28 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions. Lynch saw his interception total decline each year of his college career while his passing yards per game climbed along with his completion percentage.
Arguably the best game of his college career was last October as the Tigers upset the Rebels of Ole Miss. In that contest, Lynch was an amazing 39-of-53 for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Most of his college career was spent playing against a lower level of competition, but in that game against the Rebels Lynch looked cool under fire and ready for the big time.
Lynch is a tall quarterback who can see the field and quickly determine where to go with the football. Standing at 6’7”, Lynch has no problem seeing over the offensive line, and he’ll rarely have a tipped pass because his motion is higher than most defenders can reach. If he needs to, Lynch can manipulate his arm mechanics to make off-platform throws under pressure.
Even with his height, Lynch has the athleticism to keep plays alive with his feet while keeping his eyes downfield. It can be said he’s a scrambling quarterback because he can run designed plays to utilize him as a rusher—either up the gut on a draw or to the outside with an option play. Lynch is compact with his movement and does not have an extended stride where he can be easily tripped up.
Lynch can be described as a mix of Kaepernick, Vince Young and Marcus Mariota. The young quarterback knows there will be adjustments that need to be made to his game after playing out of the shotgun in a pass-happy system.
"At this point, it's the type of offense I was playing in, because we played like good teams like Ole Miss and also our conference was really strong this year with Temple and Houston and Navy," Lynch explained. "The schemes are obviously going to be a little bit different. I'm going to have to be calling plays from the huddle, I'll have to learn the terminology, little small things here and there, but I don't see it as a problem."
Many of Lynch’s reads were easy, predetermined and close to the line of scrimmage. When he was asked to make downfield throws, Lynch showed good velocity and bucket accuracy on longer targets.
Even though he can move, Lynch’s mechanics suffer—as does his accuracy—when throwing on the run. In order to play up to his potential as a pro, Lynch has to prove that he can operate from under center and develop a better “passer’s triangle” with his feet when going through his progressions.
The group of quarterbacks already in place is likely to get two more additions to the position. Right now, the Broncos only have Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian on the roster. They should enter the offseason program with four passers to compete for the starting job. One may come from free agency (or trade), while one could come from the 2016 NFL draft.
Sanchez was added via trade earlier this offseason. With his starting experience, Sanchez could easily begin the season as the starter while a rookie is groomed behind him as the quarterback of the future. If Kaepernick is added via trade, then the Broncos would pit him against Sanchez to see who comes out on top—with an expectation from the fans that Kaepernick would win the job.
Siemian was a seventh-round pick last year out of Northwestern. He didn’t do much in college and struggled to beat out Kain Colter for the Wildcats starting job. As a rookie, Siemian was still recovering from a knee injury that cut his college career short. He has tremendous arm talent in terms of strength and velocity, but his decision-making needs a lot of work.
Kubiak is focused on the quarterbacks that are already on the roster.
"We need to stay focused on the guys on our team right now," Kubiak said. "We’re very excited about Mark [Sanchez] and we know those guys are up there throwing in California, so that’s exciting. Trevor [Siemian] is a fine young player, so we’re focused on those two and getting ready to go here in a couple weeks."
This may be the first year that Elway spends the team’s first-round pick on an offensive player.
The Broncos don’t need an answer at the quarterback position, they need a solution—and a long-term one if they can find that guy. Lynch could be seen as a future franchise quarterback who needs a year or so to develop his game at the pro level.
Lynch feels he can play right away as a rookie.
"I'll be happy and honored to go wherever I go, and however a team needs to use me, that's how I'm going to be," he said. "Whatever I need to do to help that team, I will do. But if it's coming in and sitting behind a guy, I'm still going to compete and push him. That's how teams get better in my opinion."
Lynch summarized, "But if it's a team where I need to start, I'm going to formulate a plan and stick to that plan and get to work."
Kubiak knows the roster, especially at quarterback, is a work in progress.
"Obviously we’ve got some work to do," Kubiak noted. "We’ve got to add to our group. We understand that. John [Elway] right now, [Director of Player Personnel] Matt [Russell], are working on the draft and getting ready for that. Just staying very focused on our football team and with what we have right now."
Regardless of what happens in the ever-lengthy Kaepernick drama, the Broncos should be considering Paxton Lynch in the first round of the draft—even if they have to move up several spots to get him. While Kaepernick is a reclamation product who may have already played his best football, Lynch is a raw but talented prospect who could be the next great passer for the Broncos.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via the Broncos' media department unless otherwise noted.