Paxton Lynch is convinced he’s ready for his close up. Make that raring to go. The Memphis junior quarterback has said he wants to “blow people away with my size (6' 7", 245 pounds) and athletic ability,” and that process has to start this week at the NFL’s annual scouting combine in Indianapolis, where he hopes to dazzle scouts with his skill set, measurables and intangibles.
Lynch hits Indy mid-day Wednesday and will take the field with the rest of the quarterbacks at Lucas Oil Stadium for his drills and workout on Saturday. I caught up with Lynch, one of the draft’s most intriguing prospects, on the phone Monday night, as he was wrapping up another long day of training in the Orlando area. With his departure for the combine just hours away, Lynch is almost in showcase mode, but still took time to entertain 10 quick questions as his big career audition looms:
The SI Extra Newsletter Get the best of Sports Illustrated delivered right to your inbox
Don Banks:Most draft analysts have you among the top three highest-rated quarterbacks, but the consensus seems to be that you trail North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Cal’s Jared Goff and are in that No. 3 spot. Do you feel like you have to make up ground at the combine this week and flip the script on the early narrative at quarterback?
Paxton Lynch: I think right now that’s the perception because it’s just kind of been about Carson Wentz and Jared Goff at the top. And really it’s because Carson Wentz was just at the Senior Bowl, so all that hype went to him coming out of that, and also Jared Goff coming out of a more prestigious conference and school has kind of boosted him toward where he is. But that’s only where things stand now.
DB:What’s the No. 1 criticism of your game that you’re preparing to hear about at the combine?
PL: With me coming from Memphis, people will have a lot of doubts about me and if I can play and do this at the NFL level. But I’m excited for the combine because I know we’re all going to be ready to compete against each other and that’s what I’m looking forward to, going out there and putting my unique skill set on display.
Do you think not playing at a huge football-factory school will truly hurt you in the draft process?
PL: Well, I know one of the big things I have to overcome is that some people think that quarterbacks playing in the spread offense, you don’t read coverages and you don’t take care of protection calls at the line, and you don’t know how to play under center. And then, with me going to Memphis, they think that I haven’t really played against Grade A competition. But we did play against SEC schools like Ole Miss and Auburn, and then Houston and Temple and Navy—those are all good football programs in my opinion. So that’s just something I’ve been dealing with in this process that people have mentioned to me repeatedly.
DB:You have been quoted as saying Cam Newton’s success will help you gain acceptance in the NFL, and that Marcus Mariota’s transition last year from the spread offense in college to playing under center as a pro helps you, too. Why is that?
PL: Yeah, I mean, people always say stuff about whether spread offense quarterbacks will be able to translate into the NFL, but you see more spread offense teams in college now than you ever have. So any quarterback coming out of the spread is going to get that no matter where they go. But guys like Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota kind of proved that label wrong when they go up there and play as well as they have.
DB:Is there anything inherently difficult about learning to play under center, and learning your drops and progressions, and how to read the field more completely?
PL: Just like everything else, it just takes time and reps to get it down. Obviously I didn’t do it that much in Memphis, so it was new to me. But when you’re athletic, I don’t think it’s that much of an issue to stand underneath the center and get the ball and take a three-step drop, a five-step drop or a seven-step drop. People say it’s different than being in the [shotgun] and it obviously is, but with work it comes naturally.
DB:Some draft analysts say you might benefit from sitting for a year or so in the NFL, rather than having to play right away. Are you ready to be an NFL starter from day one, or does being a backup for a season sound O.K. to you?
PL: I think I can be whatever a team needs me to be. Whether that’s coming in and starting right at the beginning of the season or sitting behind a guy until it’s your time to get called up. In my opinion, wherever I go, I’m going to work like I’m going to be the starter anyway, so if I’m going to a team like the Browns or the Rams, if they take a quarterback obviously they plan to use that quarterback as their starter next season, then that’s how I’m going to approach it.
But also even if you go to a team like the Cowboys, where you would have to sit behind somebody and that would be the motive for them taking you, you still have to prepare like you are going to start. Because if Tony Romo gets hurt, you’re the guy. There’s no redshirt season in the NFL. Wherever I go, and however that team needs to use me, that’s what I’ll be ready for.
DB:What do you make of the thinking that says there has never been a great NFL quarterback who has been really tall? There’s a mindset that anyone in the 6'6" or taller range hasn’t really prospered, outside of Joe Flacco?
PL: I’ve heard that maybe once or twice, about being too tall as a quarterback. But I could understand that if you were too tall and it made you unathletic or uncoordinated because of it. I’m 6' 7", close to 250 pounds, but I can still run around like I’m only 6' 2", 6' 3", so in that aspect I don’t think my height hurts me at all. Really being this tall honestly in my opinion only improves my game.
Obviously there haven’t been a lot of 6' 7" quarterbacks in the league. The most recent has been Brock Osweiler, and he’s played pretty well. I don’t see it as an issue and I don’t think teams are really worried about me being too tall.
What about those monstrously large hands of yours, which measure almost a foot in length at 11.5 inches? What do big mitts do for your game?
PL: To be honest, I’ve never even really heard of the hand measurement thing until now, and how it improves you as a player. But they say whenever you get in really cold environments or rainy environments you can grip the ball better. Obviously growing up in Florida and playing in Memphis, I’ve never played in any frozen tundra settings or anything like that. So I guess I would know whenever I was put in that situation, how the size of my hands help me. But gripping the ball better obviously helps a quarterback.
DB:You’re really all over the board in some of the early mock drafts. You’re anywhere from No. 2 to Cleveland, to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper not even putting you in the first round. How do you deal with such a wild swing of opinions?
PL: Honestly, I’d almost rather have it that way because I’ve never really had it any other way growing up. I’ve gone to a small school, I wasn’t this, I wasn’t that. So whenever I see stuff like that, like me going in the second round or something like that, I just kind of use it as motivation. I just keep it in the back of mind, and every day I go to work I just think about how I’ve always been doubted in a way. I just use it as a chip on my shoulder and go push myself.
DB:You have said you’ll throw and take part in every drill at the combine, as will the rest of the quarterbacks, which is a truly rare development. What part of your game is better than the NFL knows about right now? What skill set of yours is going to surprise some people this week in Indy?
PL: I think when they see my ability to do those three-step, five-step and seven-step drops so smoothly after the short amount of time I’ve worked on it, I think they’ll be impressed with that. And whenever you get in these one-on-one meetings with teams, they expect you to know a little bit, drawing up your offense and being able to handle their questions. I’m really prepared for that and I really want to impress some teams in these meetings, on the board, as well. I’m definitely looking forward to it because it’s going to be like a little vacation after all the training I’ve done. I’m going to try and show people what I’ve got to offer.