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GIF Horse - Paxton Lynch

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Could Paxton Lynch still be the future for the Denver Broncos?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Before I dig in, there’s a few things I have to share. I’ve been putting off the QB study intentionally as I’ve gone back and forth on how exactly to break it down for this space. Let me know what you think in the comments as I’m always looking to improve.

Originally I meant to start with my study of Case Keenum, but the more I look into him, the more I wanted to study more. I also found myself asking another question altogether. As I started to notice Keenum’s development from his Houston years to the Minnesota Miracle: how much can fans reasonably hope that Paxton Lynch will develop? What exactly can the talented gunslinger learn from a wily veteran like Keenum? So here we are, breaking down a little Lynch tape.

One last caveat. This week’s GIF Horse wouldn’t be fair to Broncos Country if I didn’t admit my bias as I began studying Lynch. I was leery of his selection from the start as some in the draft community considered his upside “a poor man’s Joe Flacco.” I also grow quite tired of the Broncos QB obsession and knew where the Lynch selection would take the fanbase, even from as far away as Boseong, South Korea.

Then he got beat out by the 7th rounder that now backs up the guy who replaced Case Keenum in Minnesota. That didn’t seem so bad early on when Trevor Siemian was doing just enough to keep the Broncos in a serious playoff chase. Then Siemian got hurt in week 4 and the rookie had his “welcome to the league” moment. Now, few if any were expecting Lynch to pull a Matt Ryan, but...

3X1 concept Inside Cross /w HB & Solo receiver... why throw deep?

Now, rookies will do rookie things, but there are multiple things Lynch could have done on the play that would have made his first professional play a successful one.

  • Lynch could have stepped up into the pocket. There was room, even if both tackles were getting spanked.
  • Both underneath routes were open. Maybe not for the 7, but neither was double covered.
  • Place the ball a little to the left and that throw into double coverage is a deep completion.

Let’s move on.

The locked in, locked on NFL rook

Reading’s hard.

As bad as I may rag on Lynch’s first game, there definitely was some promising bits sprinkled in. He is very toolsy. You’d have to be blind to deny the physical gifts he consistently displays from his first play on. The footwork is better than I he gets credit for, especially considering it was supposed to be a big weakness coming out of a spread attack at Memphis.

Now for that rag: as you’ll notice in the play above, Lynch is going to Sanders. In fact, he had some really nice throws to the veteran earlier in the game. Unfortunately that meant Lynch has devout faith in his favorite receiver. Enough that he never even pretends he’s going anywhere else. Look at the top of the screen. Easy completion here.

The Bonehead

Rookie mistake, or is Homer Simpson starting for the Broncos here?

Lynch defenders will quickly come to Paxton’s defense here. The 2016 Atlanta Falcons went on to play in a Super Bowl, the Broncos offensive line was in shambles, it was Lynch’s first start. Let me know if I forgot one.

Lynch anticipated contact here and it messed with his throwing mechanics.

I tried screen capture here to show Lynch’s body lean as he threw the ball. Because of the rush he never steps into his throw. That alone is bad. What’s worse is that if he had looked at any one of his other receivers, he would have seen the crosser directly in front of him at the 6. Easy completion and he lives to throw another pass. Situational football! It’s a thing.

Lynch had to get better at this with an off-season of work though, right?

Right?

This already looks like a bad idea.
Looks like the boot action didn’t fool everybody...
Clearly a footrace here. Just run to the pylon Paxton. 4.86 40 time ain’t nothing to sneeze at.
Oh no baby, what is you doing?!

Going into Oakland I knew it was going to be ugly. The Raiders schooled Denver’s offense in every possible way. Still, there are some nice bits here and there, which I’ll touch on later. But this? This is just horrible. First let’s touch on the mechanics of a right handed thrower running left and trying to whip a ball between two defenders off one foot. Very, very few quarterbacks have the kind of core and arm strength to successfully pull this off. Even then, it’s a risky decision.

Is the risk worth the reward? I think not.

Hardly one worth ripping on second down. Run to the pylon, eat it for a small gain if it comes to that and live to play another down.

Okay Joe, we get it, but has he improved?

In a word? Yes.

2016: Lynch has an easy completion here if he just leads his receiver.
2017: Great job throwing DT into space here.

It’s still a bit more hit and miss than I’d like to see, but Lynch clearly improved from his rookie season to last year as far as leading receivers in routes. It does seem like he’s uncomfortable throwing into cluttered spaces, but it’s a noticeable improvement from his rookie season. The hope has to be that he continues to iron this out though, as the Kansas City game still had a few too many of these:

Lynch loses a lot of his ability to place the ball when he doesn’t step into his throws. Look at that space if only the receiver had caught it on the move.

The good news is that anticipation and placement should continue to improve a bit as Lynch spends time throwing and studying tape. What’s more, it’s a strength of Case Keenum’s game.

Another area that Lynch should continue to improve in year 3 is his ability to read the coverage and maintain his mechanics. His footwork was good, when he didn’t get lazy. Some of this was also due to pressure, as Paxton rarely stepped up if he had bodies near his legs, instead choosing to throw with his arm. I do have some concerns that this is just a part of his game. Brady, for example still gets a bit flustered if he’s pressured. He’s adapted by mastering pre-snap adjustments and reading the defenses to get the ball out. Lynch has a long way to go in this regard, obviously.

Adapting to and evading pressure is clearly a strength of Keenum’s game, so perhaps Lynch can learn a trick or two here as well. One thing to keep in mind though: Jim Sorgi sat behind Peyton Manning for years and it didn’t do much for him, so don’t expect miracles.

With all these concerns, why should fans hold out hope?

The Tools

There are some nice shiny flashes of brilliance among the rubble of 2017.

This was by far my favorite play from the Oakland game. Demaryius Thomas’ crosser forces a linebacker into isolation on Devontae Booker’s wheel route and Lynch his him effortlessly. Notice how smoothly Lynch transitions his weight off his backfoot as he completes his throwing motion. That’s ideal.

Clean pocket, clean set up, clean delivery. Squeekin’ here.

The ball placement on this throw is fantastic. There’s little a defender can do against a throw on the money like this.

Deep outs and comebacks are really tough to defend when they’re on the money like this.

In an ideal world, Lynch can develop into the kind of player that can hit plays like the three above as well as the slants and crossers he’s improved at AND add cluttered plays into his repertoire. If he can do that and find a way to better handle the pass rush, Elway may yet have something.

As it stands, the Broncos are wise to hold onto their 2016 first rounder for the remainder of his rookie deal. There’s very little to lose and the team isn’t going to find anything close to return on the pick now. Lynch has shown enough to see if he can slowly develop into something worth re-signing in 2020, even if it’s as a backup QB.