Paxton Lynch and Greg Ward Jr.: Two QBs To Watch
Why are Paxton Lynch and Greg Ward Jr. playing so well? Is it because they play in the American Athletic Conference or because they play for Houston and Memphis? Either way, Lynch and Ward have gotten off to hot starts to begin the season and both have barely been noticed. So, what gives? Each of these players has a shot to be dark horse choices for the Heisman this season so you should know who they are.
Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
While Memphis took home a share of the American Athletic Conference title last season, they will be looking to claim the title for themselves this season, with Lynch leading the way. Memphis isn't known for being a traditional football power, but Lynch has done a good job of changing the way people think about the Tigers.
Last season was a bit of a coming out party for the signal caller, who ranked in the top-5 in nearly every passing category in the American. However, 2015 could be the year where he catches the eye of more than just his conference peers.
Lynch, who stands at 6'7" and weighs 240 pounds, looks the part of a future NFL QB. The best part is he plays like it too; his arm alone is enough to make him a Heisman candidate. In three of his last four games this season, he has thrown for over 350 yards and has a total of 1,230 yards (11th in FBS).
But what stands out is the touch and accuracy he displays in his passing game. Lynch ranks second in passing among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts, completing 73.5% of his attempts, and his 188.24 passer efficiency rating currently has him fifth in the nation. Yet, what is most impressive is his TD/INT ratio, which currently is eight to zero. He has really improved upon this stat since his freshman season when he threw only nine touchdowns, but 10 interceptions.
The lanky junior can run the ball too. He's not going to burn the defense, but he does have enough speed to get around the edge and pick up big yards when he must. Last season, he found the end zone 13 times on the ground (2nd in AAC). What his running ability also gives him is more time to make plays when blocking breaks down; his maneuverability around the pocket and ability to make throws outside the pocket give him an added advantage.
While Lynch already finds himself all over the Memphis school record book, this season could be the one where he gets more national recognition. His ability to command and excel in this Memphis offense had ESPN's Joe Tessitore calling him a Heisman candidate last week against Cincinnati. It may be early to say that, but Tessitore had good reason as Lynch threw for a career high 412 yards against a team that was projected to be the cream of the crop in the conference.
Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston
One of the most dynamic QBs this season, Greg Ward Jr., has certainly gotten off to a hot start. This is the first season in which Ward has played exclusively at QB after starting off last season as a wide receiver before making the switch in the team's fifth game against UCF.
Last season, Ward showed a lot of potential as a dual-threat QB, but left a lot to be desired. Now that he has former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman as his head coach, Ward has excelled right out of the gates.
Herman has mentored both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, both of whom were Heisman candidates, and looked brilliant running his offense. You can tell that Herman's tutelage has paid off for Ward so far this season. During Houston's 59-14 win over Texas State this season, the junior led the offense to gain 82.5% of its available yards in non-garbage time. To put that into perspective, the highest percentage of available yards gained by Houston's offense last season was 69.8 against Tulsa.
Ward is more of a traditional dual-threat QB, where his legs are a big part of the game and not just used as an escape mechanism. Through three games this season, the speedster has already gained 290 yards on the ground, which is already more than half of the 573 yards he totaled last season. The fact that he averages 6.44 yards per carry is more impressive, as it is the top mark in the conference for runners that have had 25 or more carries.
But Ward isn't all about the run, he can sling the pigskin around pretty well too. So far this season he has completed 75.3% of his passes, topping Lynch for the top mark in the conference and also ranking him third nationally. He's tallied 785 passing yards in the first three games, averaging 261.7 yards per game. Herman seems to have instilled a better sense of taking care of the ball and not making bad decisions, as Ward has only thrown one interception thus far. He can give you the playmaking ability of Johnny Manziel, but doesn't send the ball up with a hope and a prayer.
With the way that Ward can run Herman's offense, he is going to put up some nice numbers this season. He is a flat out play maker, and if the Cougars can keep winning, don't be surprised to see his name come up for postseason awards.