The NFL Draft, 365 Days a Year

2014 NFL Draft “First Look”: Aaron Lynch, DE, USF

As we march toward the start of the 2013 college football season, the NFL Draft scouting community continues to work to obtain a baseline understanding of the eligible prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft.

One of the toughest challenges that an evaluator faces is the assessment of a prospect who is coming back after a year away from the game.  Whether due to injury or transfer rules, players that miss the most recent season of action require a combination of film study and overall “gut feeling” when projecting their likely draft value at the start of the new year.

Aaron Lynch is a perfect example of this conundrum.

After an impressive freshman season at Notre Dame, Lynch decided to transfer to USF and return to his home state of Florida.  As a result, he was forced to sit out the 2012 college football season.  Had he played last year in South Bend (and repeated his 2011 performance), it’s conceivable that we’d be talking about him in the same breath as Jadeveon Clowney.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of reviewing 2012 tape.  As a result, this edition of the First Look series will focus on the skill-set that Lynch displayed vs. Michigan State and Florida State in 2011.

Before diving into Lynch’s performance on the field, it’s worth noting that he was one of the nation’s top recruits after a successful high school career at Island Coast High School in Cape Coral, Florida.  It’s not surprising that Lynch decided to return home and play for USF, as his debate to stay in state was evident during his recruiting.  Lynch had de-committed to Notre Dame for Florida State before finally deciding to become a member of the Fighting Irish.

As a freshman in South Bend, Lynch measured in at 6’6″ and 270 lbs.  He’s reportedly dropped 25 lbs and will be playing closer to 250 this year.  In 2011, he managed to make an immediate impact with a team-leading 5.5 sacks to go along with 7 tackles for loss.  He also led the team in quarterback hurries (14) while only starting six contests.

He ended the season as a First Team Freshman All-American.

Since we are nearly two years removed from Lynch’s last action on the field, this First Look piece will be somewhat shorter than the others.  The following  is an assessment of Lynch’s game.

STRENGTHS:

Aaron Lynch presents as an athletic, long, physically gifted defensive end prospect.  His height and overall length are ideal for the position, and his ability to change directions and close on the ball carrier is rare for a man his size.  Lynch flashed an array of pass rush moves, most notably a swim move that at times caused the opposing lineman to whiff on his assignment.  Lynch possesses an impressive first step and initial burst at the snap of the ball followed by some of the best hands of all the defensive ends FRG scouting has reviewed so far. He consistently uncoils his arms and gets to the offensive lineman’s chest, thereby controlling the action and dictating the play.  Versus the run, Lynch displayed equal ability in both anchoring against plays run to his side as well as in backside pursuit when the action went away from him.  His long stride and coordinated feet keep him involved in the play regardless of where the ball is going.  Lynch showcased a club and rip, bull rush, and the aforementioned swim move in his attempt to get to the passer, and kept the offensive tackle on his heels.  Lynch is effective as a speed rusher, as he consistently challenged the offensive tackle to the edge.  His hand usage, leverage, and constantly moving feet allow him to be an effective bull/power rusher as well (although it’s not his primary trait.)

WEAKNESSES:

Lynch can get sloppy at times as evidenced by jumping offsides and some after-the-whistle nonsense.  He needs to keep his emotions in check; the only person that might be able to stop him on Saturdays is the ref.  Lynch is a high-motor player (a plus), but he must learn to play smart as well as play with energy and intensity.  It’s a bit concerning that he wasn’t able to leave home and remain committed to Notre Dame, as the odds are stacked against him playing professionally in Florida.  You have to wonder if he will be able to adjust to professional football in a ‘foreign’ city without the support system that he clearly needs and relies on.  As a football player, he has very few (if any) glaring weaknesses.  At this point in his evaluation, the greatest concern would be in the character department (not because he’s a bad guy, but rather because of the questions surrounding his ability to transition to life outside of his comfort zone.)

OVERALL:

Aaron Lynch is as impressive of a player as I’ve seen so far this preseason.  Unfortunately, the tape study isn’t deep enough to say with absolute confidence where his value currently stands.  That said, and projecting with a bit of ‘gut feeling’, Lynch showcased enough elite, rare traits for a defensive end prospect to safely assume that he is a top-10 talent that could ultimately challenge Jadeveon Clowney as the best defensive prospect in the country.  Lynch projects as the ideal pass rushing prospect for a 43 front.  He will be lighter in 2013 than his playing weight on his 2011 film, but I don’t see him as a 34 OLB at this time.

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