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Stick a fork in Paxton Lynch.
The 2016 first-round pick might be only 24 years old, but he has become a bust.
The quarterback had a chance to gain some redemption by performing well under little pressure in a backup role this offseason, but Lynch—who lost starting competitions to a seventh-round pick in 2016 and 2017—was demoted Monday to the Denver Broncos’ third-team offense.
Lynch was bumped behind 2017 seventh-round pick Chad Kelly two days after he completed just six of 11 passes for 24 yards with an interception against the Minnesota Vikings’ second-team defense in the teams’ preseason opener. Five months ago, the Broncos all but gave up on Lynch as a potential starter when they handed free-agent quarterback Case Keenum a two-year, $36 million contract.
Now the Memphis product is on track to lose a camp battle to an unproven seventh-round pick for the third consecutive offseason after 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian won the starting job in 2016 and 2017.
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He is in jeopardy of being released, and precedents suggest the rest of the league should stay away.
By combing through a Pro Football Reference search of quarterbacks drafted in the first round since the 1970 merger, we identified 18 players who failed to become regular starters in their first three seasons. It looks as though Lynch will become the 19th member of that group.
Only two of those 17 quarterbacks became even remotely successful starters: Aaron Rodgers and Jim Harbaugh. Rodgers backed up Brett Favre during the first three seasons of his career, while Harbaugh was stuck behind established veterans Jim McMahon and Mike Tomczak. And while Harbaugh was a solid starter with the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, he made just one Pro Bowl.
Marc Wilson, Mark Malone, Jack Thompson, Kelly Stouffer, Jim Druckenmiller and Steve Pisarkiewicz also had to wait for opportunities behind strong starters early in their careers. Rex Grossman (injuries), Todd Marinovich (substance abuse) and Art Schlichter (gambling) failed for various reasons.
Jim Kelly decided to start his career in the USFL and thus was excluded from our list.
That left seven other first-round quarterbacks similar to Lynch.
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Johnny Manziel: Like Lynch, the 2014 No. 22 overall pick had clear paths to starting roles in each of his first two seasons, but he failed to land those jobs. He still started eight games, and his numbers were similar to Lynch’s (74.4 passer rating compared to 76.7). But he hasn’t been on an NFL roster since.
Tommy Maddox: This probably represents the best-case scenario for Lynch. The 1992 No. 25 overall pick was traded to the Los Angeles Rams after two seasons behind John Elway, redeemed himself in the XFL years later and became a half-decent starter with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, he spent most of his 20s out of the NFL.
Dan McGwire: Like Maddox but unlike Lynch, the 1991 No. 16 overall pick started his career behind an established starter in Dave Krieg. Like Lynch, he was so bad in his first two seasons that his team felt the need to find another quarterback prior to his third season. The 1993 Seattle Seahawks drafted Rick Mirer second overall.
Jerry Tagge: The 11th pick of the 1972 draft started 12 games in three seasons with the Green Bay Packers and never played another NFL snap. But even he was Green Bay’s starter to kick off his third season.
Andre Ware: The seventh pick of the 1990 draft spent four seasons parked behind Rodney Peete and Erik Kramer with the Detroit Lions and never played another snap.
Rich Campbell: The 1981 No. 6 overall pick threw just 68 passes in four seasons with the Packers and did not start a game. He never played another snap.
John Reaves: The 14th overall pick in 1972 lost all seven of his starts in three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He stuck around for six more years elsewhere but as a backup.
Lynch has started four games, which gives him an edge over Ware, McGwire and Maddox, and it’s not as though his numbers—completion percentage of 61.7, four touchdowns, four interceptions and a conservative 6.2 yards per attempt—are terrible for a quarterback who was considered to be raw when he entered the league.
Now the Broncos’ general manager, Elway said in April the team wasn’t giving up on Lynch, but pride may be a factor because Elway drafted the guy just two years ago.
Lynch doesn’t deserve much more rope. He’s averaged a comical 3.3 yards per attempt in his last four preseason games, and three of his 45 regular-season throws were intercepted in 2017.
The team’s actions have spoken louder than Elway’s words. Paxton Lynch is toast.
Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.