|Matt Flynn showed impressive toughness and mobility against a fierce Lions pass rush. (Getty Images)|
One of the hottest free agents on the market this year will be a quarterback who was a seventh-round draft pick and has thrown 132 passes in his four seasons in the NFL.
That's the question many scouts and personnel people are pondering as we close in on free agency. Do you pay him a big deal based on potential, rather than production?
"In my opinion, he's ready to be an NFL starter," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week at the scouting combine. "If I was a club and was looking for a good young quarterback, he's definitely someone I'd talk to."
Several teams are expected to consider making a move on Flynn. The Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns are two of them. Both will run systems similar to what Flynn ran in Green Bay.
After studying him closely, I think that's important.
I wanted to get a better gauge on Flynn, so I popped in the tape from his season-ending start against the Detroit Lions. The numbers said he was sensational.
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The tape said he was just good.
Flynn threw for a franchise-record 480 yards and six TDs in a 45-41 victory over the Lions, with the winning touchdown pass coming in the final two minutes.
Those numbers were a bit deceiving. He got 80 yards on a screen pass for a touchdown to Ryan Grant, which happened to be a great call that was blocked perfectly against a blitz. He also got a long touchdown to Jordy Nelson on a play that was a "free" one since the Lions had jumped offside. That meant there was little risk on the long throw.
That doesn't mean he didn't do some good things. He certainly did. There were times where I had to make sure it wasn't No. 12 (Rodgers) behind center rather than No. 10 (Flynn). He certainly mimics Rodgers in the way he hands the ball off, plays out his fakes and gets into his drops.
But the similarity ends when he throws the football. Rodgers has a rocket. Flynn's arm is decent -- not great.
It was a windy day when he played the Lions, so that had some impact on his throws, but I just didn't see the big arm. That would concern me if I were considering paying him.
There was some good and bad about his performance that day. Here's how I saw him in that game in a handful of categories.
Seeing the field is something he did impressively. On several throws, I could see him look to the right or to the left, and then come back to the opposite side to make a completion.
On a third-and-4 at the Detroit 20 in the first quarter, Flynn showed off his ability to influence a defense with his eyes. After taking the snap in the shotgun, he looked to his right where he had two receivers. Neither one was open, so in an instant he spun his head to the left and saw tight end Jermichael Finley in the middle of the field beating safety Amari Spievey. He hit him with a strike for 13 yards and a first down.
That type of field vision was something he seemed to have a good feel for. There were other times where he looked to the middle and came off of that receiver to make a throw to the outside.
I mentioned earlier that his arm wasn't great, but good enough. On his second snap of the game, he tried to throw deep to Nelson but the ball fluttered and fell short. The wind could have influenced that throw, although it was hard to tell. On the next play, he was sacked, fumbled and the Lions recovered.
But he did make two good throws deep for big plays that seemed to show his arm was capable of making all the throws.
The most impressive came on the final drive when he hit James Jones for a 40-yard play to set up the winning score. It was a play in which Flynn took the snap, looked to the middle first and then came off the middle receiver to the right, where he hit Jones with a perfect over-the-shoulder pass for a first-and-goal at the 6.
Earlier in the game, he made a dart-like throw to Nelson for a first down in the middle of the field.
The flip side is his lone interception, which shows some arm-strength issues. On that play, he took a snap out of the shotgun on first-and-10 from the Lions 38, faked a handoff to the back and looked for an instant to the right, before coming back to try and hit Nelson on a slant on the left side of the formation.
Lions corner Alphonso Smith, playing off-man, read it and jumped the route. With Rodgers, the ball gets there in time. With Flynn, it didn't and Smith picked it off.
Flynn did a nice job moving around to escape pressure, which was plentiful at times.
On a third-and-6 from his 46 in the first quarter, he took a snap in the shotgun with four receivers, two to each side. The Lions were in man coverage with a single-high safety. Flynn read that, but the receivers didn't win to get open.
Pressure started breaking down the pocket, so he moved away from it to his left. He kept his head up while moving and found Nelson breaking free and hit him for 18 yards. As he threw, Cliff Avril pounded him to the ground. That showed toughness.
Most young quarterbacks would run in that situation, but Flynn kept his head up and made a play.
This is a concern for me. Windows open and close quickly. A quarterback has to see the receiver coming open and anticipate the throws. You can't wait.
Too often, I thought Flynn waited for the receiver to come completely open. Even on one of his touchdown passes that was the case.
On that play, Green Bay had a second-and-7 from the Detroit 42. The Packers were in maximum protection, so it was a two-man route.
Flynn took the snap in the shotgun and looked to Nelson on the right side. Nelson faked a deep out and ran the post against Chris Houston in man coverage. He beat Houston with the fake, but Flynn held the ball too long. He allowed the safety to come over and get in the picture.
Even so, he was able to hit Nelson, who made a nice catch on a pass that wasn't entirely accurate. The delay in throwing allowed Houston to recover some and get back into the play. If the safety had played it better, the ball could have been picked off. Instead it was a 59-yard touchdown pass to help pad the stat line.
Anticipating receivers coming open is a tough hurdle for young quarterbacks. Flynn has to do better in that area. Time will help.
It wasn't great. It wasn't bad.
That makes him somewhat of a dicey proposition based on this game.
It certainly wasn't a performance as good as the numbers would indicate. Even his second-to-last touchdown was a bit of good fortune.
With two receivers to his right and Finley lined up in-line on the right side, Flynn took the snap in the shotgun on a third-and-8 at the Detroit 35. With Finley running a little curl in the middle of the field, Flynn looked to be throwing to him.
But as the ball was in the air, Donald Driver crossed in front of Finley and picked the ball out of the air and raced untouched into the end zone for a score.
The play may have been designed for that, but it was evident in the way the ball was delivered that Flynn was throwing to Finley and not Driver -- even if nobody will admit that.
Watching this game would leave me wanting more. And that's the problem, there isn't much more. He has just one other start, in 2010 against the Patriots. He put up good numbers that day, throwing for 251 yards and three touchdowns, but as this Lions game taught us numbers can be deceiving.
Signing him to a huge deal is essentially rolling the dice he can be a Super Bowl-quality starter.
The Lions game leaves that question, despite the gaudy numbers, still unanswered in my mind.