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A look at Kizer’s fall from top pick to possibly the top pick … of the second round


The NFL Draft consumes football conversation this time of year for one reason: There is not much else going on in the football universe. Similarly, college fans overanalyze each school’s recruiting class throughout January. What else are they supposed to do?

The elongated and unnecessary conversation about former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer’s professional future can finally come to a close in two weeks, less than that if he is fortunate enough to be selected in next Thursday’s first round. (The second and third rounds are Friday night, the 28th. Even the most pessimistic views mentioned here and anywhere else do not have Kizer lasting into the weekend.)

Until then, reviews of Kizer remain pertinent. Fortunately for this space’s sanity, next week will be spent with a stronger focus on next Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. The lack of new material about the current Irish certainly has not slowed the inane exercise of trying to get into the minds of NFL front office decision makers.

For now, though, let’s indulge. It’s a holiday weekend, after all—Indulging is what is done on holiday weekends. Note: None of the below is meant to reopen conversation of Notre Dame’s disappointing 2016 season. That has been done plenty. These comments concern where Kizer may end up in two weeks and why. Discussions of any positive or negative effects Irish coach Brian Kelly may or may not have had on Kizer are moot. Kizer is what he is right now. That, and what he could theoretically become, is all NFL teams are concerned about.

There was a time when Kizer was not only a first-round lock, but likely a pick early in the night, when the draft still holds wide interest. Monday’s rendition of the Ringer NFL Show podcast featured a conversation between host Robert Mays and Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network. Jeremiah aptly summarized the peak of Kizer’s draft prospects.

“I came into the fall with him as my top quarterback,” Jeremiah said. “…I went to the Notre Dame-Texas game. I left the stadium, and I think I wrote about it after the game. I said, I think he’s the favorite for the Heisman Trophy, I think he’s the best quarterback in this draft class. … In my mind, I thought he had a chance to be the No. 1 overall pick. Then it just went downhill quick.”

Before delving into Jeremiah’s examples of Kizer’s slide downhill, let’s jump to now. Where does he stand currently? One mock draft this week projected he would go No. 13 to the Arizona Cardinals. That’s convenient, considering Kizer commented Tuesday about his visit to the Cardinals.

“It was a pretty routine trip,” Kizer said. “All these different trips are all important for showing who you are as a quarterback, looking forward, once again, to seeing what team ends up taking me.

“Obviously, they’re the No. 13 pick. It’d be an awesome situation if I can go learn behind a guy like [Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer] for a year.”

Both 12 picks and one pick ahead of the Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns also need a quarterback.’s Andy Benoit sees Kizer’s experience in a pro-style passing system as fitting well with the Browns’ scheme, but likely not so high as the No. 12 pick.

“What if he’s still on the board when they open the second round with the 33rd overall pick? This would be a nice fit,” Benoit writes.

From being in the conversation for the top overall pick to start September to possibly being the top pick of the second round leading into the draft? Downhill does seem accurate.

“You can find excuses in there for him, when you talk about your center is gone, your left tackle is gone, your No. 1 receiver is gone,” Jeremiah said, referring to Nick Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, respectively. “He played an awful weather game, on and on and on, dropped passes, this that and the other. But there’s also plenty of blame you can throw on his shoulders just in terms of locking on receivers, not truly being accurate. He has to shoulder some blame for that.”

Despite all those excuses and criticisms, Jeremiah remained high on one of Kizer’s skills, a rather important skill for an NFL quarterback.

“Then, I just thought, one thing I know about him is he is an outstanding thrower, but the rest of it we can work through,” Jeremiah said. “He is an outstanding thrower.”

Then Kizer went to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, and Jeremiah took to questioning even that one paramount talent.

“I don’t care about connecting on balls down the field to receivers you’ve never seen before,” Jeremiah said. “But there were more than a few curl routes … he was just bailing all over the place. You sit there and go, okay, he’s under 60 percent. That’s not a great predicator for guys going forward.”

Per Jeremiah, only two of last season’s NFL starters had losing records in their final year of college and completed fewer than 60 percent of their passes: Jay Cutler and Trevor Siemian, not exactly high-water comparisons.

Comparisons among his draft competitors are not inherently flattering, either. Pro Football Focus ranks Kizer the No. 17 of 25 quarterbacks in this draft class when it comes to overall passing. He is No. 18 in adjusted completion percentage, No. 20 in the short-range passing game, and No. 18 in both deep passes and handling of blitzes. Aside from handling the subsequent pressure well (No. 4), Kizer does not rate particularly highly in any of Pro Football Focus’s rankings. (There are worse ways to spend three-to-five minutes than reading through this Pro Football Focus chart.)

Pro Football Focus grades only tangible factors, on-field performance. It does not consider the more abstract concepts. Obviously, NFL teams do, and those evaluations are not sky-high, either, as one AFC head coach told’s Albert Breer.

“He’s got the size, the arm talent, and he’s very bright,” Breer reports being told. “Bu there’s a disconnect there. There are diva qualities there, and he seems to get voices in his head, like he’s fighting who he is. And once the cycle starts, he can’t get himself right.”

All these concerns—perhaps made more apparent by Notre Dame’s 4-8 season, but likely to be discovered at some point in the draft process no matter 2016’s results—have led to Kizer’s slide, maybe all the way out of the first round no matter who has picks where. But what if the Cardinals could find a way to grab him in the second round? Carson Palmer has at least a couple seasons left in his arm, provided he can protect his knees moving forward.

Then Kizer may have a chance to follow a path Jeremiah projected as ideal.

“If you can rebuild [Kizer’s confidence], if you can rebuild him from the floor in terms of some of the footwork that fell off, man, he could be really, really good. He’s what you want from the size and arm talent standpoint.”

Just like with 18-year-old recruits each February, only time will tell how Kizer fares. Two weeks from now, this projection and analysis can fade away into watching that figurative pot of talent, waiting for it to boil.

Editor’s Note: Consider this an entry in the “Friday at 4” genre. It did not seem fitting to post a piece at 3 p.m. CT on Good Friday ending with some vague reference to enjoying the weekend.

A quick breakdown of Notre Dame’s defensive roster

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Following a week of moves to and from Notre Dame’s roster, most notably — certainly most positively — on the defensive side, a quick look at the numbers at each position can shine a light on the months to come. Just like last week’s brief glance at the offense, the order of this listing is not intended to stake a stance on positional competitions. (In other words, it doesn’t try to figure out the mess at safety.)

For the time being, the years listed remain those currently. There is no clean date to transition forward a grade in this space. Thus, when senior linebacker Drue Tranquill’s name shows up, it is because he will be around yet in 2018. This is intended to aid conversations and debates in-person and online as they pertain to the coming season. Looks further ahead with thoughts on eligibility concerns will be more focused at some point in the coming offseason.

One last note: In looking at the linebackers, do not be surprised if the experience gap is filled by Tranquill and rover becomes even more of a matchup-based concept. Spring practice should shed some light on that possibility.

As of this morning, the Irish roster has 84 names on it, expecting at least three more commitments by Feb. 7, if not a graduate transfer or two. As always, the NCAA allows a maximum of 85 come fall.

Defensive end (7):
So. Daelin Hayes
Sr. Jay Hayes
So. Khalid Kareem
So. Julian Okwara
So. Ade Ogundeji
Fr. Kofi Wardlow
Inc. fr. Justin Ademilola

Defensive tackle (8):
Jr. Jerry Tillery
Sr. Jonathan Bonner
Fr. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa
Fr. Kurt Hinish
Fr. Darnell Ewell
Jr. Micah Dew-Treadway
Inc. fr. Ja’Mion Franklin
Inc. fr. Jayson Ademilola

Linebacker (8):
Jr. Te’von Coney
So. Jonathan Jones
So. Jamir Jones
Early-enrolled fr. Jack Lamb
Early-enrolled fr. Bo Bauer
Fr. Drew White
Fr. David Adams
Early-enrolled fr. Ovie Oghoufo

Rover (4):
Sr. Drue Tranquill
Jr. Asmar Bilal
Fr. Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah
Inc. fr. Shayne Simon

Cornerback (7):
So. Julian Love
Jr. Shaun Crawford
Sr. Nick Watkins
So. Troy Pride
So. Donte Vaughn
Inc. fr. Tariq Bracy
Inc. fr. Joe Wilkins, Jr.

Safety (11):
So. Alohi Gilman
Jr. Nick Coleman
Inc. fr. Derrik Allen
Early-enrolled fr. Houston Griffith
So. Jalen Elliott
So. Devin Studstill
Fr. Jordan Genmark-Heath
Fr. Isaiah Robertson
Jr. Nicco Fertitta
So. D.J. Morgan
Inc. fr. Paul Moala

Stepherson may get the headlines, but loss of two RBs will cost Notre Dame most

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Notre Dame split with four players Tuesday night, two of them having a more noticeable ripple effect than the others.

Kevin Stepherson’s Irish career coming to a premature conclusion became an inevitability in December. The sophomore receiver forced the issue with back-to-back legal missteps underscoring a disregard for what must have already been a zero-tolerance situation. Though unproven, Notre Dame has a litany of options to replace Stepherson’s big-play potential.

To be blunt, the Irish will hardly notice Brandon Tiassum’s absence on the field in 2018. The junior defensive tackle was passed on the depth chart by two freshmen this past fall, and a few more newcomers may have pushed him further from playing time between now and Sept. 1.

But in losing two running backs — current sophomore Deon McIntosh and freshman C.J. Holmes — from the roster, Notre Dame will have to make some adjustments. If health were guaranteed the two remaining known commodities at the position, then the absences of McIntosh and Holmes could be written off with only a bit more consternation than Tiassum’s. At running back, though, health is not guaranteed. It is, in fact, rare.

Between junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones, the Irish have the makings of a top-flight backfield. Williams has an abundance of playmaking ability, if lacking as both a receiver and a blocker, while Jones excels in those latter two capacities and can pick up chunks of yardage simply by bowling over defenders. But, at some point in the next 11 months, at least one of the two will be hampered. Maybe yet another ankle will turn balky. Maybe Williams’ quad will seize up again. Perhaps something more severe will befall one of, if not both, Notre Dame’s lead backs.

At that point, as the roster is currently, only early-enrolled freshman Jahmir Smith will be available. That will not be enough.

A year ago, the Irish entered spring practice with known-stalwart Josh Adams, Williams and Jones ready to go. Holmes had enrolled early. Those four were expected to be the running back corps. Then Holmes injured his shoulder early in the spring. The idea of only three healthy running backs was such an uncomfortable thought, the coaching staff opted to move McIntosh to the backfield from receiver.

Sophomore Deon McIntosh finished 2017 with 368 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries, a 5.7 yards per rush average. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As anyone who watched the latter half of the 2017 season will attest, it was a good thing they did.

How Notre Dame goes about finding a fourth back this year will sort itself out only with time. Some will bandy about the thought of moving three-star cornerback Tariq Bracy to the offensive backfield. He excelled both as a running back and a cornerback in high school, and the Irish have depth at the latter position these days. Bracy is certainly a possibility.

The fringe will posit this is a prime opportunity to move junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush away from taking snaps. That concept will not and should not be considered for even the five seconds it took to read that sentence.

Most likely — perhaps in combination with turning to Bracy or another, less obvious suspect — Notre Dame is already urgently looking for a second running back in this recruiting class. Finding one will be easier suggested than executed, and doing so will likely take away from adding at another position.

The Irish currently have 22 commitments in this class, 21 signed and consensus three-star offensive tackle Luke Jones (Pulaski Academy; Little Rock, Ark.) ready to do so in February. They were likely planning to reel in another offensive lineman, another defensive back and a receiver with the remaining three spots in the class.

For example, four-star/ five-star offensive tackle Nick Petit-Frere (Berkeley Prep; Tampa, Fla.), consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin (H.D. Woodson High School; Washington, D.C.) and consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys (McDonogh 35; New Orleans, La.). There are a litany of other permutations of that combination, but the point stands. Adding a running back to that limited capacity will take away from somewhere else.

RELATED READING: With four spots remaining, what recruits is Notre Dame still chasing? (Dec. 23)

Notre Dame does theoretically have the option to exceed 25 recruits in the class by counting some of the newly-arrived seven early enrollees toward last year’s recruit class numbers. It is essentially a known loophole within NCAA rules, but that theory is unlikely to become reality.

In the long view, it could create an exacerbated roster crunch in years to come. That algebra is constantly shifting. Exceeding 25 players in this class would also necessitate four recruiting successes in an abbreviated period with a shallow pool of prospects remaining after the early signing period.

Thus, the odds stand at slim of the Irish coaching staff exceeding 25 signees in this class, meaning Jones plus only three more Feb. 7. With Tuesday’s churn, a running back will likely be one of those three, and thus another position will not be.

Losing McIntosh and Holmes drains Notre Dame’s running back depth in 2018. It also shifts, ever so slightly-yet-noticeably, the roster in the years immediately afterward.

Kevin Stepherson, three others no longer on Notre Dame roster

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Irish head coach Brian Kelly and Notre Dame parted ways with four underclassmen Tuesday, in a move only partially-expected. Sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson, sophomore running back Deon McIntosh, freshman running back C.J. Holmes and junior defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum are no longer part of the team, a University spokesperson confirmed.

Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated first reported the dismissals. The spring semester began Tuesday.

Stepherson’s departure, at least, was widely-expected after a December weekend of bad decisions brought his count of mishaps to four during his brief Irish career and induced an indefinite suspension. The lesser of those transgressions came with Holmes at his side, as the duo was charged with shoplifting from a nearby mall. Stepherson was also charged with possession of marijuana, speeding and driving without a valid license. Back in August of 2016, he was one of five players charged with marijuana possession, though no suspension came from that issue.

Following the shoplifting incident but before the additional Stepherson charges had come to light, Kelly expressed distinct disappointment in the choice made on a Friday night.

“You can’t steal, and they did,” he said. “I can tolerate a lot of things, but I can’t tolerate stealing. That’s why they’re suspended indefinitely and they put themselves in jeopardy.”

Kelly said he did hope to keep the players, specifically Stepherson, eligible so if they were removed from the team a transfer may be in their futures.

“If I wasn’t to have him back in the football program we want him to maintain his eligibility here so he can transfer to another program,” Kelly said.

Sophomore Deon McIntosh provided crucial depth for Notre Dame as ankle sprains limited juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

McIntosh was sent home from Orlando during Citrus Bowl preparations due to a violation of team rules. Tiassum’s exit will be a question for the time being, with no public knowledge of any issues.

While long-presumed, the loss of Stepherson still bears the most notice. When engaged, he was Notre Dame’s most explosive receiver, finishing 2017 with 359 yards and five touchdowns on 19 catches in only eight games, with genuine offensive involvement in only six. He caught 25 passes for 462 yards and five scores in his freshman season.

Cutting ties with both McIntosh and Holmes comes as a bit more of a surprise and will cut deep into the Irish running back depth. As ankle injuries limited the running game mainstays, McIntosh provided a reserve option, finishing the year with 368 yards and five touchdowns on 65 carries, a 5.7 yards per rush average. Holmes was activated to further counteract the injury concerns. If McIntosh were banged up, Notre Dame theoretically had one more option. He finished with eight carries for 32 yards.

Without the two backups, the Irish have only three running backs currently on the roster in junior Dexter Williams, sophomore Tony Jones and early-enrolled Jahmir Smith. Williams and Jones were likely to remain the top two on the depth chart, mitigating McIntosh and Holmes again, but the depth is always crucial at running back, as 2017 certainly proved.

Tiassum was unlikely to see much playing time in the future thanks to the returns of junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery and senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner announced Monday and Tuesday, respectively. Tiassum made two tackles in 2017.

Bonner’s decision to return brought the Irish roster up to 87 players with three spots open in the current recruiting cycle. That count had already presumed Stepherson off the roster. Thus, this development drops that number to 84, including committed consensus three-star offensive tackle Luke Jones. The NCAA maximum allowed come fall is 85.

Notre Dame returns entire defensive line with DT Bonner’s fifth-year decision

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Notre Dame’s defensive line will return intact in 2018. Irish head coach Brian Kelly confirmed senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner has changed his mind and will return for a fifth season Tuesday.

ND Insider’s Eric Hansen first reported Bonner’s shift.

In November, Bonner told Notre Dame’s independent student newspaper, The Observer, he did not intend to take a fifth year. Bonner later announced his mother had been diagnosed with cancer, lending some context to his decision to cut short his football career.

Apparently some combination of the decisions to return from junior linebacker Te’von Coney and junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, the 2018 defense’s potential and whatever other factors led Bonner to make a last-minute return to school. First-time defensive coordinator Clark Lea is certainly grateful.

Bonner provided consistent production in the defensive interior in 2017, finishing the season with 30 tackles, 3.5 for loss with two sacks. In his first three years with the Irish, Bonner hardly broke into the rotation. Suddenly, he was a force at the point of attack and held his own no matter the opponent.

Building upon that moving forward seems likely considering Bonner will not need to shoulder as much of the load. Freshmen Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa will have a greater role with another year under his belt, not to mention freshmen Kurt Hinish and Darnell Ewell. An increased rotation will benefit all involved.

At this point, the only contributing defensive lineman lost from 2017 will be end Andrew Trumbetti, out of eligibility. He split time with classmate Jay Hayes, so it can be argued the entire starting defensive line returns. A year ago, that unit was seen as a weakness, but it established itself as a strength as the season went on.

Bonner’s addition brings the running count on Notre Dame’s roster to 87 players, not counting three more possible commits in the incoming freshman class. The NCAA maximum is 85.