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 SI.com 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. SI.com’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 SI.com’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.