To say nobody saw DeShone Kizer‘s rise coming is an understatement. Even DeShone Kizer didn’t see DeShone Kizer coming.
Kizer’s journey has long been memorialized, a storyline that would’ve been too cliche for another TV series or movie set in the world of football. Except we saw it happen firsthand thanks to Showtime’s documentary series, with Kizer living the dream, the anonymous backup, who considered giving up the sport last spring, to a starter with an almost certain NFL future. His 2015 season all but upending a depth chart that seemed to just come into place.
Still locked into a competition with Malik Zaire that’ll head into fall camp, Kizer’s impressive debut season makes him the frontrunner to pilot the Irish offense in 2016. It’s a high-stakes decision that might be the most intriguing position battle in the country.
6’4.5″, 230 lbs.
Junior, No. 14, QB
A four-star prospect who fell just shy of elite, Kizer never earned a coveted offer from Ohio State and Urban Meyer, but did have plenty of other impressive ones, including Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Nebraska and Penn State.
Kizer wasn’t Notre Dame’s first choice at the position. But he camped in South Bend and earned an offer after throwing for the coaching staff, one that looks quite prescient after his sparkling debut season.
Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserved a year of eligibility.
Sophomore Season (2015): Started 11 games after replacing Malik Zaire against Virginia. Named the team’s Newcomer of the Year after throwing for 2,884 yards and completing 63 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Ran for 520 yards, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Who saw that coming? Needless to say the program took a major pivot when Kizer performed like a seasoned veteran in his first year of play.
With Golson gone, the development calendar for the quarterback depth chart has just been accelerated. And for Kizer, that might actually be a good thing. The battle between Kizer and Wimbush is one that’ll likely dictate the future of the Irish football program, as the starting job feels firmly in the grasp of Zaire.
But if Notre Dame chooses to punt on recruiting a 2016 quarterback—and that currently looks like the case—this is shaking out to be a battle between Wimbush and Kizer to see who inherits the program from Zaire, potentially three seasons from now.
On paper, Wimbush is the flashier prospect and the odds-on-favorite. But if we’ve learned anything over the past decade watching Notre Dame football, a recruiting ranking and prep status means nothing once a quarterback gets on campus.
So while the preference is to keep a redshirt on Wimbush, it’s Kizer’s job to stay in the No. 2 slot, knowing that future battles will take place from now until after the Zaire era is over.
I think Kizer’s a first-rounder waiting to happen. You don’t take a skill-set like the one he has—NFL frame, big arm, more than capable runner and disposition of a CEO—and not see the sky as the limit.
Kizer’s next step needs to be more than just winning a job. (If I were a betting man, he’d be where I’d put my money, even if I’m a tremendous fan of Zaire’s game, leadership and competitiveness.)
Another season working with Brian Kelly and Mike Sanford should have Kizer excelling, building on his debut campaign with better numbers, more accurate passing and better decision making. The good games and epic comebacks showed a QB who was unflappable in the big moment. But the room for improvement is evident, especially considerable struggles in the red zone and some difficulties against good defenses.
I’m uncomfortable calling this quarterback race in mid-July, mostly out of respect for both competitors. But if Kelly is truly picking one guy to pilot the offense, I think he’ll choose Kizer.
If he does, he’ll likely be rewarded for that decision. There shouldn’t be regression in Kizer’s game. And even if he lost America’s most dangerous deep weapon, there’ll be plenty of fireworks coming from the Irish offense, whoever catches the passes.
While mock drafts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on (and who prints things these days?), Kizer is a draft eligible quarterback who will likely put up monster numbers. Add to that his NFL body and intangibles, and it’s not unrealistic that Notre Dame fans might be playing a stay-or-go game with Kizer after this season. We’ve long speculated that the QB losing this starting job might leave via transfer. But it’s not crazy to think the NFL might be calling, reopening the starting job for another battle.
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