6’4” 233 lbs
QB, Notre Dame
21 years old on draft day
Games watched: Ohio State (2015), Texas, Miami, and Syracuse (2016)
Since taking over the starting job in 2015, Deshone Kizer has been a mystifying prospect. I believe that this is due to Kizer’s inconsistency along with the feeling of uncertainty around the entire offense and the losing atmosphere created by Head Coach Brian Kelly. Over the course of a month, Kizer would put together one of his best performances as well as an outing that resulted in him being benched with two stops somewhere in between. To be straightforward, he has the tools needed to play quarterback in the NFL, but there are also several negatives that rear their grisly heads far too often.
Kizer made 25 starts over two seasons at Notre Dame. He stepped in for an injured Malik Zaire in 2015 and won the starting job prior to the 2016 season opener. He completed 60.7% of his passes for 5,805 yards. He threw 47 touchdowns to 19 interceptions. He was also responsible for 997 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.
When you look at Kizer, you see a prototypical NFL quarterback from a height-weight-build perspective. He measured 6’4” tall and weighed 233 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine. At that size, he has the ideal frame to survive in an NFL pocket. Along with prototypical size, Kizer has average on-field athleticism. His combine numbers were less than impressive, but he is athletic enough to win with his feet on game day. He has enough arm talent to drive the ball downfield, zip passes into tight windows and uses touch when needed to make sure his passes are routinely catchable.
Kizer played in a spread offense at Notre Dame. Typically, the biggest problem with spread quarterbacks is that their offense is often built around key reads instead of progressions. In an offense with key reads, the offense isolates one defender with routes in front of and behind him and the quarterback takes whatever the defender gives him. Notre Dame’s spread offense is different in that Kizer actually has a set of progressions. The first play of the game against Syracuse this is a good example. He goes through his progressions while side-stepping the pressure then makes the correct throw. It’s nice to see him not immediately take the check-down at the first sign of pressure.
Kizer shows poise and confidence in the pocket the majority of the time. His feet stay active. When a quarterback has active feet, their feet are light and quick to move rather than moving too much or not enough. Occasionally, in a clean pocket, everything comes together, and his upper and lower body sync up. He does not quit when he is under pressure. He is not afraid to shuffle side to side or climb the pocket to avoid pressure, and he is usually quick to reset his feet before throwing. Even under pressure, Kizer keeps his eyes up and continues through his progressions. On this play against Syracuse, Kizer stays in the pocket and delivers a strike. He doesn’t see the pressure, but you can tell by the way he ducks out of his follow through that he felt the pressure, but he hung in there and it resulted in a big play.
However, he missed a golden opportunity for a big play on 3rd down versus Texas because he bailed out of the pocket, dropped his eyes, and took away any chance for a 3rd down conversion. If Kizer either doesn’t bail at the first sign of pressure or keeps his eyes up as he tries to avoid pressure, he would have noticed Tarean Folston pop open at the top of the screen. It should have been an easy catch and run for Folston. The Texas cornerback covering Folston (never took his eyes off Kizer) knows he was beat, but at the same time, he realized that Kizer didn’t give himself any chance to attempt a pass after leaving the pocket. The result of this play should have been the same as the play above. When he does everything correctly and gives himself a chance to throw on the run, he does it pretty well.
Kizer has solid mechanics, throwing from the ground up, following through with his arm and his back foot but he has a bit of an inconsistent wind-up. It’s nitpicking, but there are times where his wind-up and delivery are nice and compact and there are other times where he dips the ball too low and it results in a more looping motion. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for this. He does it with throws at all three levels so it should be easily fixable. He needs to improve his timing and anticipation on certain throws. In 2016, Kizer was guilty of waiting too long and throwing to a receiver coming back towards him rather than anticipating where the receiver will be and throwing to a spot instead. In 2015, Kizer was much better. On this throw vs Ohio State, the ball is out of his hand and nearly halfway to Will Fuller when he settles after breaking off his route. Fuller’s route created 3 yards of separation and Kizer threw on-time and to a spot and that allowed Fuller to break free. This season, Kizer had a tendency to wait too long, allowing cornerbacks to close the gap and make the tackle. Yes, this was mostly Will Fuller being Will Fuller, but Kizer’s anticipation was the difference in a 12-yard gain and an 81-yard touchdown.
Kizer also forces throws from time to time, but fortunately, his ball placement is good enough that it eliminates some of the issues that come with forced throws. It looks like some of these forced throws happen because of the amount of trust he has in his receivers. He knows he can get away with it because they are going to do their part to come down with the ball.
On throws of 0-10 yards, Kizer is virtually automatic, but the further downfield the throw, the more work it needs. He is able to put both good touch and zip on throws from 11-20 yards and he’s able to determine which each throw needs. Throws of 20 yards or more become more inaccurate, but driving the ball downfield and being on time with the ball aren’t an issue. Kizer has the arm talent to make every NFL throw but doesn’t consistently make them on tape.
When necessary, Kizer can be an imposing runner, and his rushing stats are proof that he can make plays with his feet when the protection fails. However, he does not rely on his feet like Lamar Jackson does.
The closer Kizer is to the end zone the more of a weapon his legs become. His 10 rushing touchdowns in 2015 are a record for Notre Dame quarterbacks. He followed that up with 8 in 2016.
One of the biggest knocks on DeShone Kizer is that he did not prove that he was a winner at Notre Dame. In 2015, Kizer went 8-3 as a starter and those 3 losses came to teams that finished 2, 3, and 4 in the final AP Poll. The 2016 season was not as kind. Kizer finished 4-8 and completed just 58.7% of his passes. As Daniel Jeremiah pointed out, of the 32 starting QBs in the NFL, only two – Jay Cutler and Trevor Siemian – had a losing record and completed less than 60% of their passes in their final season of college football.
I have flip-flopped back and forth between Kizer and Deshaun Watson as my QB1 in the 2017 NFL Draft. Going into the NFL Scouting Combine, I had Kizer atop the rankings and thought I would be alone, but as it turned out, that was actually a rather popular opinion. Now, a week after the Combine, I have Watson ahead of Kizer again.
Like most, I think Kizer could have benefited from another year in school, but who’s to say that the ridiculous situation at Notre Dame would have improved any. He would not have been platooning with Malik Zaire any longer, but he would have likely been in the same situation with Brandon Wimbush instead. Brian Kelly did not do Kizer any favors during the 2016 season and there is no reason to think that would have changed in 2017.
Kizer has all of the tools needed to become an NFL starter but his landing spot and whether or not that team has the right QB coach will be key to his development. His 2015 tape is much better than his 2016 tape. In 2016, he struggled to put it all together except for games versus Texas and Syracuse. He would do just enough to show you what he is capable of and then do something to get benched. Even more than his inability to string together consistent outings, his decision making could be the reason he fails. It is not just about making the correct decision, but making the correct decision quickly enough for the opportunity to be there still and the play to still be alive. NFL quarterbacks make their money from knowing when and how to fit throws into tight windows. Kizer is capable of that, but is he capable of being consistent?