Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer to enter NFL draft as junior

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer declared for the NFL draft Monday, giving up his senior season and opening up the Fighting Irish's starting job next year for Brandon Wimbush.

Kizer put together a solid junior season for a disappointing Fighting Irish team that went 4-8 in 2016. He threw for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns, and rushed for 472 yards and eight touchdowns. He ranks among the most prolific players in Notre Dame history despite playing extensively in only 24 games over the past two seasons.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kizer could end up being the first quarterback selected in the draft in April.

Earlier this month, Malik Zaire, who served as backup to Kizer this season after competing for the starting job in the offseason, announced he was transferring from Notre Dame as a graduate student.

That leaves Wimbush as the most experienced quarterback on the roster. He was a highly recruited player out of New Jersey in 2015, and played sparingly this season for the Irish, completing 3 of 5 passes for 17 yards. Kizer thanked Notre Dame in a short video announcing his decision on Bleacher Report .

Kizer became the starter at Notre Dame early in the 2015 season after Zaire was injured against Virginia. In his first college action, Kizer led the Irish from behind for a victory against the Cavaliers with a late touchdown pass.

Zaire returned this season and he and Kizer had a tight competition in the spring and preseason. Coach Brian Kelly never did name a starter and both Kizer and Zaire were used in the team's opening night loss against Texas. Kizer was far more effective, but still Kelly would not commit.

Had some ups and downs, throwing eight interceptions, and was even benched for Zaire for some series during a 17-10 loss to Stanford in October.

''DeShone is an extremely gifted quarterback that was faced with a difficult decision,'' Kelly said. ''He could return as a senior captain at Notre Dame -- a place that he loves, and with a program that respects him immensely. Or, he could begin the next chapter in his life and accept the opportunity that likely awaits in the NFL.

''While he chose the latter, the type of leadership DeShone displayed this past season will benefit our program moving forward. He'll certainly be missed on and off the field, but we're very happy for him and his family.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

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