2017 NFL draft prospect countdown, No. 32: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
What you need to know: Kizer’s first meaningful game action came on Sept. 12, 2015, when he replaced an injured Malik Zaire and rallied Notre Dame past Virginia. He would finish that season 8–3 as a starter, his only losses coming at Clemson, at Stanford and against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. Kizer’s 2016 stat line (2,880 yards passing, 21 TDs, 10 INTs and 525 yards rushing) was quite comparable to his ’15 numbers (2,925 yards passing, 26 TDs, nine INTs, 472 yards rushing as a junior), but his fortunes (and Notre Dame’s) took a turn last season to the point that he was benched during a loss to Stanford. Kizer still finished his Notre Dame career as one of the most prolific passers in program history.
Strengths: When it all clicks for Kizer ... hoo boy. He is a prototypical NFL quarterback prospect (6' 4", 233 pounds) with quick, active feet, the athleticism to hurt defenses on the ground and the arm to zip the ball into tight windows.
As Notre Dame’s QB, he really challenged defenses in the window between the second and third levels—some of his best throws, consistently, were up the seam into that gap. He can get it deep and outside the numbers, too, with enough touch to drop those passes into a bucket.
His player comp here, to Big Ben, mainly has to do with his size and passing acumen. Like the Steelers’ QB, Kizer can look over the top of defenses and freeze safeties with a lethal pump fake before coming back to an open receiver. He keeps his feet moving, too, both inside the pocket and out of it, so that he can throw on the run.
Kizer appears to be more of a natural athlete than Roethlisberger, although Big Ben at 35 has less giddy-up today than his rookie self of 2004—Roethlisberger ran a 4.76 40-yard dash at his Pro Day; Kizer was at 4.83 at the combine. Still, Kizer is more of what is considered a dual-threat quarterback. The Irish used him as such, giving him ample read-option opportunities on top of his scramble attempts.
Weaknesses: Is this a minor renovation project or a total teardown? The Kizer of 2015 and early ’16 looked like he might be the best QB of this draft class. However, it seemed as the Irish’s season spiraled downward last fall, so too did Kizer’s confidence. He was hesitant, gun shy on passes he had completed in the past. As a result, he vacillated between being too quick to bail on the pocket and too hesitant when he stayed put.
Take out his 9-of-26 performance in a monsoon at NC State and Kizer finished with a 60.5% completion rate last season, but that number could have been much higher. He left a lot of yardage on the field with errant throws—his timing was a split-second off on several throws per game.
“It’s more with a guy my size, my arm talent, my understanding of football, why do you go 4–8?” said Kizer at the combine of the main question teams were asking him. “I’ve answered that question as truthfully as I possibly can, and ... I didn’t make plays. Again, the ball’s in your hands as a quarterback every play. If you’re going to go win games in the fourth quarter, then you’ve got to be the guy making the plays.”
The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness. If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.
NFL player comparison: Ben Roethlisberger