There’s a lot of hype around quarterback DeShone Kizer at the moment. Every year there’s a fashionable ‘alternative’ #1 overall pick. It ends up becoming a consensus and then the overreactions follow when reality sets in.
I’ve watched all four Notre Dame games now and feel comfortable judging him. In terms of physicality and talent he’s the complete package. Ideal size, nice release, plus mobility with the ability to both extend plays and make gains as a runner. You could make a highlight reel of 5-6 throws where Kizer looks every bit a possible #1 overall pick.
The thing is, there’s also a lot of ugly in there too. And that shouldn’t be a surprise — he’s only featured in 17 games in college. In comparison, last years #1 pick Jared Goff started 37 games at Cal. Kizer looks like a raw starter who just needs time to figure everything out. For that reason, the ideal situation would be for him to return to Notre Dame next season and feel the benefit of extra time on the field before turning pro. That’s a tough decision to make if there’s a chance you’ll go in the top five of the draft. Andrew Luck made a decision to stay at Stanford and risked injury. Kizer faces a similar dilemma.
In Saturday’s home loss against Duke, three plays pretty much sum up the hit-and-miss September 2016 version of DeShone Kizer. With 52 seconds left in the first half and ideally placed to lead at least a field goal drive before half time — he launched a pass so out of reach for the intended target even the defensive back climbing onto the shoulders of the WR couldn’t make the catch. On the next throw on a 3rd and 14 crossing route, he threw marginally behind the target on an easy completion and let the DB get a hand on the ball to break it up.
Yet on his first throw to begin the second half, he fit a perfect pass into the smallest window for a big gain — throwing over a linebacker and in front of the DB. It was perfection (the WR caught it and fumbled, summing up Notre Dame’s day).
His touchdown pass was equally beautiful — a perfect fade to the left corner of the end zone with ideal touch, velocity and placement.
Yet after that he came right back with another shocker — a hopelessly under-thrown ball to the left sideline that was easily cut off by the DB (who dropped the chance at a possible pick-six). It was a real cringe moment — just like his bizarre decision that ultimately cost Notre Dame the game.
With about a minute to go on 3rd and 20, Kizer had to take the snap into his own end zone. He had good protection but sensing he needed to get rid of the football to avoid a safety — he lobbed a hail mary pass into coverage and was intercepted at about the 40 yard line. The TV cameras picked up a bemused looking Brian Kelly mouthing ‘What are you doing?’ at his QB with disbelief written all over his face. Duke drove into field goal range and won.
Kizer also fumbled a snap during the game.
These are all pretty basic errors that scream a lack of experience. A team can try to iron out these kinks in the pro’s and due to his high upside and potential that might be what happens next year. Let him sit ala Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch. A case can also be made that he’s better learning lessons on the field in a competitive environment. Kizer is really, really good — and as long as he stays healthy he’s assured of a place at the top of a draft be it in 2017 or 2018. For the long term benefits of his career — he looks like a guy who just needs more experience. And the remaining schedule in 2016 with Notre Dame slumping to 1-3 might not be enough.
On a separate note — Mike McGlinchey looked really good in this game. Great balance, never flustered, kept everything in front of him in pass-pro and showed some power in the run game. His athletic testing at the combine will be fascinating. Both Kizer and McGlinchey come across really well during press interviews and teams will love their character.
Tight end Evan Engram is such a weapon and might be one of the more underrated draft prospects this year. He had a big day against Georgia with six catches for 95 yards. His best moment? An incredible endzone leap to high point the football over a defender for a touchdown. His vertical leap looks like it’ll be incredible at the combine.
Ole Miss frequently line him up in the slot and Engram has receiver athleticism and creates constant mismatches vs slot corners and linebackers. You can imagine him working in the Patriots offense as a slot receiver or in a 2TE set alongside Gronk. He could easily work his way into the latter part of the first round or the top of the second.
One final note — Pete Carroll keeps talking about suddenness at running back. He mentioned it again today on ESPN 710 when discussing Christine Michael. If that’s the most important aspect for a Seattle RB going forward — the most ‘sudden’ back in the 2017 class could be Christian McCaffrey. He’s not a physical powerhouse, wearing down a defense. In terms of burst and ability to get upfield quickly — he’s extremely good. That was my big takeaway from the UCLA game on Saturday. It’s something to monitor — especially if RB becomes a key need in the off-season.