DeShone Kizer Is a High-Upside Gamble Worth Taking for the Cleveland Browns

Cleveland took Kizer 52nd overall in Friday night's second round. Can he be their franchise quarterback?

There’s a lot of pros and cons to this year’s quarterback class. The proiest and coniest of them all might be Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer. Just look at him, and he appears to be the prototypical NFL quarterback. He’s 6’4” (74th percentile among quarterbacks) and 233 pounds (84th percentile). Watch him play football one day and he looks like a first overall pick. Watch him a week later and he looks like a mid-round developmental project.

So we’ll split the difference, and here he is as a second-round pick in the draft, 52nd overall and the fourth quarterback selected.

Consistency has been the main issue with Kizer during his brief tenure at Notre Dame. He has many of the tools NFL teams would want for a quarterback, but sometimes he’s just swinging those tools around wildly and nothing gets built.

A Numbers Game

2016 was considered a down year for Kizer and Notre Dame -- if you haven’t heard, the Irish went 4-8 -- but not much changed in Kizer’s raw numbers. Some of them even improved.

Year Comp/Att Comp % Yards Y/A AY/A TD (%) INT
2015 210/334 62.9% 2,880 8.6 8.5 21 (6.3%) 10 (3.0%)
2016 212/361 58.7% 2,925 8.1 8.4 26 (7.2%) 9 (2.5%)

But those efficiency numbers aren’t all that impressive. His 8.1 yards per attempt was just 12th among the top-28 quarterbacks in this draft class, though his 8.6 number from 2015 would rank 4th this year, just in front of Patrick Mahomes’ 8.5.

However, when put into context of full production, Kizer came in fifth in Passer Efficiency Rating among the five 2017 quarterbacks Jim Sannes looked at earlier in the offseason. Even Kizer’s experience as a two-year starter works against him. While he played more than Mitchell Trubisky’s 13 games, his 24 games played is the second-lowest number among the top-rated quarterbacks in this class.

The Blame Game

It’s a little hard to blame Notre Dame’s 4-8 season squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback. From 2015, Kizer lost his top receiver in Will Fuller and top tackle in Ronnie Stanley -- though he was left with Mike McGlinchey at tackle, who is seen as possibly the top tackle prospect for 2018. It should be expected of a top quarterback to lift up the play of his teammates, and there were many occasions when Kizer did just that in 2016.

Even during the game when he was benched against Stanford, Kizer’s play kept the team in the game. He was benched after back-to-back drives ended with an interception, but in context, they weren’t really that bad. The first was when a receiver broke in on a post. He looked open but rounded off his route a bit, which allowed the cornerback to undercut him and pick off the pass. Kizer gets knocked for not throwing with anticipation, but this is an anticipation throw that’s probably completed more than half the time. The quarterback also had no control over the impressive run after the pick for the touchdown.

On the next drive, Notre Dame faced 4th and 7 on the Stanford 42 and went for it. Immediately after the snap, there was a defender in Kizer’s face. I hand-timed this play a few times and got between 1.96 and 2.2 seconds from snap to throw. Either way, that’s not enough time. It’s fourth down, so taking a sack would be bad. Instead, Kizer flung it downfield and overthrew the ball. I’m not for defending “arm punts,” but in that situation, the result was not a bad option.

After the benching, Kizer returned to the game for a final drive in fourth quarter, down by a touchdown. He got the team all the way back inside Stanford’s 10 before back-to-back sacks ended the game. Like the interceptions, those weren’t all on the quarterback.

But when Kizer is on, he can be great. It’s hard to look at some of his best throws and not get caught up in them. Take this one from the shootout against Texas that started the 2016 season.

The End Game

We’re here, though, because the Cleveland Browns see the potential in Kizer’s play, and there's not a lot of downside if it doesn't work out. Cleveland has a bevy of picks, and though it was in the second round, Kizer was already the Browns' fourth selection of the draft.

Through some development, he could end up being the top quarterback in this class. That's what the Browns are betting on, and they didn't throw away their stockpile of draft assets to make that bet.

With the pick of David Njoku at the end of the first round, we noted how the Browns appeared to be building a supporting cast to better the situation for their quarterback, whomever that was. If Kizer starts, he'll be surrounded by some decent pass-catching talent and a nice offensive line.

If there's a coach to develop him, Hue Jackson might be the guy. Jackson was responsible for the best season in the career of another second-rounder, Andy Dalton, when Dalton had his best supporting cast in 2015. Now this Cleveland team is nowhere near that Cincinnati Bengals group, but Jackson has helped raise the game of a quarterback before.

The hope here is that in time, Kizer's strengths will flourish, and he’ll continue to improve on things that can make him a better quarterback. There's no set starter for the Browns right now -- although Cody Kessler showed some positive signs as a rookie -- so Kizer may be able to play his way onto the field early.

The upside is certainly present. Whether or not Kizer can become a consistent passer will determine if this pick becomes a steal or if Cleveland will find itself in a similar situation come next draft.