Where will Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer land after making leap into NFL Draft?

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Here are two statements that seem opposite but can be simultaneously true:

1. DeShone Kizer would have benefited from another year at Notre Dame, and

2. DeShone Kizer made the right decision.

That decision — which the 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior announced Monday — was to forego his final two seasons of collegiate eligibility and declare for the 2017 NFL Draft.

“I have an opportunity to continue my football career in the NFL,” Kizer said in a prepared statement. “My family and I have taken the last couple weeks to collect all the necessary information to make a decision that will impact our future. After discussing with my family and coaches, and weighing the pros and cons of remaining at Notre Dame, I believe it’s time to change my path.

“I’ve decided to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. I’m ready to accept this challenge.”

But will the NFL accept Kizer — a player with undeniable gifts but also jagged edges?

“He’s in the first-round mix,” said Dane Brugler, senior NFL Draft analyst for CBS Sports and NFLDraftScout.com. “I think the fact that this isn’t a strong quarterback class certainly played a factor in his decision. There isn’t a senior quarterback this year that you look at and say, ‘OK, this is a first-round pick.’ There’s a chance we might not have a senior quarterback drafted in the top 100 this year. It’s just not a strong senior group.

“But look at the underclassmen. Deshaun Watson from Clemson will be in this draft class. Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina, there’s a chance he will be (declaring for the draft). He hasn’t decided yet. But DeShone Kizer is right in the mix. And when it comes to quarterbacks, what flavor do you want?

“These different guys offer different strengths. They’re at different points in their development. So, certain teams will favor one quarterback over the other. I don’t think there’s a quarterback in this draft class where universally all 32 teams will have this quarterback No. 1 on their draft board. Certain teams will value Kizer. I don’t think there’s any doubt Kizer will be the top (ranked) quarterback for some teams in this draft. We’ll have to see how the draft plays out to see where he ends up, but he’s definitely in the first-round mix. It wouldn’t shock me at all if he winds up going top 10.”

ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. provided a similar evaluation last week, when he awarded Kizer a second-round grade but added that he would not be surprised if he left the board in the first.

For Kizer, the decision comes down to context. Yes, he completed just 58.7 percent of his passes in 2016, a step down from his first season as the starter. Yes, he made just 23 starts at Notre Dame. Yes, he threw nine interceptions and occasionally faltered late in games.

And yes, despite all of that, now may have been the time to leave.

“I think there’s no question he would have benefited from another year of college, but that also doesn’t mean it was the right decision to go back,” Brugler said. “You can make an argument that, with NFL coaching, he’ll receive more development than he was getting at Notre Dame. You can make an argument that a change from that coaching staff and the situation at Notre Dame will further his development and help him grow as a player.

“It’s a risk, no question. The NFL Draft is all about fit. If you go to the wrong team with a coaching staff that doesn’t use you right and you don’t have a supporting cast, a player like DeShone Kizer could end up failing because of that. But (he could succeed) if he goes to the right fit with a coaching staff that uses him correctly and maybe he can sit for however long he needs to sit, or he has an offensive line that protects him and weapons around him that work with him and what he does best.

“So much of DeShone Kizer will be fit and where he ends up in the NFL. So, entering the draft, no question is a risk. But I think returning to school would have been a risk as well.”

Kizer opted for the more attractive (and financially prosperous) risk. In doing so, he left behind the opportunity to be a team captain in 2017. He left behind a young, talented offense that hardly scratched the surface of its potential last fall. He left behind dual-threat sophomore quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who will step into the vacated starting role.

He left behind a group of teammates that, in Friday’s annual Echoes banquet, voted him Notre Dame’s 2016 MVP.

“It's been a privilege playing with and blocking for the best QB in (college football),” junior offensive guard Quenton Nelson wrote in an Instagram post. “No one is as smart, focused, calm, and as clutch as DK, a true leader. As much as I'm (going to) miss him on Saturdays, I'm going to look forward to watching him go off on Sundays. Love you brother.”

On April 27, in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Kizer will only need one team to love him. But which one will it be?

“I think (the Cleveland Browns) would make a lot of sense. I think he would fit well with what (head coach) Hue Jackson wants to do on offense,” Brugler said. “But there are other teams that will be picking in the top 10 with a quarterback need. You look at San Francisco and Chip Kelly. I don’t necessarily love that fit, but it’s a possibility. You look at Chicago. They’ll be looking for a quarterback this offseason. You look at the Jets, who have several questions at the quarterback position.

“I think maybe the ideal spot for DeShone Kizer might be Arizona, a situation where he won’t be thrust into the starting job right away. He can sit behind Carson Palmer and maybe be the starter in 2018. Arizona is going to be picking somewhere in the middle of the first round. That’s a possible fit that would make sense.”

The team that takes Kizer, whoever and whenever that may be, will get a guy who passed for 5,809 yards (60.8 percent) and 47 touchdowns with 19 interceptions in 25 career games. They’ll get a legitimate dual threat that bludgeoned oncoming defenders en route to 992 rushing yards and 18 scores. They’ll get a 20-year-old with maturity beyond his years.

They’ll also get an unfinished product — equal parts promise and risk. As for Kizer, the decision has already been made.

But was it the right decision?

It’s far too early to tell.

Thank you @NotreDamepic.twitter.com/LDjdlCf9nw

— DeShone Kizer (@DKizer_14) December 12, 2016

Congrats to my dude @DKizer_14 !! You up next @WimbushB12 !! Time to show off bro like I know you can! #TicToc⌛️

— Jarron Jones™ (@Who_GotJones94) December 12, 2016

Been a pleasure, DK. https://t.co/UVGHbYLS7m

— Mike McGlinchey (@BigGlinch68) December 12, 2016

Congrats to my man @DKizer_14 on declaring for the draft! Can't wait to see where you go brother✊ pic.twitter.com/5KkwIbR5rx

— Nolan Henry (@Nolan_Henry12) December 12, 2016

Best of luck brother ✊#kizersznpic.twitter.com/PEW3KJrGeu

— Mark Harrell (@MarkHarrell_75) December 12, 2016

Congrats to a fellow Ohioan @DKizer_14 for declaring for the NFL Draft !! Proud of you brother!

— Shaun Crawford (@Shaun20Crawford) December 12, 2016

It's been a privilege playing with and blocking for the best QB in… https://t.co/glcJ8hgzjk

— Quenton Nelson (@BigQ56) December 12, 2016

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer (14) leaps over Virginia Tech’s Tim Settle (97) during the Notre Dame-Virginia Tech NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN