NFL Combine numbers tell very different stories for Notre Dame's draft hopefuls

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

The most powerful commodity DeShone Kizer delivered during the recently completed NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis was context.

Not anything that could be measured with a tape measure or stopwatch.

Even the former Notre Dame quarterback’s throwing session — both the wow factors and imperfections within it — pretty accurately mimicked his game tape from his two college seasons as a starter.

The flaws lie in the footwork, which is convincingly fixable, but perhaps not overnight.

At this juncture, Kizer’s words will likely ultimately determine if NFL teams interpret him as a QB who’s more tantalizingly promising or more frustratingly unfinished when the 2017 NFL Draft is staged in Philadelphia, April 27-29.

“I don’t think any of the top quarterbacks helped or hurt themselves that much with the on-field aspect for the workout,” draft analyst Scott Wright, of draftcountdown.com, assessed.

“And for Kizer, the name of the scouting combine is what happens behind the scenes — in those meeting rooms with the teams, with the head coaches, the general managers, the decision-makers. For all these top quarterbacks, it’s about selling those people, convincing them that you’re their guy.

“Whatever you need to do that — whether that be looking them in the eye and answering questions, or getting up on that wipe board and displaying your knowledge. As this process advances and keeps going, I just think teams are going to feel more comfortable about Kizer and everything he brings to the table.”

Wright continues to rate the 6-foot-4, 233-pound Kizer as his top quarterback prospect in the 2017 draft and the only one with a solid first-round grade. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes all fall into the next tier — the late-first/early-second-round range.

Kizer was one of three prospects from Notre Dame among the 331 NFL Draft hopefuls across the country who attended the invitation-only mega-audition that concluded Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indy.

And all three of their sets of testing numbers told very different stories.

Kizer’s physical testing numbers were on the underwhelming side (i.e. 4.83 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 30.5 inches vertical leap), but not enough to bring any relevance to his big picture.

Defensive end Isaac Rochell, who tested the strongest of the three ND players relative to his respective position groups, confirmed his draft stock with his times/distances/reps more rather than moving it up or down.

“We knew what Isaac Rochell was going into this,” said Wright, who projects him in the fifth/sixth-round range. “He tested about what we thought — good, not great. Physically good size, not great. But what Rochell gives you is the versatility both in terms of position and scheme and outstanding intangibles.

“He might not have the highest ceiling, but he has a very high floor.”

Nose guard Jarron Jones’ performance, meanwhile, raised more questions than it answered.

He passed on participating in four of the seven physical tests (20-yard shuttle, 60 shuttle, standing broad jump, cone drill) and underperformed at the three others (bench press, 40-yard dash, vertical leap).

“I think it does hurt him,” Wright said, “because so much with Jarron Jones you’re basing on potential, because the tape isn’t consistent.

“You’re wishing on a prayer, hoping you can get him to play at his best on a consistent basis, which he hasn’t done throughout his college career. I think teams are going to ask: ‘Does that go back to work ethic? Has he been training hard enough properly?’

“Coming into the combine, I had him in the fourth or fifth round. Now, I have him falling into the late rounds (sixth or seventh). He’s a boom-or-bust prospect. If everything clicks, he could end up giving you early-round talent and production — or he could never play a game in the NFL.”

All three of those players will have a chance to improve their testing and position drills at Notre Dame’s Pro Day on March 23. At that same event, six other Irish players, who were not invited to the combine, will get their first shot at impressing pro scouts and personnel types.

The group comprises linebacker James Onwualu, cornerback Cole Luke, running back Tarean Folston, long snapper Scott Daly, safety Avery Sebastian and tight end Chase Hounshell, the latter of whom spent his sixth and final collegiate season at Ohio State in 2016.

Of those six, Wright said Onwualu has the best chance of getting drafted, followed by Luke. Since 2000, only two Notre Dame players who were combine snubs ended up getting drafted — defensive lineman Derek Landri and defensive back Mike Richardson, both in 2007 — though many others have ended up in camps and on rosters.

“I’m a big fan of James Onwualu,” Wright said. “For my money, he was one of the top five snubs of the combine invite this year. I really thought he was going to get invited.

"I kind of envision maybe more of a career backup who’s going to help you on special teams. He’s a ‘glue’ guy in the locker room.

“What’s so intriguing about him is in this day and age, the NFL is so pass-happy, you need players who can match up on defense. And Onwualu, he’s got that linebacker/safety frame, he’s got prior experience at other positions. I think he’s got a good chance to be drafted.”

As for Kizer at Pro Day, he’ll likely have to import some former teammates who are already in the NFL to throw to, since Folston and Hounshell are the only offensive skill players on the attendee list.

Again, post-Pro Day meetings and private workouts will carry more weight in Kizer’s case than the heavily scripted throws of Pro Day itself.

“They’ve rehearsed the throws, the order so many times beforehand, so it’s very rare for a quarterback prospect to have a bad pro day," Wright said. "When you hear raves, that’s kind of status quo.”

Wright said the best draft fits for Kizer are two teams outside the top 10 — Arizona at 13 and Houston at 25.

“At Arizona, he’s very much a (coach) Bruce Arians type of quarterback, and they need an heir apparent for Carson Palmer sooner rather than later,” Wright said. “I think the Texans would also be terrific for him.

“Everybody wants to go in the top 10, but in Kizer’s case he could end up in a better situation long term if he didn’t.”

COMBINE NUMBERS

Here's how Notre Dame's three prospects performed at the recently completed NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis:

DeShone Kizer, QB: Bench press (DNP), 40-yard dash (4.83 seconds), Vertical leap (30.5 inches), Broad jump (107 inches). 3-Cone (7.4 seconds), 20 shuttle (4.53 seconds), 60 shuttle (DNP).

Isaac Rochell, DL: Bench press (25 reps at 225), 40-yard dash (4.89), Vertical leap (31.5), Broad jump (114 inches), 3-Cone (DNP), 20 shuttle (DNP), 60 shuttle (DNP).

Jarron Jones, DL: Bench press (22), 40-yard dash (5.33), Vertical leap (20.5), Broad jump (DNP), 3-Cone (DNP), 20 shuttle (DNP), 60 shuttle (DNP).

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer throws during a drill at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, Saturday in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/GREGORY PAYAN)