Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer lands in Cleveland, in NFL Draft's second round
Before DeShone Kizer even got a glimpse of his NFL future he had already signed an endorsement deal with Nike’s Jordan brand and had dabbled in product relationships with Tostitos and, yes, Secret deodorant.
Friday night, the former Notre Dame quarterback finally got down to the business he was most concerned with — where he’ll take his next developmental steps as a quarterback.
His protracted wait in the Green Room in Philadelphia ended long before Cleveland selected the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Ohio native with the 20th pick of the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, 52nd overall. Kizer had gone home to Toledo late Thursday night after the first round ended without his name being called.
“I’m only about two hours away,” an exuberant Kizer said via conference call with media in Cleveland on Friday night. “If I yelled loud enough off of this balcony, I am sure you guys could hear me.”
Perhaps the most iconic Browns player ever, Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown, made the draft announcement of Kizer back in Philly.
“For us, we went out and did our diligence on all of the quarterbacks,” Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “We felt like we knew him well. We were surprised that he was there and available to us at 52.”
The draft continues Saturday at noon (ESPN, NFL Network) with the final four rounds (4-7). Irish defensive linemen Jarron Jones and Isaac Rochell are expected to get the call sometime Saturday. There’s an outside chance linebacker James Onwualu could be drafted late as well.
His new home established, Kizer’s future may still be fuzzy, given the Browns’ recent past.
Notre Dame may have only fashioned a 4-8 record with Kizer at the joystick of coach Brian Kelly’s offense in 2016, but the Browns have gone a combined 4-28 over the past two seasons, including 1-15 last season.
The franchise hasn’t had a winning record since 2007 (10-6), hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002, and hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994 back before the Browns reincarnated as an expansion franchise after the original Browns morphed into the Baltimore Ravens.
In step with the jagged bottom line has been the Gong Show at quarterback. Since 1999, the Browns have deployed 26 starting quarterbacks — most by an NFL team during that span.
Two of the three who started at least three games in 2016 —Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown — are no longer on the roster. Starting QB No. 26 in that infamous run, USC product, Cody Kessler is, along with Stanford product Kevin Hogan and Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler.
The good news is second-year head coach Hue Jackson has a strong reputation for developing quarterbacks.
“I cannot wait to learn from coach Jackson,” Kizer said. “Even these last couple of months getting to spend a little time with him, he has been able to make a couple of adjustments to my footwork and to my mentality that allowed me to be a little more consistent and accurate within just a month or two.
“I can’t wait to actually be with them where we can spend as much time together as needed to maximize the potential that I think I have.”
The feeling appears to be mutual.
“I think the beautiful part of it was he was able to take that instruction and improve,” Jackson said. “I think we saw that in our workout. That was outstanding.
“He is very coachable. He wants to work at it, and I think that is what it is going to take. We will find out how good this guy can be over time.”
The Browns drafted well around Kizer, adding three standouts in the first round Thursday night — Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett with the first overall pick, Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers at No. 25 and Miami tight end David Njoku at No. 29 — and Charlotte defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi on Friday night.
There’s one other former Irish player on the Browns’ roster — running back George Atkinson III. Atkinson had 34 yards on seven carries and a TD last season for Cleveland.
Kizer becomes the 22nd Notre Dame QB to be drafted since the event’s inception in 1936. Only Jimmy Clausen (48th, 2010), Brady Quinn (22nd, 2007), Rick Mirer (2nd, 1993) and Terry Hanratty (30th, 1969) were selected earlier in their respective draft than Kizer among 11 drafted Irish quarterbacks in the past 50 years.
The first redshirt sophomore from Notre Dame ever to enter the NFL Draft was the fourth signal-caller in the 2017 Draft selected, following first-rounders and fellow underclassmen Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago, second overall pick), Patrick Mahomes II (Kansas City, 10th) and Deshaun Watson (Houston, 12th).
All three of those teams traded up to get their man, the first time that had happened in the first round in the Common Draft Era (1967-present).
There was a point early in the pre-draft process Kizer looked like he’d be in that top tier as well. But his game tape revealed an unfinished product with tantalizing potential. In 2016, Kizer finished 31st nationally in passing efficiency (145.6), throwing for 2,925 yards with 26 TDs and nine interceptions.
“One of the things that we found in talking with him was that he had really been self-reflective on some of the things that he wanted to improve upon,” Sashi Brown said, “and he is already working on those things and has been through the offseason.”
“As a quarterback you need to be able to be the same guy every play, every rep,” Kizer said. “Last year, I wasn’t able to do that as much as I would have liked to. I think that has a lot to do with mechanics and footwork. There is a lot that goes into being a good quarterback.
“I honestly think this is the best opportunity for me as far as teams to be selected to and to be around a great coach who can fix those lulls and create some consistency. I can’t wait for coach Jackson to go back and continue to allow me to improve from that last year and to take those spurts of greatness and allow that to push forward for a long time.”