Going 4-8 is a hell of a thing. One year removed from a being a potential top ten pick, DeShone Kizer has gone from being the first quarterback off the board to one of the lumps that clumped together as a possible first-rounder in the 2017 NFL Draft. It wasn’t Kizer’s fault that Notre Dame was a gilded prime-time television hogging facade that received attention because of name alone in 2015. Back then, Kizer posted a +100 quarterback rating in every game except for the one he played in a hurricane. Then the calendar turned over to 2016. The Irish lost seven players in the first four rounds of the 2016 NFL draft and seven games by one possession or less during the 2016 season. While bedlam was occurring, Kizer was displaying the same skills that had him pegged as a top ten pick in 2015 and he even improved on a few of the issues he had to boot.
One of the mantras of quarterback play that has developed during the internet age is: The player has to have one skill they are great at that separates them from the rest of the league. This is Philip Rivers’ pocket presence. This is Drew Brees’ accuracy. This is Russell Wilson’s scrambling ability. This is Cam Newton’s arm strength. This is Tom Brady’s understanding of the game. This is Aaron Rodgers’ improvisation. For DeShone Kizer, this is his touch.
When Kizer throws passes, the ball floats hazy and perfect, solitary and exact, and plops directly into his receiver’s hands. These throws are like being at the ballpark, hazed by warm beer, and sunken into a meditative trance elicited by watching that red-stitched ball go up and down really high. Oooooo baby, it’s pretty. Oooooo baby, it’s something to see.
This is the throw of all throws. It’s the one that disintegrated some poor kid’s bones. Kizer drops back with eighteen seconds left and Notre Dame down by one to perennial football loser Virginia. He toys with the defensive end fighting off the running back. His eyes are on Will Fuller V the entire time. Once he sees an opening, Kizer throws a rainbow to Fuller V. The pass lands right in Fuller V’s arms as he tracks the ball over his head. The throw is so perfect that even the butterfingered receiver is able to catch it as the cornerback slashes at atmosphere.
This is THE throw. But throughout his time at Notre Dame, Kizer heaved high-arcing tosses to the sidelines that made the heart leap and eyes weep.
On this play against the University of Texas, Kizer uses his eyes to stare down the cornerback covering the post route, pulling him to the center of the field. With him gone, the sideline is open for the wheel route. Again, the ball is perfect. It fits right over the chasing linebacker’s right shoulder and plops in. The back is able to get two feet in for the score.
Everyone hates the red zone fade. It sucks. It’s stupid. It never works. Unless Kizer throws it. He’s the only person left on this earth who can turn a silly two yard pass into something precise and perfect.
Against Clemson, Notre Dame is trying to get in position to convert a two-point conversion to force overtime. On the right side, the outside receiver is running a slant; the inside receiver is curling around it and running a fade to the corner of the end zone. Kizer has two options. He doesn’t hesitate. Once he sees the cornerback’s back, he the ball floats out his hands for the score.
On this throw, he sees the cornerback shuffling and watching his eyes with inside placement. Kizer is an expert. He places the ball on the receiver’s outside shoulder. The corner fails to come across the receiver’s body to make a play on the ball.
The touch isn’t always for touchdowns. Kizer uses this all-world skill to make those pesky intermediate throws to the center of the field as well. Here, his receiver is running a corner route with the cornerback chasing. Instead of zipping it to him, Kizer puts air under the ball so the two underneath defenders can’t leap and dig their claws into it like a domesticated cat slaughtering the neighborhood bird population. It fits on the receiver’s outside. It hits him right in stride.
When Kizer doesn’t use his touch to throw the ball and puts speed and power into the spinning pigskin, he runs into problems. At the start of 2015, he missed throws because he wasn’t able to combine ball speed and accuracy to complete passes. In this instance, he climbs the pocket past one edge rusher and steps into the throw with another one slobbering from behind. The ball blasts out of his hands and turns his receiver into a polygon hitting the square button.
This problem led to Kizer taking a lot off his throws. Rather than use his arm strength, he threw lazy passes for completions. It worked, but it led to his receivers leaping in place for catches, waiting for footballs, and hurt Notre Dame’s offense as a whole.
Kizer got better at completing passes with zip throughout 2015, and these wafts became nonexistent last season. Instead of soft tossing softballs to hide his accuracy, he brought the cannon out again, only to mixed results. Sometimes he made absurd throws like this one through three defenders.
Or this dig route, where the ball shoots bast the linebacker and arrives before the safety can possibly jar a completion into an incompletion with a brutal shoulder.
These are great throws. There are times where Kizer unleashes spectacular passes right past defenders, before others, fits the ball into a minuscule pocket, and leads the receiver. He improved tremendously from 2015 to 2016 in this regard. However, there are lots of others that are UGGGGGGGGGLLLLLLLLYYYYYYYYY.
Kizer’s problem is that he simply misses high. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it as far as I can tell. He’ll step up in the pocket well, throw with anticipation, see the hole in the coverage, and then throw it to a Monstar version of Shawn Bradley.
This out to Fuller V against Cover 3 is the perfect decision. It’s an easy first down on first and ten. But the ball takes off to the stands instead of into Fuller’s hands.
This is a wide open corner route that leaves the end zone.
This is an interception that never was.
These are easy throws that should be completed. Kizer misses high even on easier throws than this. This screen pass is high and hazy. The receiver is forced to wait for the ball, which gives the cornerback plenty of time to fight through the block and kill the drive on fourth and inches.
On all three throws, there isn’t an obvious mechanical issue. Kizer is just inaccurate at times. Unlike Mitchell Trubisky, the why isn’t easy to find. On these throws, you’ll see the same great mechanics as below with different results.
The times why there is a reason Kizer misses is when he’s rolling right or left. Despite his athleticism, he’s below average at throwing on the run. When his feet are in motion and he’s running away from scary men, the ball gets away from him.
In the Fiesta Bowl, he’s rolling towards his throwing arm. He points his receiver upfield. Then he overthrows both receivers in the area. Ohio State’s safety never moves on an interception that lands in his lap.
When Kizer rolls left, it’s more of the same. The ball doesn’t do what his mind wants it to do. The ball travels high and, luckily this time, out of bounds.
It’s a shame, too. Kizer is great at maneuvering around the pocket and creating space for himself. He climbs the pocket to escape from edge rushers, makes interior rushers miss, and takes off outside to turn negatives into a positive. He’s forced to run instead of throw when he scrambles because of these accuracy issues. It turns multiple options into a singular one: Run.
Kizer is in control of the pocket unless there is a swarm surrounding him. Rushers don’t leave him harried and frenzied. Here, Kizer rolls right, stops, sets his feet, cuts up past the rusher, and throws a delicate arc to the tight end. The ball falls incomplete because his pass catcher turns the wrong way.
When Kizer’s scrambling or running with the ball, he’s elusive but not fast. Kizer is lamb and tuna fish. He sprints at a saunter and is still able to use cuts and changes in speeds to leave tacklers eating turf.
It’s silly to see this slow mover control and manipulate space in the pocket to get away from defenders that can easily outrun him in a straight line. Against Clemson, Kizer has plenty of time in the pocket without being able to find an open man. He gets away from three potential sacks and slowly runs for nine.
As a runner, he’s much better than he should be. On this run pass option, he cuts past the free defensive end and runs up the middle.
He runs the zone read really well, too. He’s great at carrying the play-fake and incredible at sucking multiple defenders into the running back to open lanes up for himself. From there, he usually makes the one man he needs to make miss to turn nice gains into 20+ runs that leave coaches on the opposite sideline crinkled and sour. Kizer isn’t a fast runner, but he’s smart and subtle.
Lastly, there’s a wrinkled brain folded into that skull residing in a golden dome. Kizer, as seen earlier, goes through his reads quickly, manipulates safeties to create throwing lanes, and finds his last options.
This is a lovely ball that the receiver ends up dropping in the end zone. Kizer pump-fakes to pull the cornerback down. With him stepping into the flat and forced to turn and chase, Kizer lofts it up and over to his receiver in the corner of the end zone. Kizer creates the separation and the open receiver on his own. The receiver lets him down. He drops a pass that falls over the defender’s outstretched right arm.
On another play against Miami, Kizer reads the entire field from right to left. He goes from the slant, to the dig, to the seam, to the left. There he sees the flat covered by the linebacker. He pauses and keeps his feet in motion, waiting for his receiver to run further up field and away from the same linebacker. Kizer zips it to him on the sideline once he sneaks away far enough. The receiver turned ball carrier is so open that he’s able to run for ten more untouched.
Kizer did throw 47 touchdowns and only 19 interceptions during his time at Notre Dame. Aside from him overthrowing and missing high, the interceptions were the result of him not accounting for safeties and seeing through defenders. Here Ohio State is in Cover One Robber. The weak side safety comes across the formation and sits in the middle of the field. Kizer rolls right and stops to set his feet. Fuller V runs a comeback right behind the safety. Kizer doesn’t see him and doesn’t pick up his movement from one side of the field to the other. When the ball is released, the defender is sitting in front of Fuller V for an easy interception.
On this play, Kizer is looking to throw the slant. His eyes never leave this route, and the route is covered well. The cornerback knows he has safety help over the top, so he can be aggressive. Rather than play the receiver, the defender comes downfield, breaks in front of the receiver, and plays the ball instead. Kizer watches this route the entire time and looks past the defender to create this interception.
Kizer almost has it all. He has an elite trait, touch, that stands out from everyone in this class and potentially the entire NFL. He has ball placement, arm strength, pocket presence, elusiveness, and intelligence. He’s almost the perfect quarterback prospect. The eyes glowing under the wooden slat are the accuracy problem. Kizer isn’t consistent enough when it comes to completing short to intermediate passes. He misses high and not even close, turning easy completions into atrocities.
That’s the fear teams will have to confront. Accuracy is something players rarely get better at. It’s more of an innate skill. Something that has always been in the folds of the brain. The NFL is littered with quarterbacks abandoned on the side of the highway who had the arm strength, athleticism, intelligence, and a variety of different skill compositions, but lacked the accuracy to be a successful NFL quarterback. Whoever takes Kizer is going to have to weigh this risk and accept that everything else he does still makes him worth it.
At a minimum, Kizer should be able to start in the NFL. Especially if he gets to play for a team that can run the ball, play defense, and needs him to make only four big/downfield throws a game rather than be the sole offensive driver of a methodical offense. If Kizer can start his career lurching lovely sky scraping passes downfield instead of making quick throws into tight pockets, he’ll be fine. Then may be one day he’ll be an outlier and see his accuracy improve with time. Before that happens, if it ever does, the touch and everything else Kizer does so well make him a great pick for any quarterback-needy team in the upcoming NFL Draft.