By Chris Emma–
In the first of a three-part look, Chris Emma evaluates how each of the top three quarterback prospects would fit for the Bears. Today’s is on Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer.
(CBS) Pressed in the moment, DeShone Kizer showed potential in his first chance to lead Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish were counting on Kizer, then their backup quarterback, to step in after starter Malik Zaire suffered a broken ankle. It was the final seconds of second game of a 2015 season that then held promise, and Notre Dame trailed by one.
Kizer stepped back and zeroed in on his top receiver, Will Fuller. He planted his right foot and heaved a ball nearly 50 yards on the fly, hitting Fuller in stride over the back shoulder. Notre Dame would beat Virginia behind Kizer’s heroics off the bench.
Outcome aside, the throw was a microcosm of Kizer’s turbulent two years as Notre Dame’s starter. He didn’t look off his top receiver, took a major risk with only a field goal needed to win and had his body poorly aligned while throwing off his back foot.
Scouts are wondering why Kizer didn’t produce more of those triumphant victories after Notre Dame finished 4-8 in 2016. He accepted his burden of the blame, right or wrong.
“They’ve had a lot of questions about last season and how a guy who has the size and has the arm strength goes and becomes 4-8,” Kizer said of his experience at the NFL Combine. “I responded in the way I thought was the honest truth.
“I just didn’t make enough plays. The ball’s in my hand every play. It’s my job at Notre Dame to put us in position to win games, to trust in the guys around me and develop the guys around me to make those plays with me.”
The Bears were among teams with a front-row seat for Kizer’s season, sending scouts to nearly every game he played. When Notre Dame hosted Brad Kaaya and Miami in South Bend last October, the Bears were represented by general manager Ryan Pace and much of their front office.
While many quarterbacks to come out of Notre Dame garner the hype for their successes, Kizer’s draft stock has been victimized by collective failures. The Irish didn’t provide him with a strong supporting cast, and he was left trying to do too much. When it was all done, he was stuck taking the blame.
In October, Kizer was asked to throw the ball 26 times in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. He completed just nine passes and Notre Dame lost 10-3 at NC State. Kizer’s season started with a 50-47 double-overtime loss at Texas while working in a two-quarterback scheme that was destined to fail.
“At times, I was kind of looking over my shoulder a little bit too much,” Kizer said. “That’s probably my biggest regret this past season.”
Brutal honesty from Kizer has allowed scouts to move past the concerns of 4-8 and decision making and simply look to the potential — how Kizer could throw a ball nearly halfway across the field to beat Virginia.
Kizer is a prototype at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, boasting athleticism to couple with that rocket arm. He’s able to extend plays with his feet and make the plays, too, rushing for 18 touchdowns in his two seasons.
Scouts see a quarterback who often gets stuck on the primary read — Fuller was the top target in 2015 — and relies too much on his arm strength, often times to a fault. But for all the scouts with red flags, there are coaches who believe they can fix those flaws. Kizer has all the tools to be successful if his game can be fine-tuned for the next level.
Thus, Kizer would be an ideal fit for the Bears. In signing Mike Glennon to a three-year deal that essentially offers year-to-year options, the Bears plan to develop a young quarterback while hoping to contend at the same time. If they believe in Kizer’s potential — and they should have a strong feel by this point in the game — the Bears can draft him third and let him grow behind Glennon.
First, the Bears must decide whether Kizer’s flaws can be fixed with coaching or if those are ingrained in his game. They just had a strong-armed, fatally flawed quarterback start for eight seasons, but now the team is moving on from Jay Cutler.
Kizer doesn’t have the winning record of Deshaun Watson or the intriguing mystery of Mitchell Trubisky — everything is on the film. After souring to a degree on Kizer after the 4-8 season, scouts are now focused on his enticing tools. Many believe he’s the top quarterback in this class.
The Bears may miss their chance on Kizer altogther if the Browns or 49ers jump on him before the third pick, but Cleveland seems likely to draft Myles Garrett with the top selection. Kizer could very well be available, and give Pace a tough decision to make.
With a rocket arm and the physical tools, Kizer could thrive with an opportunity in Chicago.