DeShone Kizer’s place among the top quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL Draft remains undecided.
The former Notre Dame quarterback is widely considered a top-three quarterback in what is regarded as a weak draft class for the position. Clemson’s DeShaun Watson — who led the Tigers to a national championship this past season — and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky are the other candidates to be the top signal-caller taken.
The opinions among draft analysts are extremely varied.
On Albert Breer’s MMQB podcast this week, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said he currently has Kizer as the top quarterback on his board.
“Right now Kizer, who to me has the most ability of any of these guys, prototype size, arm strength,” Jeremiah said. “…I’ve seen him play at a really high level, throw with anticipation, accuracy, most of that coming last year and early this year before the Notre Dame season kind of fell apart.”
Kizer finished the season with 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns for the Irish, who finished 4-8 after beginning the season ranked 10th in the country. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder struggled with his accuracy, finishing just 212-of-361 (58.7 percent) to go along with nine interceptions.
Trubisky (68 percent), Watson (67.0) and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes (65.7) all ranked among the top-15 in the country in completion percentage last season.
According to Jeremiah, only two of the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL had a losing record and a sub-60-percent completion percentage during their final season in college: Chicago’s Jay Cutler (5-6, 59.1 percent at Vanderbilt in 2005) and Denver’s Trevor Siemian (5-7, 58.2 percent at Northwestern in 2014).
Jeremiah said he’s still in the early stages of breaking down game film on the quarterbacks, but can’t get past Kizer’s inaccurate junior season.
“That’s one of the things I struggle with,” Jeremiah said. “I like his ability, I like his tools, I’ve heard he’s got great character, but that’s a hurdle I’ve got to try to get over.”
The teams in need of a quarterback in this year’s draft — Cleveland (No. 1, No. 12), San Francisco (No. 2), Chicago (No. 3) and New York Jets (No. 6) — may choose to pass on taking one in the first round this year.
The 2018 draft could potentially have a deep quarterback class. USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson are all likely first-round picks.
“If you’re not in love with the guy, man, don’t force it,” Jeremiah said of this year’s QB draft. “That seems to be a little bit of the vibe I’m picking up from people around the league.
“…I look at the Browns and the 49ers, those teams are so lacking in talent that I don’t know how you can sit in that room and convince yourself that you’re going to really reach for one of these quarterbacks this year.”
That might not stop team’s from drafting Kizer, Trubisky or Watson at the top of the first-round this year.
“Whether or not it’s real or perceived, if you think your team is pretty talented across the board but you’re missing a quarterback and that’s why you’re picking up there at the top … then you can talk yourself into that,” said Jeremiah, who recently said on NFL.com that he “couldn't find a scout or executive who was excited about DeShone Kizer or Mitch Trubisky.”
Pro Football Focus — which grades every snap of every college and pro game each season — is the only major outlet that does not have Kizer among the top-three quarterbacks. In its Mock Draft 4.0, PFF has three quarterbacks being taken in the first-round, none being Kizer. The outlet prefers Mahomes, who threw for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns this past season for the Red Raiders.
Others, though, are more positive on Kizer. NFL Network's Mike Mayock has Kizer as his top quarterback in his position rankings.
Greg Gabriel, who directed college scouting in the NFL for three decades, including from 2002 through 2010 with the Chicago Bears, wrote on CBS Chicago that while he’s not sure whether Kizer will be the first or second quarterback drafted, he has “no doubt” that the team that selects him will be “hitting a home run.”
As of Feb. 15, here’s where how various analysts slot the top quarterback prospects:
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.: Trubisky, Watson and Kizer
ESPN’s Todd McShay: Trubisky, Watson and Kizer
NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah: Kizer, Watson, Trubisky
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock: Kizer, Watson, Trubisky
Pro Football Focus: Trubisky, Watson, Mahomes
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller: Trubisky, Kizer, Watson
Sports Illustrated: Watson, Kizer, Mahomes
CBS Sports: Trubisky, Kizer, Watson
DraftAnalyst.com: Trubisky, Kizer, Watson
Kizer will be one of three players to represent Notre Dame at the NFL Combine later this month. While it has not been reported whether the Toledo, Ohio, native, will participate in the throwing drills in Indianapolis, recent history suggests that he will. In 2016, all 18 quarterbacks invited to the combine threw.
Kiper said last month that Kizer's college production as a junior has the analyst worried about how he translates to the NFL.
“I watch Notre Dame, I’m a big Notre Dame fan, and to watch him and see the struggles in terms of decision-making, late getting rid of the football at times, just didn’t have the year you would’ve expected,” Kiper said of Kizer. “With the year being very average, [you would’ve thought] he’d go back for another year.
“But that system didn’t fit him, I understand that, but if you don’t play at a high level at Notre Dame, how are you going to be expected to play at a high level in the NFL?”
That will be the major question NFL teams must answer over the coming months.
The 2017 NFL Draft will be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia.