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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 03, 2017 7:20 pm

Irish's Kizer makes impression at Combine

KYLE ROWLAND | For The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS -- It didn’t take long for DeShone Kizer to make headlines at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The former Notre Dame quarterback met with San Francisco 49ers’ brass Wednesday and “blew the doors off” of a meeting, according to general manager John Lynch. The 49ers are in a unique position -- they own the second overall selection in the draft and they also have zero quarterbacks on the current roster.

Kyle Shanahan, the architect of the Atlanta Falcons’ high-octane offense, is San Francisco’s newly-hired head coach. So you do the math. It’s hard to imagine the 49ers not taking a quarterback with the No. 2 pick.

“This whole thing is not about an interview, but if we’re grading (Kizer) on that alone, he blew the doors off of it,” Lynch said. “He’s an impressive young man. His film is impressive, too.”

Kizer comes to the combine as the quarterback owning the most upside. He, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes have separated themselves as the top four quarterbacks in the draft.

The opinions on Kizer are polarizing. He’s tumbled down some draft boards -- even out of the first round altogether -- while others, such as Mike Mayock, one of the foremost authorities on talent evaluation, called Kizer the best of the bunch.

“I think he’s the prototype quarterback in the NFL,” Mayock said. “He’s a 6-foot-5, 235-, 240-pound quarterback. He’s got a big arm, he’s got a quick release, he’s athletic, he’s smart. He’s got enough athletic ability to move around the pocket. So I love his physical traits. I think he’ll work hard, and I know he’s smart. What I don’t like is how his game fell apart in the fourth quarter of a lot of games.”

Mayock cautioned that he doesn’t believe any of the quarterbacks are worth a top-10 pick. He sees a group of talented passers that will need seasoning before challenging NFL defenses.

“All four of them have holes in their game. I don’t think any of them are ready to start week one,” Mayock said. “I felt like (Kizer’s) pocket mechanics fell apart. He tried to do too much, and the reason I have him as the number one quarterback is I think he’s got the highest ceiling of any of the quarterbacks.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay are both on the record saying they thought another year at Notre Dame would have made Kizer more NFL-ready. The most frequent criticisms of the Toledo, Ohio, native are his 12-11 record as a starter, inconsistency during the fourth quarter and diminished passing efficiency.

“He’s a good athlete, I like his physical skills. I think he can be a starter down the road. I just don’t know that he showed much progression on film last year,” said longtime draft analyst Tony Pauline. “In fact, I didn't think he was all that good. He was good in spurts, but there wasn't a lot of consistency. You can also say that has a lot to do with the coaching -- or the lack of coaching.

“The quarterback position is so much off the field work compared to the college game -- so much more film study, so much more playbook study. It’s a full-time job. He has to make sure that off the field disturbances are kept to a minimum if he wants to be successful.”

So far, so good. Kizer indicated he’s turned off social media and declined marketing deals because he wants to focus on his draft preparations. It’s a mature move at a position that requires it in large quantities.

“When you’re doing nothing but winning your whole life, being at an elite high school where we won championships, and then going through that 2015 season like I did, you really don’t understand what a winning culture is until you have something to compare it to,” Kizer said.

Kizer completed 58.7 percent of his passes in 2016 -- down from 63 percent the previous year -- for 2,925 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But it was his second-half discrepancies that have led to questions.

In the first half, he completed 65 percent of his passes. That number dipped to 52 percent in the second half and 49 percent in the fourth quarter, an alarming stat for decison-makers in a league defined by fourth-quarter heroics.

A failed two-quarterback system, which brought considerable heat on Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, didn’t help Kizer.

“I’m going to have to continue to push forward in developing my game,” said Kizer, who took responsibility for Notre Dame’s disastrous 2016 season. “I don’t think I’m anywhere near where I need to be a starter next year. So I’m probably going to stay in this bunker mentality as long as it possibly takes for me to get back to the level of play that’s going to get me to winning again.”