When it comes to drawing up the prototypical Bruce Arians quarterback, DeShone Kizer checks a lot of the boxes.
He’s 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds. He has the requisite arm strength for the Cardinals’ offense and the mobility to keep plays alive. He has the intelligence to grasp a complicated system.
The former Notre Dame quarterback was a fan of Donovan McNabb growing up, and if one could guarantee a similar career path, Kizer would be a no-brainer choice near the top of the draft. However, there are questions looming, including one, in particular, he has heard consistently from NFL teams.
“A guy my size, my arm talent, my understanding of football, why did you go 4-8?” Kizer said at the NFL Scouting combine.
The entirety of a season can never fall on one player, but a quarterback always gets the lion’s share of the blame or credit, which Kizer learned after the Fighting Irish struggled in 2016.
He was solid in 2015, throwing for 2,880 yards with 21 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a completion percentage of 62.9. College quarterbacks generally improve as their careers move forward, but Kizer then took a step back, as his yards per attempt, completion percentage and quarterback rating all dropped.
Notre Dame lost many notable offensive contributors between Kizer’s debut season and his second, but he didn’t look to pass the blame.
“I’ve answered that question as truthfully as I possibly can and that’s I didn’t make plays,” Kizer said. “Again, the ball is in your hands as a quarterback every play. If you’re going to go win games in the fourth quarter, then you’ve got to be the guy making plays.”
Arians takes a measured approach when drawing a correlation between a quarterback’s performance and his team’s success. While they often go hand-in-hand, there are outliers. This past season, he defended
“You have to see if they’re the reason for the success, or is it they have a great defense and he’s just a game manager?” Arians said. “You look at every aspect of the quarterback.”
Kizer’s flaws showed too often in 2016, and he was even benched during a poor performance against Stanford. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly spoke bluntly to Sirius XM NFL Radio earlier this month, saying he thought Kizer should have returned to school.
“I’ve got a lot of relationships built on trust with GMs and head coaches in the NFL,” Kelly said. “I’m going to be honest with them and honest with DeShone. There’s a lot of growth that has to take place. But I go back to what are the common threads a great player needs to have. He’s got to have traits of excellence. He’s got to be able to have attention to detail and that focus. He’s got to be smart and he’s got to have the ability to grind and a great attitude.
“He’s got those traits, but they’ve got to be continuously worked on. Whoever takes DeShone, he’s not a finished product in those areas. But when he does get more time to work on those traits, you’re going to have a great young man and a great quarterback.”
Kizer is one of the more polarizing of the quarterback prospects. He comes from a pro-style offense, which should help his transition, but he’s no sure thing. He could get drafted in the top half of the first round or he could drop to the second.
He’s decided, with so much swirling around him, to avoid the hysteria and focus on the things that will make or break him in the NFL.
“In the last two months I’ve been able to refine everything I’m supposed to refine, really own who I am as a passer, really buy into a bunker mentality,” Kizer said. “Not taking any marketing deals, staying off social media, staying out of the spotlight to make sure I can perfect my craft. I’m really very confident in who I am as a passer and who I am as a quarterback.”