DeShone Kizer’s advantage over the other top quarterbacks in this year’s draft: He knows what it’s like to win … and to lose.
His 2016 Notre Dame squad went 4-8, the school’s worst season in nine years and one that included defeats to Navy and Duke.
Kizer noted that any NFL team that drafts a quarterback early will be in a similarly rough situation. He explained that his awful 2016 season gave him a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the winning years that preceded it. For instance, Kizer took over as a starter early in 2015 and helped Notre Dame to a 10-3 record.
“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,” he said.
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Kizer is considered one of the top three passers in the upcoming draft, and he likely expanded on the radar of 49ers fans this week when general manager John Lynch said Kizer “blew the doors off” his Wednesday interview with the team.
Lynch, of course, also gave rosy assessments to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, the other prospects gunning to be the first passer drafted.
There’s also a thought shared by some at the combine that Lynch is trying to inflate the quarterbacks because he’d prefer Cleveland, which has the first pick in the draft, to take one so that the 49ers, picking at No. 2, are left with pass rusher Myles Garrett. Kizer grew up in Toledo, Ohio, which is two hours west of Cleveland.
Still, it was easy to see why Lynch is impressed by the Notre Dame passer.
Kizer spoke openly about the Fighting Irish’s struggles last year and took responsibility for the losses. He said he had gone into a “bunker mentality,” staying away from social media and rejecting any marketing deals in the run-up to the draft. His father is a police officer and his mother a bailiff, meaning that off-the-field issues probably aren’t a big worry for teams.
He also has the prototypical size for an NFL quarterback at 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, with a powerful right arm. Most evaluators believe Kizer, Trubisky and Watson will need a year or two before they can be reliable starters in the NFL. Kizer’s physical abilities may be worth waiting for.
There also are plenty of doubts about him.
He completed only 58.7 percent of his passes last season after hitting on 64 percent a year earlier. NFL evaluators want that mark to be at least 60 percent. Watson and Trubisky, by comparison, had completion percentages of 67 percent and 68 percent, respectively, in 2016, although Kizer noted that he operated in a more traditional, pocket-based offense.
Then there was the losing record, which included some dubious decisions by Kizer in the fourth quarter of games.
He said Notre Dame’s successful 2015 squad had talented upperclassmen, including offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, who was drafted sixth overall last year, and wide receiver Will Fuller, who was taken 21st.
Kizer said his goal was to become more verbal after those players left for the NFL and to lead his young teammates.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t do that well enough,” he said. “And I think that’s what led to a 4-8 season instead of a season that went the same way as 2015.”