Cleveland Browns: DeShone Kizer shouldn’t be excluded from future QB plans


Additions to the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback position are inevitable but don’t forget about DeShone Kizer.

Despite the Cleveland Browns inquiring about him, former Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith was traded to the Washington Redskins in exchange for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third-round pick. Smith will sign a four-year contract extension worth $94 million dollars per ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter.

It makes sense that the Browns weren’t willing to commit to Smith long-term, as they have the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and Smith will turn 34 in May. A stop-gap QB such as A.J. McCarron or Chase Daniel looks to be the next step.

Drafting a rookie QB in the first round is a foregone conclusion at this point. From the outside looking in, the Browns’ QB of the future is not on their roster.

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Head coach Hue Jackson told fans to “trust him” after Cody Kessler was selected in the third round in 2016. Despite posting a 92.3 QB rating in his rookie season, Kessler fell to third on the Browns’ depth chart in 2017, appearing in only three games. His limited performance was abysmal, and it will be a surprise if he is on the roster in 2018.

Kevin Hogan was signed late in the 2016 season and after an impressive preseason claimed the backup QB job. He spelled DeShone Kizer in a few games, injecting a spark into the Browns’ lifeless offense.

Hogan got his chance to start against the Houston Texans and fell flat on his face. He was slow to process reads and woefully inaccurate. Hogan may be another roster casualty, as the probability of both a free agent and rookie QB makes him expendable.

After a wild pre-draft process, the Browns selected Kizer with the 52nd overall pick. With a big need at QB and an abundance of picks, Cleveland took a risk on the potential-laden Kizer. While most teams are taking their second player with their second-round pick, Kizer was the Browns’ fourth selection. This made the pick easier to understand.

At Notre Dame, Kizer replaced the injured Malik Zaire early in his sophomore season, where he finished the year with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His 6’4″ frame and cannon arm made him an intriguing prospect, and scouts were interested in seeing his development.

Kizer’s numbers improved to 26 touchdowns against nine interceptions, but his completion percentage dropped to 59%. Notre Dame won just four games compared to 10 in 2015.

There were many reasons for this drop-off. The Irish lost many dependable offensive players, such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, running back C.J. Prosise, and wide receiver Will Fuller V. The defense was terrible, giving up an average of 27.8 points per game, tied for 62nd in the FBS.

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Kizer also had a difficult relationship with head coach Brian Kelly. Kizer was benched multiple times by Kelly for “unacceptable play”, despite Kizer being the only reason Notre Dame remained competitive in games. Kelly would repeatedly single out Kizer and specifically blame him for losses. It was a very negative atmosphere and one that Kizer couldn’t wait to get away from.

Going into the draft, NFL teams realized that Kizer had the potential to be a top-five NFL QB. Throws like these are incredibly rare. It takes special arm talent to be able to do that, and Kizer has it.

The problem was, Kizer wasn’t able to do that consistently. One play he’d throw a perfectly placed deep ball 30 yards down the sideline, and the next he’d spike the ball into the ground on a routine 10-yard crossing pattern. His mechanics and footwork were ugly, he didn’t see open receivers, hung onto the ball for far too long, and his eyes were slow while making reads.

These are the reasons why Kizer fell to the middle of the second round. He was a gigantic risk, but also a huge reward. The optimal situation for Kizer was to sit behind an established veteran QB for at least one season, working on refining his mechanics and bettering the mental aspect of his game.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Kizer blew Kessler and Hogan out of the water during the preseason, as his superior physical tools were evident. He played a solid game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but struggled for most of the season.

Kizer displayed flashes of brilliance, but they were dampened by his inexperience and tendency to become overwhelmed at times. He tried to do too much, forcing the ball and taking risks that shouldn’t have been taken. An example of this includes throwing the ball up for grabs on third down in his own territory in overtime against the Green Bay Packers.

Kizer finished the season 0-15 as a starter, completing 255 out of his 476 attempts, an average of 53.6%, for 2,894 yards, 11 touchdowns, and a league-leading 22 interceptions. He finished fourth in the league in QB rushing with 419 yards and ran for five touchdowns, second in the league among QBs.

Kizer was not drafted to be the Browns’ QB of the future. He was drafted to have a chance. He was given a trial by fire and didn’t exactly prove himself worthy of the franchise QB title.

The Browns shouldn’t be devoted to Kizer right now, but they shouldn’t write him off either. Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff had an atrocious rookie season after being taken first overall in 2016. This past season, he led his team to the playoffs and was voted to this year’s pro bowl. Things can change quickly.

Kizer shouldn’t have played at all in 2017. After a full offseason of working with new QB coach Ken Zampese and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Kizer could improve significantly. The added pressure of a first overall rookie QB could also contribute to an improvement.

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If USC’s Sam Darnold or Wyoming’s Josh Allen is taken by Cleveland, it wouldn’t be surprising if Kizer was the starter to open the 2018 season. The Browns can’t bank on Kizer becoming the player he can be, but they should give him the opportunity to do so. The reward would be well worth it.