Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly really, truly didn’t believe in Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this season until he was absolutely, unequivocally forced to. However, Kizer obviously doesn’t share in that cynicism, for the redshirt sophomore declared for the 2017 NFL Draft Monday after recently earning his team’s Most Valuable Player award. And that skepticism from his coach more than likely played a role in the decision.
“DeShone is an extremely gifted quarterback that was faced with a difficult decision,” Kelly said in a release. “He could return as a senior captain at Notre Dame - a place that he loves, and with a program that respects him immensely. Or, he could begin the next chapter in his life and accept the opportunity that likely awaits in the NFL.
“While he chose the latter, the type of leadership DeShone displayed this past season will benefit our program moving forward. He’ll certainly be missed on and off the field, but we’re very happy for him and his family. DeShone will always represent this University with the utmost professionalism and class.”
There are a lot of reasons for Kizer to have made the decision that he did. Perhaps, millions of them.
Kizer does have the talent, size and athleticism necessary to be drafted in a very lucrative position financially. Whether that translates to on-the-field success is another matter, but that is irrelevant at this point. He just needs to be drafted to get the initial contract and he can worry about his propensity for inaccurate throws later.
Where his draft stock stands exactly has yet to be determined. The NFL teams probably aren’t sure of what their opinions are of the quarterback and the two most prominent NFL evaluators (Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay) both recently tweeted that Kizer should remain in school.
In addition to being draftable, Kizer did take a physical beating at times this season – some of which was of his own doing – and that certainly had to be taken into consideration when assessing his future, as well.
He missed the final play of the Virginia Tech game last month when he was struck by a defender, and that wasn’t the only time Kizer got his bell rung throughout this season. If he were to return next season, Kizer would be putting himself at risk of being one play away from leaving a lot of money on the table.
But certainly something that had to weigh on his mind, as well, was the fact that he was also potentially one poor throw away from being benched by Kelly.
The coach can talk of the “respect” that the program has for Kizer – and the young man always said the right things publicly, even in the face of frustrating circumstances – but actions speak as loud as the noise emanating from 80,000 Irish fans that couldn’t believe Kelly once again went to back-up Malik Zaire during an eventual loss to Stanford in South Bend this past October.
DeShone Kizer leaves Notre Dame ranked in the top-10 in school history in 19 different offensive categories.
Career stats for #14 ?? pic.twitter.com/4IEiDUfItE
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) December 12, 2016
For the first half of this past season, Kelly continually gave Zaire opportunities to play, at Kizer’s expense, despite the indisputable fact that there was a canyon-esque difference in their performances. Kizer probably didn’t feel secure that such decisions by Kelly wouldn’t continue (nor should he) with now-No. 1 quarterback redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush.
Kelly has been unsettled in his handling of the quarterback position for virtually his entire tenure in South Bend. When he’s had any semblance of a viable option as the No. 2 quarterback, he’s looked to that guy when his starter struggled. In wake of his worst season with the Irish (they just finished a 4-8 season), and many fans calling for a change in leadership (Kelly, not Kizer), the coach is sure to look at every possible scenario to strengthen his position in leading the program next fall.
If Kelly gave a clearly incompetent Zaire multiple chances, what would he do the first time in 2017 that Kizer threw an errant pass and he had Wimbush standing next to him?
Kelly’s history is such that both players would get playing time and that would ultimately hinder Kizer financially.
Kizer’s leaving is really too bad for a couple of reasons.
First of all, as the NFL evaluators stated, he isn’t ready to play at that level yet. Ignore the statistics; Kizer is inaccurate with his passing, not in abundance, but too often for any NFL coach’s comfort level.
Even in his final game (a loss at USC), both he and Kelly spoke of passes that “could’ve been thrown better.”
Secondly, the Notre Dame offense has the potential to be fantastic next season. It returns every starter but receiver Torii Hunter Jr. and late-season starting offensive lineman Mark Harrell, plus gets talented tight end Alize’ Jones back after being academically ineligible this year.
It would’ve been fun to watch Kizer lead Notre Dame back to relevance in 2017 (and he would have), but I can’t fault the guy. The possibility of being drafted in a favorable position is far more of a certainty than putting any level of trust in Kelly not getting trigger-happy once again.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.