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Notre Dame Irish in the NFL: DeShone Kizer’s Fit with the Cleveland Browns

Pro Football Focus’ experts discuss Kizer’s “low pressure” opportunity to succeed in Cleveland.

Miami v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

DeShone Kizer has a low pressure opportunity to become Hue Jackson’s preferred signalcaller in Cleveland, according to two top analysts at Pro Football Focus.

In their PFF Quarterback Podcast (Google, Apple), senior analysts Steve Palazzolo and Zac Robinson both said the Cleveland Browns were an ideal fit for the former Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback because of the tutelage he’ll receive under Jackson, who has coached Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton in his 30-year career.

Robinson, a former Oklahoma State Cowboys and NFL QB, also shared his impressions of Kizer. The pair worked together from December to March in preparation for Kizer’s NFL Combine and Pro Day appearances.

Here’s their conversation:

PALAZZOLO: Three quarterbacks go in the first round. The fourth quarterback — DeShone Kizer — we’ll throw out all the disclaimers out there. You worked with DeShone Kizer throughout the entire draft process. You were his quarterback guru. I’ll give it to you. You were the guru. Can you just give a quick overview of what you were doing? We did talk about this on a previous podcast. But if we’re on the pro podcast, whole new crowd, whole new group of people. So Zac: You were working with DeShone through the process. Can you just give a quick overview and again, the disclaimer that you were there throughout this whole process leading up to it.

ROBINSON: Yeah, I guess we started the day after Christmas — December 26 — went all the way up and through his Pro Day and just kind of got after it every day. I saw some things on tape that I think could have helped him, ultimately and mechanically and things like that with balance, like we were just talking about with [Deshaun] Watson.

But I was fired up to work with him, just because the talent — there’s so much talent there. I will say this: Throughout the whole thing, he took -- very responsive to coaching. But the guy’s mind and what he’s able to pick up and then apply that day is incredible. So he’s got a ton of stuff there.

Notre Dame v USC Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

In terms of what we were out there working out and throwing, you see some stuff where you’re like, ‘Holy smokes. There’s not many guys that can make that type of throw.’ He can zip it. He can throw with great trajectory and kind of layer the ball, so it was a lot of fun working with him. He was a great kid in the process -- showed up. He was ready to work. There’s things ultimately that he’s working on and can clean up and get better at. But, overall, it was a blast to work with him. The intellect was impressive just as far as we’d sit down and watch was going on during the playoffs. We’d watch the matchups that were coming up, whether it was the Super Bowl or whatnot. And he can sit there and — coming straight out of college -- really talk like an NFL QB already and understand the protection schemes and where to go with the progressions.

So in terms of a quarterback that can mentally handle a playbook, I can’t speak for the other guys. But this guy has got to be at the top right there with everybody.

So I’m excited to see where he goes. I think Cleveland is a great spot for him.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Texas Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

PALAZZOLO: So the thing about Kizer — if you’re into, ‘If I see it once, I know he can do it,’ then the Texas game was a great example of Kizer has at least shown what he can do. That was the game for me. You talk about layering the ball. He put one over the linebacker in between the safety for a touchdown. He threw a touch on a corner route. He threw with zip on a dig route — put the ball right on his receiver. I felt like he showed that “arm talent” that you’re looking for on all of these different types of throws.

I think the problem with Kizer both years — 2015 and 2016 — was the consistency. And I did tweet out at one point during the process: “He makes the difficult things looks easy. He makes the easy things look difficult.” So this Texas game was — these difficult things he made look easy. All of these difficult throws...my question is: The five-yard curl — sometimes he’ll overthrow it. The dig route, sometimes, instead of putting it right on the guy, he’s underthrowing it. You saw that a little bit all throughout the season, I think, in 2016.

You’ve talked about some of his strengths, what he can do. What other things do you think he needs to polish up that Hue Jackson is going to say, day one, “These are the things we need to work on”? And then I’ll talk about his fit with the Browns in a minute.

ROBINSON: Like you said, it was just the consistency on some of the easier-type throws. You could go back and he admit it that it wasn’t as consistent as you need to be on, like you said, a hitch route, simple as that not ideal ball location.

But there were things that we kind of cleaned up and got ready to go. I will say he’s throwing the ball incredibly well. He’s put in a lot of time. And so some of those things really are fixable. You say accuracy can’t be fixable, but he’s got a just pure motion and everything. But he’s a big guy and a lot of kind of moving parts. So it’s just simplifying some of those things and ultimately getting everything going in the right direction. I think on those easier-type throws that will help him out.

So I think those were the things because you see the other “wow” throws. And if you look at just really what he had around him last year at wide-out. There was a bunch of young guys that didn’t have the pieces to highlight what he does well. His best spots, I think, are the intermediate play action, the 15- to 25-yard throws that he does really well. They didn’t really have a guy that could get to that spot, a big body whether it was a tight end or a receiver that could get to that spot. I think that hampered a little bit what he could showcase and do. But he’s got a ton of tools there. I think he’s definitely working at it and getting a lot better.

PALAZZOLO: Yeah, he had the highest passer rating in the nation on play action. So it does kind of back up what you were saying. Going back to “makes the difficult things look easy,” one of the highest grades under pressure in the entire draft class.

When you talk about all the stuff you’re looking for in a quarterback, he’s shown all of it — at least at some point. He can make all the throws, work under pressure. I think sometimes he’s held the ball too long. The last couple of years, we’ve charged him with as many sacks as we’ve charged his offensive line.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

But the potential is still there. And this is why I like the landing spot. I know that there was some rumors about him going in the first round. I think he landed right where he needed to — in the second round. And I love that he goes to Cleveland and he’s Cleveland’s fourth selection. They had three first rounders. Kizer is their second rounder. They still have two firsts the next year. I like this combination because they have a chance to get something out of him, turn him into a special player. He has all the tools to do it.

But if he doesn’t, they still have three first round picks in this draft and they still have two firsts next year and they could keep eyes towards other quarterbacks.

But it’s also a great situation for Kizer — low pressure, a little bit less pressure. I know it’s Cleveland and Cleveland’s been looking for its quarterback since like the 80s. But, as a second round pick, yeah you’re working with Hue Jackson, a guy who knows how to develop quarterbacks. I think it’s a good location. I think it’s a good spot. And I think it’s as low pressure as you can get for a Cleveland quarterback situation because they can look elsewhere. And maybe that’s more pressure, but I like the fit. I think it was the right landing spot as far as round and team for Kizer.

ROBINSON: I totally agree. I think that — (I’ve) personally been with Hue Jackson for a couple of years in Cincinnati. What he does with quarterbacks is outstanding. He’s one of the best that I’ve ever been around. So in terms of what he’s going to get out of DeShone, I think he’s a great guy for him. David Lee, the quarterback coach — the coach I was with at the Senior Bowl — so I kind of know both of those guys and just know their overall knowledge of the position and how to coach it and I think it’s a great spot. Hue will help with everything involved — the holistic approach of what you’ve got to do, day-to-day process and everything. That will be really good for him.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

But the fit in Cleveland, you know, he’s a big body guy. You’ve got to battle the elements, the weather. There’s some wind there as well. So I think in terms of just what they want to do — and Hue Jackson, ultimately, he wants chunk plays down the field. The play-action game? He loves all of that stuff. So I think that’s a ideal fit for him in terms of what they want to do and ultimately want to be, offensively, whether that’s in a year or two years. It sounds like they’re going to give him plenty of time. And like you said there’s no pressure there.

It’s a great fit. You can see why they liked him. His overall instincts in the pocket stand out to me, the ability to feel things and keep his eyes up and work through progressions. He’s a basketball player in high school, baseball player. Basketball-wise, I think he averaged upwards of 10 assists per game. So you know he has a very good spatial awareness and ability to see things and feel things.

So the match there with Hue Jackson is great. He’s going to learn a ton and I’m fired up to see it.

PALAZZOLO: I love the combination of DeShone Kizer versus Cody Kessler, basically polar opposites as far as Kessler is that up to 10 yards, crazy accuracy beyond 10, beyond 20 especially, things go sour. You talked about Hue. He wants those chunk plays. So I’m sure he’d love for Kizer to be the guy at some point very shortly.