The Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn assesses the top quarterbacks in the NFL draft.
Fourth in position-by-position series previewing the 2017 NFL draft.
GREEN BAY - Playing quarterback at Notre Dame once meant a certain cachet that often led to All-American distinction, the Heisman Trophy and first-round berths in the NFL draft.
Nowadays, it’s a dead-end job when it comes to pro football.
The latest Fighting Irish signal-caller, the physically imposing Deshone Kizer, is being met with understandable skepticism from NFL teams that admire his talent, question his intangibles and fear he’ll turn out to be the latest flop out of South Bend.
“Name me a Notre Dame quarterback lately that’s flourished in the NFL,” an executive in personnel for an NFC team said this month. “Just name one. Oh, Joe Theismann. Yeah, that was recently.”
OK, the sarcastic scout did forget about Joe Montana, Notre Dame Class of 1979, winner of four Super Bowls and arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. His general point, however, hit the mark.
Theismann, a Super Bowl champion from the Class of 1971, and Montana haven’t watched any of their successors waking the echoes and shaking down the thunder.
Kizer will become the eighth Golden Domer drafted to play quarterback since Montana was selected by Bill Walsh and the San Francisco 49ers in the third round in 1979.
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In order, the others were Rusty Lisch, fourth round, 1980; Blair Kiel, 11th round, ’84; Steve Beuerlein, fourth round, ’87; Rick Mirer, first round, ’93; Jarious Jackson, seventh round, ’00; Brady Quinn, first round, ’07, and Jimmy Clausen, second round, ’10.
Their career records as starters and passer ratings were as follows: Lisch (0-1, 25.1); Kiel (0-3, 75.4); Beuerlein (47-55, 80.3); Mirer (24-44, 63.5); Jackson (0-1, 46.4); Quinn (4-16, 64.4), and Clausen (1-13, 61.9).
Collectively, the group posted a starting record of 76-133 and a passer rating of 71.4. Thank goodness for Beuerlein, who accounted for the lone Pro Bowl appearance in 1999.
When Walsh broadcast Notre Dame games for NBC-TV in 1991, he never backed off comparing Mirer to Montana, both of whom wore jersey No. 3. They were option quarterbacks and measured an identical 6 feet 2 inches.
Mirer, a career 53.3 percent passer for seven teams, served as the Green Bay Packers’ third-stringer in 1998 before being traded the following August. He never solved his accuracy woes.
Mirer scored 31 on the Wonderlic intelligence test, two more than Quinn would 15 years later. Whereas Mirer was the second overall pick in 1993, Quinn went 22nd in ’07.
“I coached at Notre Dame,” Jim Gruden, a longtime NFL personnel man, said before the ’07 draft. “The pressure on a kid playing quarterback at Notre Dame is immense.”
Quinn bounced around for six years with six teams, another inaccurate thrower and skittish decision-maker.
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In 1970, Theismann became the 12th quarterback from Notre Dame to achieve All-American status. Four of the 12, including Angelo Bertelli, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung and John Huarte, also captured the Heisman.
Kizer entered the 2016 season with high hopes, having started the final 11 games as a redshirt freshman the year before for a club that finished a surprising 10-3.
“This is a team that will likely be favored in their first 11 games,” wrote Phil Steele in his College Football Preview. “That could put them 11-0 when they travel to USC for a game with probably playoff implications … they are a legitimate national title contender.”
Kizer was voted the team’s MVP but it was a hollow award, to be sure. One of the nation’s most disappointing teams, the Irish posted their second worst record (4-8) in 54 years.
“You look at that team, they’ve got players,” an AFC personnel man said. “There’s no way they should win just four games. It was because of this guy, the quarterback. Boy, at times he looked bad. He was so bad against Stanford in the first half that they benched him.”
Two weeks after the season ended, Kizer renounced his final two years of eligibility having posted a 12-11 record in 23 starts.
“He is the classic boom or bust,” said an AFC evaluator. “In terms of arm strength, athleticism, talent, intelligence, he’s the highest-end guy. At the same time, he’s also the one with the most flaws.”
In a Journal Sentinel survey of 16 personnel people, Kizer’s ranking reflected considerable angst among scouts regarding his future.
Evaluators were asked to rank the quarterbacks on a 1-to-5 basis, with a first-place vote worth five points, a second worth four and so on.
In a tight three-way battle, North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky led the way with 61 points (four firsts) followed by Clemson's Deshaun Watson (58, six) and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes (56, five).
Kizer was fourth with 32 points and one first, followed by California's Davis Webb (23), Pittsburgh's Nathan Peterman (five), Iowa's C.J. Beathard (two), Virginia Tech's Jerod Evans (two) and Miami's Brad Kaaya (one).
“I really don’t like any of them,” one longtime executive said. “Maybe two will go in the first round because of need but they all have holes. It’s, like, ‘Let’s see if we can develop them and get something out of them.’ It’s one of the worst groups I’ve watched in a long time.”
At the same time, the scouts were asked who among the leading passers would have the best chance to bust.
Kizer was the easy winner with nine votes. Mahomes drew two votes, Trubisky and Watson each had one and one scout declined comment. Two of the executives indicated all five were equally risky.
A common refrain among scouts was that Kizer possesses more physical gifts than any quarterback in the draft. “Athletic, strong arm, nice release, throws a nice deep ball, can move in the pocket,” one scout said.
An equally heard assessment of Kizer’s shortcomings centered on what is widely perceived to be his questionable reason for playing football.
“He’s not as good as he should be because he’s not committed to the game,” said one AFC executive. “He’s committed to building a brand. He wants all the things that come with being a starting quarterback but doesn’t want to put in the work.”
An NFC personnel man described Kizer as a selfish player worried mostly about status and money.
“That’s what drives him,” said the executive. “It’s all about him. Prima donna. Thin-skinned.”
At 6 feet 4 ½ inches and 235 pounds, Kizer has a chance to become the 19th quarterback drafted in the first round over the last 20 years to enter the league weighing at least 235.
The stigma now attached to Notre Dame quarterbacks is perhaps less daunting than the dubious success rate of heavy-set quarterbacks.
Of the 18, only four – Daunte Culpepper, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck – have been voted to the Pro Bowl. Sam Bradford and Joe Flacco have played near Pro Bowl levels at times, and the jury’s out on second-year men Carson Wentz and Paxton Lynch.
The thick-bodied busts in Round 1 since 1997 include Jim Druckenmiller, Ryan Leaf, Kyle Boller, Byron Leftwich, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Josh Freeman, Tim Tebow, Blaine Gabbert and E.J. Manuel.
“Kizer looks the part and all that,” an NFC executive said. “The guy also got benched, had a lot of bad games and doesn’t win.”
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