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PHILADELPHIA – A subject of so much uncertainty here this week, DeShone Kizer expressed just one thing he was certain of – he just needed a chance to prove himself again.
At various points over the past two years Kizer’s name appeared atop NFL mock drafts, the predicted No. 1 selection overall out of Notre Dame. This was supposed to be his big weekend, ruling the draft.
Instead he arrived with nothing guaranteed, draft debris from an up-and-down season where the Irish finished an abysmal 4-8.
Yet where even sure-bet first-round picks eschewed a trip to Philadelphia and the potential discomfort of sliding, Kizer embraced it. He sought out the chance to stand tall and be accountable. He took the opportunity to enjoy an experience that, while not how he once dreamed it, was still once in a lifetime.
For instance, he struck a charity deal to wear a certain suit for his inevitable selection. Yet since it was possible (and became reality) that he didn’t go in Thursday’s first round, he acknowledged with a self-deprecating laugh, it might not get too much exposure.
He had no illusions this would be easy. He seemed to revel in it. Just give me a chance, he kept saying. Just give me a job.
On Friday, deep in the second round, the Cleveland Brows did just that. They went 1-15 last season and were again in the market for a quarterback. They had the top pick overall but found none to their liking there. Not Kizer, a Toledo product, not Mitchell Trubisky, from the Cleveland suburbs who’d go No. 2 overall, not DeShaun Watson, the decorated Clemson star, who’d go 12th. Not even parting with a pack of picks for New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo.
They picked a defensive lineman and then a tight end and then a safety and if QB wasn’t happening, then it wasn’t happening. No need to force things. Forcing things is how the Browns keep finding themselves in this mess, the thinking went.
Then along came the 52nd pick, leaving the forlorn franchise and the frustrated prospect staring at each other. Cleveland pulled the trigger and took their latest savior. If Kizer is as good as he sometimes looks, then it’s a steal. If Kizer is as bad as he sometimes looks, then it’s another draft disaster.
As for Kizer, he gets his chance with one of the franchises he wanted all along.
“Where I am picked and how I am slotted and how I stand against other quarterbacks doesn’t mean anything,” Kizer said before the draft. “The team I end up in and how I prepare myself to go into rookie camp is what matters. We’ve seen guys not drafted such as Kurt Warner or guys drafted late such as Tom Brady go on and succeed. It’s about what you do when you get there. I’m ready to work.”
Maybe in this oddball way the Browns finally found their guy, a knocked-down draft pick with a massive chip on his shoulder.
Kizer stands 6-foot-4, weighs 233 pounds and can chuck it all over the field. He’ll make you defend every blade of turf. He is tough and smart and can run and has all the intangibles that made scouts drool until he started to stumble. He threw 19 picks in 23 starts.
And, of course, Notre Dame lost. A lot. Which starts with him, he said.
“The inconsistencies,” Kizer said. “You have to be a consistent passer, you have to be an accurate passer to win games and, quite frankly, I just didn’t make enough plays in the fourth quarter to win those games.”
Still, how does a year that bad happen at Notre Dame when they have a quarterback who could be this good? What happened?
“A lot happened,” Kizer said. “New coaching staff happened. Young players happened. An inconsistent quarterback happened. There’s a lot that goes into 4-8. You can evaluate it all day long, and I will, and there will never be an answer for it. I think that’s the cool part of me going through it is that I will be able to look back on that experience and build off of it.”
When he decided to leave school early and turn pro, his own coach, Brian Kelly, declared that he supported him, but that Kizer wasn’t a finished prospect and needed another year of development. It was hard to argue with that. Kizer shrugged it off. He believed this was the best path and he praised Kelly’s tough-love coaching. He attended one of Kelly’s charity functions earlier this week. Their relationship is good.
Kelly had a point, after all. It’s about the quarterback, Kizer said. He doesn’t mind admitting it.
“Absolutely,” Kizer said. “If you are supposed to be an elite quarterback you are supposed to win games. It’s our job in this league to win games. At Notre Dame I didn’t win, so [scouts] have to ask me what am I going to do to get back to winning.”
Cleveland needs to get back to winning, too, and this, Kizer figures, is actually where losing might be a blessing. He’s a bright guy and he’s trying to flip a negative, but still, who knows, maybe he’s got a point.
“[I can] step in with the experience I had from going 4-8 last year and determining the leadership and winning qualities you need to create a winning culture,” Kizer said. “It is exactly what I want to do. That is something I think makes me become a valuable asset to a team.”
At pick No. 52, with three selections already in the fold, this was less of a gamble for Cleveland, less of an asset spent. For Kizer, it hardly mattered. The draft was now a success. He’d come here against almost all logic and appeared to enjoy having to answer tough questions and confront significant doubts and face the music for a rough season.
“The highs and the lows,” he put it.
So now it’s the Browns. Cody Kessler, the team’s third-round pick a year ago, is what passes for a current first-stringer. He went 0-8 as a starter. Kizer may not be instantly ready but if he is, the job is winnable.
“Just give me a chance,” he said all week.
Cleveland did. Maybe DeShone Kizer gives Cleveland a chance, as well.
More NFL draft coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Watch former Cowboys WR Drew Pearson troll booing Eagles fans
• Bulls fans boo new Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky at playoff game
• Bengals take controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in second round
• Dan Wetzel: Why more players will follow the lead of Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette
• Grading every pick: Who did the best in Round 1?
• Falcons’ pick wins draft night with emotional, expletive-laden interview