Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

NFL Draft: Will Kizer Go In 1st Round?

The two quarterbacks with the greatest upside in next week’s NFL draft? Perhaps not the top two signalcallers chosen – Kizer and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II.

You are in an NFL draft room.

Not next week, April 27, in Philadelphia where the annual extravaganza will be held, but right this very moment, with your people, hammering out the possibilities and making some very definitive decisions regarding quarterbacks and where you’ll be willing to draft one.

There are 32 NFL teams. You are one of a dozen teams that need a quarterback for a variety of reasons.

It could be the age of your starter (Chargers: Philip Rivers; Cardinals: Carson Palmer, Saints: Drew Brees; Giants: Eli Manning; Chiefs: Alex Smith).

It could be the lack of proven talent at the position (Browns: Cody Kessler/Kevin Hogan/Brock Osweiler; 49ers: Brian Hoyer; Bears: Mike Glennon; Jets: Josh McCown; Bills: Tyrod Taylor; Texans: Tom Savage).

You may be looking for a legitimate backup to an established quarterback (Seahawks: Russell Wilson).

You need to make a decision, and it can’t wait until “the 11th hour” of the April 27 draft. You’ve got to sort through it now.

“This is what’s going on in draft rooms right now,” said long-time NFL Director of College Scouting, Greg Gabriel.

‘You’ve got to make a decision.’

‘Well, I’ve got to get one.’

‘Where are we going to take him?’

‘This might be a little high to take him.’

‘Yeah, it might be a little high to take him, but if you don’t take him, you’re not getting one.’

“It’s the most important position on the team, so you pay a premium to draft somebody at that position,” Gabriel continued. “Whether that’s right or wrong, that’s fact of life.”

So while draft analysts have been dissecting the likes of Mitch Trubisky (North Carolina), Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), and elevating upstarts like Patrick Mahomes II (Texas Tech) and Davis Webb (California), the fact is these quarterbacks must go and go early because there are so many needs at the position.

Raw? Sure.

Unprepared for exotic defensive schemes? Of course.

Two or three years away from NFL legitimacy? At least.

They’re still going to be drafted, and in most instances, probably in the first round and definitely by the second round.

“I think there are four quarterbacks going in the first round, and I think it’s a lock,” said Gabriel, who worked 28 years in NFL personnel, including 16 with the Giants and eight with the Bears.

“The quarterback class is a lot higher valued by the league than it is by the draft analysts. There’s obviously no Andrew Luck in this class, but you can compare it favorably to a lot of quarterbacks that have gone in the first round in recent years.

“I talked to some friends of mine – three former GMs – who all feel six or seven (quarterbacks) are going in the first two rounds.”

As it relates to Trubisky, Watson, Mahomes and Kizer, there is no consensus of order in which they’ll be drafted. It’s a fashion show, and not everybody’s taste in fashion is the same.

“Kizer, Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes are my first-rounders, and I don’t have a clue what order they’re going in,” Gabriel said “Every team will have them ranked differently, based upon what they’re looking for at the position.

“There’s no way anybody can say, ‘This guy is absolutely the best, this guy is absolutely No. 2…’ There’s very little separation between them. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and you’ve got to really sort them out for yourself based upon what your offense is and how you feel you can work with that player.”

Private workouts have been plentiful. The Bears met with Kizer, Trubisky and Mahomes. The 49ers spent time with Watson and Webb. Mahomes also made the rounds with the Steelers, Browns and Jets. The Jets took a closer look at Kizer.

“That tells you a lot,” Gabriel said. “They’re doing their homework to make sure they’re satisfied with their opinion.”

Gabriel, like so many in recent weeks since the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, is high on Mahomes.

“Mahomes is the hot guy because of the physical traits,” Gabriel said. “He can make every throw and he’s got the strongest arm.

“Even though he doesn’t time fast, he’s got real quick feet, so he can keep plays alive. He’s a pretty smart kid. He understands things and he can pick up things quickly… It wouldn’t shock me if he were the first quarterback taken, but who knows?”

There are “system” issues to consider with Mahomes.

“People say Mahomes comes from the same system as (Marcus) Mariota, but Mariota didn’t come from that system,” Gabriel said. “He came from an entirely different system. Nobody from that Texas Tech system, which is similar to the Baylor system, has had success yet.”

Gabriel “isn’t fooled” by the sudden rise of Webb, who is the tallest of the group at 6-foot-5.

“I don’t like Davis Webb from Cal,” Gabriel said. “Around the league, there are traits that people like. I think he stinks.

“You look at the last four games and he’s a free agent. He’s tall, he’s got arm strength and he’s got some mobility. Someone will say, ‘Hey, I can make him better.’ But I don’t like him.”

Gabriel offered an assessment of the two quarterbacks generally expected to be chosen first among the signalcallers.

On Watson: “He came across very well in interviews, a very likeable kid, smart kid, a leader. Yes, he played in a limited offense, but you can’t blame that on the kid. That’s the scheme. It’s not the kid’s fault.

“No team is telling you how they felt. They keep that very guarded. But what I’ve been able to find out is that (Watson has) been very good. I think he’s the safest guy.”

On Trubisky: “He’s got nice physical traits, but he’s only started one season. He’s so raw. When is he going to be ready to step on the field in the NFL? There’s really only been one guy in the NFL in recent years that has done it with that little experience and that’s Cam Newton.

“But Trubisky didn’t know what a quick-snap was in the (Jon) Gruden Camp, which is something you’ll do a lot of times playing under center.  That wasn’t part of the North Carolina offense. You just don’t know about him because his experience and body of work are so limited.”

Back in October – before it was official (but strongly suspected in NFL circles) that Kizer would enter the draft – Gabriel flatly stated that the Irish signalcaller would be the elite quarterback talent in the 2017 draft.

“He’s got more tools than any quarterback in this draft,” said Gabriel of Kizer in October.

Two months later, Gabriel told Irish Illustrated: “He’s inconsistent, but there isn’t any part of his game that can’t be improved with coaching and hard work. He would be the most talented quarterback in this year’s draft. A GM said to me a year ago that Kizer could start for them right now.”

Gabriel stands by his original opinion of Kizer.

“I still agree with that,” Gabriel said. “I just don’t think he’s going to be the first quarterback drafted.

“The two guys with the best upside are Kizer and Mahomes, but they’re not necessarily the safest picks.”

Gabriel – an avowed opponent of mock drafts (“as soon as there’s a trade, you can throw them all out the window”) – recently projected Kizer going to the Browns with the 12th pick of the first round.

“I was throwing a dart at the wall when I made that mock,” Gabriel said. “I don’t care about tying a team to a player. It’s more of these guys have more value to the teams in the league than they’ve been given credit for over the last few months.

“You can mix these guys in a box, throw the names down and that’s how they’re going to fall. You just don’t know.”

(Editor’s Note: For more on Kizer’s draft status and the rest of the Notre Dame players vying for a shot in the NFL, look for Part II of this week’s NFL draft preview.)


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