Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Prister’s Thursday Thoughts

Since 2002, an average of three QBs have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. DeShone Kizer has the long-term potential to be one of those Thursday night.

KIZER AND THE NFL DRAFT

DeShone Kizer didn’t help himself by ballooning up to 250 pounds during the 2016 football season. His performance at the NFL Combine was, by and large, disappointing. His accuracy at Notre Dame’s Pro Day was good, but it wasn’t great.

From one who many believed was the top quarterback prospect when this whole process began to NFL draft day 2017, Kizer will need some things to fall his way tonight to fulfill his dream of being a first-round draft choice.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes are vying for the same distinction. Most believe Trubisky will go first among the quarterbacks. Watson will go in the first round. The gunslinging Mahomes is the hot name and for good reason.

Will Kizer go in the first round? Greg Gabriel, who spent nearly three decades in the NFL evaluating college talent, believes he will.

“He’s shooting himself in the foot (by making Tom Brady/Cam Newton comparisons), but I think he goes in the first. I think he’s the third or fourth quarterback taken, and three years from now he might be the best quarterback of the group.”

What to believe?

Let’s take a look at the quarterbacks who have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Since 2002, an average of three quarterbacks have been selected in the first round.

Four were chosen in:

• 2003 (Carson Palmer, Bryon Leftwich, Kyle Boller and Rex Grossman)
• 2004 (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger and J.P. Losman)
• 2011 (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder)
• 2012 (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden).

It’s easy to look back at players now and wonder just what the heck they were thinking. Johnny Manziel (2014), E.J. Manuel (2013) and Tim Tebow (2010)? Patrick Ramsey out of Tulane (2002)? But these were ultra-productive college football players, and when it comes to the quarterback position, teams will reach waaaayyyy too far.

The two most head-scratching for me in recent years were Ponder in 2011 and Tannehill in 2012. Ponder was the No. 12 overall pick by the Vikings and Tannehill, with limited quarterback experience on the collegiate level, went No. 8 to the Dolphins.

Ponder had significant accuracy issues at Florida State. I literally laughed out loud when I heard his name called. He was a bust waiting to happen. He did start 36 games in the NFL, but he was 14-21-1 as a starter with 38 touchdown passes and 36 interceptions.

Despite all that has happened and has been said, Kizer still has a solid chance of hearing his name called tonight in the first round. He would be Notre Dame’s 67th all-time first-round draft choice.

Irish quarterbacks who have been chosen in the first round include: Brady Quinn (2007), Rick Mirer (1993), George Izo (1960), Paul Hornung (1957), Ralph Guglielmi (1955), Bob Williams (1951), Frank Tripucka (1949), Johnny Lujack (1946), Frank Dancewicz (1946) and Angelo Bertelli (1944).

SOUND ADVICE

In a recent interview with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, former Irish/NFL great Joe Theismann addressed comments made by DeShone Kizer, who compared his football intelligence to Tom Brady’s and his physical stature to Cam Newton.

“He’s a very bright young man,” said Theismann of Kizer, “but Tom Brady’s played 17-18 years in the National Football League and has five championship rings. You don’t compare yourself to Tom Brady.

“Cam Newton was the MVP of the National Football League. You don’t compare yourself to something like that…

“The thing is you want to aspire to be someone like Tom, and because you’re sort of built like Cam and you run like him, you’d like to be able to accomplish the things he’s done.”

Sound advice, and something that would have been in Kizer’s best interest to say.

Kizer “doubled down” on his assessment in an interview with NBC’s Jac Collinsworth during the Blue-Gold Game. To his credit, he altered his message while sticking to his convictions.

“When you decide to play a game like this, you’re going to model yourself after the greatest,” Kizer said. “It was a comment that I made and I’m going to stand by it (because) those are the people I (strive to be). I am confident that I can become one of the best in the league and I would love to have the preparation and to exhibit the intellect of a guy like Tom Brady.

“For me, why play this game if you don’t want to go out there and be the greatest? That’s my mindset behind this whole process and how it always will be moving forward.”

RIGHT TACKLE RUMBLINGS

Spring football is complete, and for 15 practices, Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg fought it out for the right tackle position while Alex Bars – a 12-game starter in 2016 at right tackle – worked at right guard.

Both Kraemer and Eichenberg struggled with speed rushers in the Blue-Gold Game. Bars certainly had his issues at times as a first-year starter at right tackle last year.

Kraemer’s performance in the Blue-Gold Game was blown out of proportion a bit. Yes, he was beaten off the edge, but you can’t ignore the vast majority of plays in which Kraemer handled himself well at right tackle.

Of course, it’s those two or three plays that beat a team, but let’s not distort the truth. Kraemer remains a viable option at right tackle. He’s big, he’s physical and he’s talented.

But what if Bars slid back to right tackle and Kraemer moved into the right guard slot? In terms of best position, I believe Bars and Kraemer are both better guards than tackles. But that’s not an option. The goal is to put your five best offensive linemen on the field, and Kraemer is one of the five best.

Perhaps the best way to maximize the many talents of Bars and Kraemer is to flip-flop them post-spring. We’ll see what Harry Hiestand decides to do.

THE TALENT DRAIN

For the past few years, Irish Illustrated has offered a story entitled The Talent Drain in the aftermath of the NFL draft. We take Notre Dame and its 12 upcoming opponents and evaluate which teams lost the most talent to the draft/free agency/graduation.

This year, it appears that virtually every Irish opponent lost more talent from the 2016 team than Notre Dame. The exceptions would be Navy, Miami (Ohio), Boston College. Wake Forest is close with four key former Mike Elko defenders up for consideration in the draft.

Believe it or not, Temple lost as much if not more talent than Notre Dame with outside linebacker Haason Reddick a potential first-round draft choice tonight and offensive guard Dion Dawkins a projected second-rounder leading the way among Owl departures.

Teams that lost a ton of talent: USC, North Carolina and Miami. Stanford lost two potential first-rounders in Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas. Georgia lost three of its starting offensive linemen. There also are a lot of familiar names gone from Michigan State, which went 3-9 but had some upper-class talent.

It’s interesting to look back at last year’s story because among Notre Dame and its 12 opponents in 2016, we had the Irish with the greatest talent drain following the departure of first-rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second-rounders Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, third-rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise and fourth-rounder Sheldon Day.

A healthy Smith obviously would have been a first-rounder and maybe even the top pick in the draft. That list doesn’t include experienced graduates such as Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle, Romeo Okwara, Elijah Shumate and Joe Schmidt.

Second on our talent drain list last year: Michigan State.

That doesn’t fully explain Notre Dame’s 4-8 record or Michigan State’s 3-9 mark, but it did point to diminished returns in 2016.

Look for the full story in the aftermath of the three-day draft.

THE ‘STAR ARGUMENT’

Critics of high school football talent evaluators love to look back on the four- and five-star busts and point out the discrepancies in the ratings. Come Super Bowl time, lists are made of all the three-star prospects participating in the biggest game of the year.

It’s an inexact science, and it shows up on a regular basis.

But what is a talent evaluator supposed to do? Ignore the obvious physical skills of a 17- and 18-year-old prospect? Diminish the talents of what looks to be one of the better players in line for major college scholarship offers?

What’s often ignored is the culpability of a prospect to maximize his talent. Once a high school player’s film is evaluated, it’s up to the player to take those tools and continue the growth process.

Injuries come into play. Competition for a particular position is a factor. More than anything, the mental and physical toughness of a prospect are determining factors. So, too, is the ability to grasp the concepts taught by the assistant coaches in a very complex game.

For example, who didn’t love Josh Barajas’ physical skills coming out of high school? He was tough, aggressive, quick and powerful. Although not the ideal height for a linebacker – he’s listed at 6-foot-1 5/8 – he had all the makings of a fine college linebacker.

He arrived at Notre Dame and missed his mark physically. Then the injuries start to chip away. Other players advance up the depth chart. The next wave of talent arrives. Before you know it, you’re behind, and making up ground is difficult.

Barajas may still pan out. But he was barely in the picture this spring, due partly to illness. Reps with the second unit were difficult to come by. We didn’t see him in the Blue-Gold Game until late. He has a ton of ground to make up.

High school talent evaluators aren’t always correct, but they aren’t wrong per se in their talent evaluation just because a player doesn’t pan out. You can’t control what only the player himself can control, and even then, the game has ways of robbing a player’s ability to achieve.


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