DeShone Kizer was not my guy.
When the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft came and went with both Mitch Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes II getting snatched up by teams other than the Browns, I felt like a half deflated balloon. On the one hand, the trio of Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku felt like a clear win for the Browns. And to be fair, the Bears gave up what feels like half of the Shedd Aquarium to move from no. 3 to no. 2 to select Trubisky. But when Kansas City jumped two spots ahead of the Browns' second 1st round pick to select Mahomes, a guy I'd been able to spend some time with and grown to appreciate the skill set of, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dismayed.
Then the Browns took Kizer with the 52nd pick, and I was conflicted. I'd admittedly watched the least of Kizer, and probably skewed my opinion too far to the negative because of everything that was swirling around him throughout the draft process. Inconsistent. Accuracy issues. Teammates didn't like him. Struggled mentally. All of it put him below Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson for me.
But the value of selecting someone like Kizer at 52 overall changed my perspective of things. I went back to watch his tape with fresh, albeit orange-tinted eyes. The inconsistencies are still there. Kizer can go from making a pass only a handful of NFL guys can make to looking straight into the eyes of a linebacker and saying "here you go, fam. take this football." But Kizer has one trait that's impossible to ignore, that shows up again and again no matter what game you happen to press play on. His footwork against pressure, and resolve in the pocket in the face of it, is simply remarkable.
Kizer Doesn't Panic
Let's start with this clip from Notre Dame's game against Miami this past season. Despite a corner blitz coming from his right side, Kizer doesn't panic and try to force a throw to his wideout coming across the middle before it's there. He sits patiently, waiting for his receiver to streak past a linebacker, then makes a perfect pass with the blitzing corner just steps from his face.
Here's another shining example. It's 3rd & 10 against Army, and the defense brings its linebackers on a stunt. Notre Dame's offensive line is instantly confused, and both LBs release around their respective edges and come barreling toward Kizer. Once again, Kizer is calm, knowing he needs to wait until his receiver finishes his route and clears the underneath coverage before he throws the pass. And that's just what he does, despite knowing he's about to get drilled. First down.
His Footwork is Pristine
This is part two of what makes Kizer so good under pressure. He possesses the elite ability to move his feet to avoid pressure while still keeping his head up and eyes downfield, turning would-be sacks into highlight reel plays.
Take the play above, once against Army. Another cornerback comes almost untouched on a blitz, so Kizer simply steps to his right, allowing his offensive lineman to re-engage with the blitzer, resets his feet, climbs the pocket and unleashes a touchdown pass...just as another defender appears directly in his face.
Stanford is one of Kizer's worst games, but he still managed to flash great footwork on a huge 3rd & 10 as Notre Dame trailed late in the 4th quarter. Watch Kizer shuffle continuously to his left to avoid a free blitzer off the edge to give his wideout time to get open across the middle.
Even here, on an interception against USC, Kizer does everything before the pass correctly. He goes through his progressions, recognizes the pressure and climbs the pocket to avoid it. Unfortunately, the decision that followed ruined all of Kizer's previous work.
Plenty of questions remain with Kizer. Consistent accuracy on a down-to-down basis and better decision making will determine whether he succeeds in the NFL or flames out. But he already possesses a crucial trait that cannot be coached, and you can understand why when he became available at 52 the Browns leapt at the opportunity to coach him.