Is the ‘not a winner’ label fair to DeShone Kizer?

Is the ‘not a winner’ label fair to DeShone Kizer?

DeShone Kizer has plenty of the traits desired by NFL scouts, like a strong arm and a 6-foot-4, 230 pound frame. What he doesn't have, though, is the label of being a "winner." It's the opposite for Kizer, who quarterbacked Notre Dame to a 4-8 record in 2016, the program's worst since that embarrassing 3-9 year under Charlie Weis a decade ago. 

Both Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have touted a quarterback's ability to elevate everyone around him, with Pace at the Combine specifically pointing to Drew Brees' success at Purdue. Kizer, then, doesn't check off that box.

But it's worth noting Kizer was a "winner" two years ago, when he was thrown into action seven quarters into the 2015 season and led Notre Dame within six points of a berth in the College Football Playoff. Kizer threw a last-second game-winning touchdown to Will Fuller at Virginia, led a furious comeback (that fell short on a failed two-point conversion) on the road in a rainstorm against national runner-up Clemson and scored what should've been a game-winning touchdown late against Stanford (only to have Brian VanGorder's defense blow it with under 40 seconds left). 

So how did Kizer go from being a "winner" one year to losing that label the next?

A point to note here is that 2015 Irish team had a bunch of players drafted in the first two days of the 2016 NFL Draft: Fuller and left tackle Ronnie Stanley were first-round picks, while center Nick Martin was a second-rounder and running back C.J. Prosise went in the third round. Kizer not only had less talent surrounding him in 2016, but most of those players he had to rely on were now inexperienced underclassmen. 

Notre Dame's offensive line and running game both regressed without the likes of Stanley, Martin and Prosise. That put more offensive responsibility on the passing game and Kizer, who was without six of his top seven targets from a year ago (the only returning one, Torii Hunter Jr., was sidelined for four games with various injuries). 

But Notre Dame's plummet wasn't just due to that talent drain on offense. Fired were VanGorder (four games into the season) and special teams coordinator Scott Booker (after the season) as both those units struggled do much of anything well. Two games in September were particularly egregious, with Kizer playing well in both but the Irish still conspiring to lose. 

In Week 1, Kizer threw for five touchdowns, ran for another and didn't turn the ball over in Notre Dame's 50-47 double-overtime loss at Texas. Kizer had a few chances to do more later in the game, but it's worth noting he was without Hunter, who left the game in the third quarter due to a concussion. Is it fair to assign "fault" to the guy who had to sub in and out with Malik Zaire in the first half and still had six total touchdowns and no turnovers? 

Twenty days later, Kizer threw for 381 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and one rushing score in Notre Dame's 38-35 home loss to Duke. After earning a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, Notre Dame allowed Duke's backup returner to run a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Duke ripped off touchdown plays of 25, 32 and 64 yards against a feeble Irish defense, with that 64-yarder coming less than a minute after Kizer pulled Notre Dame ahead midway through the fourth quarter. 

In those two games, though, had Notre Dame's defense and special teams merely been below average instead of a complete disaster, Kizer would've done more than enough to earn his team the two wins it needed to reach a bowl game. A 6-6 record hardly is good -- or acceptable in South Bend -- but it probably would've been more forgivable than the ugly stain of 4-8. 

Consider the records of the other four top quarterbacks' teams:

Clemson (DeShaun Watson): 13-1, national champs
North Carolina (Mitchell Trubisky): 8-5, lost Sun Bowl
Texas Tech (Patrick Mahomes): 5-7
Cal (Davis Webb): 5-7

The other side to this, though, is that Kizer and Notre Dame had a chance to win or tie late in the fourth quarter in seven games, with six losses (Texas, Michigan State, Duke, N.C. State, Stanford, Virginia Tech) and one win (Miami). No matter how little help Kizer had, he still had a chance to convert those opportunities and for the most part did not. 

Kizer never wavered in accepting responsibility for those losses during the season, and that message didn't change at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month. And it's one that should play well in draft rooms as teams decide whether or not Kizer, after a 4-8 season, is worth the investment of a first-round pick. 

"I just didn't make enough plays," Kizer said. "The ball's in my hand every play. It's my job at Notre Dame to put us in position to win games, to trust in the guys around me and develop the guys around me to make those plays with me."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who should the Bears sign, Allen Hurns or Cam Meredith?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who should the Bears sign, Allen Hurns or Cam Meredith?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times), Chris Emma (670 The Score) and Ben Finfer join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel.

Allen Robinson’s former Jaguars teammate is a free agent. Would signing Allen Hurns make sense for the Bears?

Plus, Loyola has traffic problems on the Road to the Final Four and the guys debate the biggest need for the Blackhawks heading into a long offseason.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

USA Today

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

Kyle Fuller caused a bit of a panic late Friday afternoon when a report dropped that he signed an offer sheet with the Green Bay Packers. For a few hours, the prospect — even if it was always unlikely — of the Bears losing their best cornerback to their arch rivals to the north loomed over Chicago. 

For Fuller, though, he said he barely had time to think about the possibility of cashing in on his breakout 2017 season with the Packers. The Bears quickly matched the offer sheet, officially announcing the four-year deal Tuesday that makes Fuller one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. 

“It was crazy not really knowing what to expect,” Fuller said. “I would have never expected it. But when (the Packers’ offer sheet) came, it was definitely something to consider, just on the business side of it. At the end of the day, how it all played out, I’m definitely happy.”

Fuller sounded like someone who took a more passive role to his quasi-restricted free agency that was set about when the Bears placed the transition tag on him, allowing them to match any offer sheet that he were to sign. Fuller said he didn’t know all the details of what was going on with offer sheets coming in and negotiations with the Bears.

“I kinda was just getting the information from (my agents) and going with the flow of everything and knowing that at the end of the day it would end up working out,” Fuller said. 

The $14 million average annual value of Fuller’s contract ranks fifth among cornerbacks, behind only Washington’s Josh Norman ($15 million), New York’s Trumaine Johnson ($14.5 million) Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes ($14.02 million) and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($14.01 million), according to Spotrac. 

Fuller said he considers himself a top-five cornerback in the league, and he played like someone who could wind up in that discussion in 2017. The 2014 first-round pick was one of four players to break up 20 or more passes last year, and he picked off two passes in December while providing excellent support against the run. 

“We could not be happier to have Kyle under contract for four more years,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “We feel he is an ascending player on our top 10 defense and we look forward to him having many more productive seasons here in Chicago.”