Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly: QB DeShone Kizer should've returned to school

Former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer is about to be paid to play football -- and handsomely at that depending on when he’s selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. That doesn’t mean his college coach, Brian Kelly, has to think Kizer leaving school early was a good idea. In fact, he thinks the timing of the jump to the next level was off. 

Speaking with SiriusXM radio on Monday, Kelly said Kizer has all the physical tools to be a great quarterback but needed more time in college to develop his skills. 

Kelly’s fleshed-out answer, courtesy of Pro Football Talk, expands on his belief with more detail... 

“I’ve got a lot of relationships built on trust with G.M.s and head coaches in the NFL,” Kelly said. “I’m going to be honest with them and honest with DeShone. There’s a lot of growth that has to take place. But I go back to what are the common threads a great player needs to have. He’s got to have traits of excellence. He’s got to be able to have attention to detail and that focus, he’s got to be smart and he’s got to have the ability to grind and a great attitude. He’s got those traits but they’ve got to be continuously worked on. Whoever takes DeShone, he’s not a finished product in those areas. But when he does get more time to work on those traits, you’re going to have a great young man and a great quarterback. The skills are out there, you can see them. You can go to the workout and see that he’s got those skills, he’s just not complete yet.

“If you want to draft him and say come on, turn it over to him, you’re going to have to support him with great leaders around him and great leadership. But if you’re going to give him time and get a mentor for him, you’re going to have a great guy. That’s my honesty when I talk to G.M.s and head coaches.”

Say this for Kelly’s comments comments: They aren’t unprecedented. In fact, they immediately bring to mind what Pete Carroll said in 2009 when Mark Sanchez declared early for the NFL Draft. “We don’t see this decision the same. But I’m thrilled for Mark. For any of our kids to live the dream and do what they want to do with their football career, this is a great place to do this. Mark is a great example of that,” Carroll said. “As we go through the process, the information tells us a lot of stuff. Mark is going against the grain on this decision and he knows that.”

And, no, Sanchez didn’t exactly have an amazing pro career. The question is whether another a year of college really would have helped him. That’s hard to answer because every situation is different. 

For what it’s worth, Kizer is ranked as the 45th overall prospect in the upcoming draft by CBS Sports. If that proves accurate, he should be selected somewhere in the second round. Many (but not all) college coaches advise players to declare for the NFL if that player receives a first-round grade. When Kizer declared in December, he was in the conversation for a first-round pick by many scouting experts. That can change, but that kind of buzz usually means it’s time to go. 

Whether Kizer will be ready to contribute in the NFL right away, which is expected by many first-round selections, is the part where Kelly seems to have some pause. Though Kelly has been complimentary of his former signal-caller, the coach’s most recent comments are consistent with his previous beliefs about Kizer’s potential NFL success. 

“I’ve had a number of conversations with GMs and coaches about DeShone, and my personal feeling is he has the biggest upside of all the quarterbacks,” Kelly told reports in March. “I don’t know that he’s prepared to come in and win a Super Bowl for you [immediately]. Some may feel as though maybe one of the other quarterbacks are, I don’t know that firsthand. But I think, in time, he has the biggest upside of all the three quarterbacks.”

There are other factors in Kizer’s decision, too. There always are. If he needs time develop, perhaps it’s better for him to be paid a salary while he’s doing it. Notre Dame is also coming off a 4-8 season -- a lowest of lows for Kelly’s time in South Bend -- and the quarterback juggling act between Kizer and Malik Zaire last season, at least early on, felt mishandled on Kelly’s part. Getting out of that situation may be the best move for Kizer in the long run. 

If nothing else, the timing of Kelly’s comments are interesting. By reputation, he’s not exactly known as a player’s coach, though a recent Sports Illustrated feature profile peeled back the proverbial curtains on Kelly’s complete overhaul of himself and the program. 

There’s also the fact that Kelly hasn’t produced a first-round quarterback at Notre Dame even though he’s known as an offensive mind with a deep urge to coach his quarterbacks hard. (In fact, he hasn’t had a quarterback drafted, period.) That Kelly would be this public about Kizer’s development -- even if he turns out to be 100 percent right -- given that history is counterintuitive, to say the least. 

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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