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What do the Browns have in Kizer?

By Doug Lesmerises • May 3, 2017 at 4:30 PM

CLEVELAND, Ohio — DeShone Kizer possesses nimble feet, a big arm, the kind of size Hue Jackson loves, the sharp mind to process a defense and the inexplicable ability to just miss a throw for no reason.

He's got almost everything. But the Browns newest quarterback too often doesn't get the ball where he wants it to go.

Can that change?

"Ball placement tends to waver," CBSSports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler wrote in his pre-draft guide, "especially on the move when unable to rely on setup mechanics. ... Inconsistent accuracy on short, easy throws."

Analyst Cian Fahey's in-depth pre-draft look at Kizer boiled Kizer's prospects down to your view of what can be done about his general trouble with accuracy.

"Selling Kizer is easy if you believe that accuracy can be coached. You point to those redzone plays and talk about the mechanical alterations you can make to him releasing the ball. That's a first-round prospect.

"Dropping Kizer is easy if you believe that accuracy doesn't change that much. You point to his inability to make routine throws and talk about the wide open big plays that he couldn't hit. That's a mid-round prospect."

Brugler and Fahey both liked Kizer as a prospect, more than several other quarterbacks in this draft. Brugler ranked him as his second QB, behind only Mitch Trubisky.

After drafting Kizer with the No. 52 pick in the second round Friday, the Browns talked mostly measurables and traits with Kizer. He was still available at that pick in part because his inaccuracy at the NFL Combine created more questions about him. Now the Browns and Kizer will enter the debate over how much accuracy can be taught or improved once a player reaches the pros.

"I think you can improve accuracy, there's no question," Hall of Fame quarterback and Denver Broncos general manager John Elway said at the NFL Combine. "That's why you practice, why you make the throws, why you work in the offseason. I don't know if you can change arm strength, but there's no question you change accuracy and work on accuracy."

Cleveland may now be the best incubator in the league for the question. (Brock Osweiler is another big, strong quarterback who throws it all over the place.) Jackson will apply the science of QB coaching. Kizer's future, and in many ways the Browns' future, is in Jackson's hands now.

Jackson's reputation is that of a quarterback guru, and he and first-year quarterbacks coach David Lee couldn't ask for a better pupil than a nearly 6-foot-5 project with all these necessary skills, and with questions about his accuracy, attitude and consistency.

"We try to create an environment for all our guys to be the best versions of themselves," Jackson said. "We feel like we are pretty good quarterback coaches -- myself and Coach Lee. We think we can take a player from A to Z, but how soon that will be, what that will be? Until you have a chance to get out on the field with him, do you really know?"

Jackson and Lee will earn their money this season with this work, and it's already started. Kizer said he made a few changes after the Browns worked him out before the draft.

"I cannot wait to learn from Coach Jackson," Kizer said minutes after he was picked by the Browns. "Even these last couple of months, getting to spend a little time with him, he has been able to make a couple of adjustments to my footwork and to my mentality that allowed me to be a little more consistent and accurate within just a month or two. I can't wait to actually be with them where we can spend as much time together as needed to maximize the potential that I think I have."

The Browns now have two young quarterbacks with distinct traits, with Cody Kessler leaning on his accuracy and Kizer leaning on his arm strength. Kessler said he worked on his arm strength this offseason, but the better chance for the Browns to find a complete quarterback is for Kizer to improve his placement.

Jackson seems to believe there's a way to work that part of Kizer's game, though Jackson talked around the topic when I asked him directly about it after the Kizer pick. There's a limit, though. Here's what Browns scouting director Andrew Berry said when I asked him the accuracy question, in general, at the combine, months before Kizer became a Brown.

"I think that's a good question," Berry said. "Player development is super important in the NFL and there are things across skillsets or quarterback attributes that can be improved to a degree. But there probably is a little bit of an innate ability for a quarterback to be accurate or inaccurate that you may never surpass a hurdle.

"So if you're one of the least accurate quarterbacks in college football, it's probably unlikely that you're going to get to the NFL and be one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL, but that's not to say that aspect can't be modestly improved."

Kizer wasn't one of the least accurate quarterbacks in college -- but he wasn't great. Comparing college stats don't tell you much because offenses vary so much, and some guys throw more easy screens while others throw more difficult deep balls. But by the numbers, Kizer's 58.7 completion percentage ranked 69th in major college football, and his quarterback rating was 31st overall and eighth among the 10 quarterbacks who were drafted.

So that has to be the goal here -- modest improvement.

If Kizer succeeds, it may never be due to pinpoint accuracy. His top-end talent should still lean more on his brains and his size and his ability to escape pressure and make a big play when needed. You may have to live with some misses.

Jackson's goal is to minimize them, and he appreciated the changes Kizer already made.

"I think the beautiful part of it was he was able to take that instruction and improve. I think we saw that in our workout," Jackson said. "That was outstanding. He is very coachable. He wants to work at it, and I think that's what it is going to take. We will find out how good this guy can be over time."

Kizer knows what his issues are, and he said he "absolutely" can get better there.

"I think accuracy and consistency are two good questions that have been asked quite a bit in the past couple of months going into the draft," Kizer said, referencing again the changes he made at the suggestions of Jackson and Lee.

"I am very confident that once I get into their system and I am able to be in their facility with them that those improvements will continue and I will be able to become a much more accurate thrower."

Any major overhauls to a throwing motion aren't likely to stick at this point. When things get rough, most quarterbacks revert to what feels most natural anyway. So the adjustments are more about footwork and anticipating and making sure throws aren't late.

Browns executive VP Sashi Brown, at the combine and again after the draft, brushed aside the idea of "pro-ready' and insisted every quarterback needs to develop, and that's the way the Browns were thinking in the draft.

"We talked about that a long time," Browns said. "That is Hue's expertise."

It's time to use it. The expectation probably shouldn't be "much more accurate," though. With everything else Kizer can do, modestly more accurate might be enough.

Jackson should be able to get Kizer there. He has to.


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