Is Hue Jackson right about quarterback DeShone Kizer?
By Thomas Moore
Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson believes that rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer is not playing that poorly. So how does Kizer compare to other recent rookies?
Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson is a quarterback’s best friend.
It doesn’t matter who has lined up under center for the Browns – Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan or DeShone Kizer – Jackson has been their biggest advocate in public.
That is why Jackson’s comments on Monday about Kizer’s play in the 31-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals is not really surprising, as Jackson told clevelandbrowns.com:
"“I thought yesterday he played as well as he has played all year. With the exception of missing a couple reads and protection, he played lights out. He didn’t take sacks. He threw the ball away. He didn’t have turnovers. That is improvement so I want everybody to know, I thought regardless of what the numbers were for him, I thought the guy played extremely well.”"
Since Jackson brought it up, Kizer’s final numbers for the game -16-of-34 for 118 yards and an interception – raises the question of just how Jackson defines “lights out” play by a quarterback.
As we said, Jackson has never met a quarterback he didn’t like, so you kind of take his comment with a grain of salt.
But it was another one of Jackson’s comments that raised eyebrows, this one about the growing pains of rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. As Jackson told the team’s website:
"“I don’t know how many guys have come into this league and started 0-for. I haven’t done that study yet. I am sure we can find that out, but there are guys that have walked in this league and hadn’t won for a while yet and then eventually got to winning as the season went on. I have total confidence in DeShone. He has truly, truly gotten better over the last four weeks.”"
That got us to thinking: could Jackson be right about Kizer? Is he actually improving and playing well, or at least as well as one could expect from a rookie quarterback making his first NFL starts?
Through the first four games Kizer is completing 51.4 percent of his passes on 142 attempts, has three touchdown passes and eight interceptions.
So how does that stack up historically?
The two best examples of quarterbacks who struggled early but went on to major success are Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning.
As a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, Aikman completed just 46.7 percent of his passes, while throwing just one touchdown against six interceptions in his first four starts.
Manning entered the league as a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts in 1989, and his first four starts were better as he completed 55 percent of his passes and threw three touchdown passes, but offset that with 11 interceptions.
It is not really fair to Kizer to compare him to a pair of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, however, especially ones that played in a far-different NFL.
So we decided to take a look at a more recent sampling of quarterbacks.
Since 2013, 13 quarterbacks have been selected in the first two rounds of the draft – just like Kizer. Ten of those 13 have made at least four starts – just like Kizer – and here is how they performed in their first four NFL starts:
- E.J. Manuel (2013): 130 pass attempts, 56.9 completion percentage, five touchdowns and three interceptions
- Geno Smith (2013): 136 pass attempts, 57.3 completion percentage, four touchdowns and eight interceptions
- Derek Carr (2014): 133 pass attempts, 63.2 completion percentage, four touchdowns and four interceptions
- Teddy Bridgewater (2014): 135 pass attempts, 60 completion percentage, two touchdowns and five interceptions
- Johnny Manziel (2014): 74 pass attempts, 62 completion percentage, three touchdowns and two interceptions
- Blake Bortles (2014): 143 pass attempts, 67.8 completion percentage, four touchdowns and seven interceptions
- Marcus Mariota (2015): 128 pass attempts, 64 completion percentage, eight touchdowns and three interceptions
- Jameis Winston (2015): 133 pass attempts, 54.8 completion percentage, six touchdowns and seven interceptions
- Carson Wentz (2016): 135 pass attempts, 67 completion percentage, seven touchdowns and one interception
- Jared Goff (2016): 136 pass attempts, 55 completion percentage, four touchdowns and five interceptions
So what have we learned?
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For starters, Kizer’s completion percentage is really poor, even by rookie quarterback standards. The dropped passes clearly do not help, but Kizer is missing on more than enough throws of his own.
Kizer is also passing too much as his 142 attempts are the second most among the rookie quarterbacks we looked at. Jackson’s being unwilling or unable to stop calling so many pass plays is not doing Kizer any favors.
Kizer’s eight interceptions – again, not all his fault – are tied with Smith for the most among the quarterbacks on the list. Being included in any quarterback with Geno Smith is not a good thing.
One other key stat is that Wentz is the only quarterback on the list who had a winning record after their first four starts. (Although Wentz would go on to lose eight of his next 12 starts). Bridgewater, Manuel and Smith each went 2-2, and everyone else had a losing record, including a winless group of Goff, Bortles and Carr. (Manning and Aikman were also winless, if you are scoring at home.)
Kizer, like many quarterbacks, was drafted by a team that is not very good and it will take time for that to change. He is not blameless by any stretch, but maybe there is something to Jackson’s believe that Kizer is not playing that poorly and that everything can’t be painted by “0-4.”
The biggest takeaway in all this could be to remember that, while he has struggled, Kizer has only played four games. There is still much he needs to do to improve, but he also should be given more than just one quarter of the season to do so.
Next: Browns: 3 offensive takeaways from Week 4
And if Jackson really wants to be Kizer’s advocate, he should tell his offensive coordinator to call more running plays.