If the headline to this piece sounds familiar, I get that. Is this simply rephrasing one I used in an article written last week? A bit, sure.
That said, there’s a notable difference between today’s and last week’s.
When initially writing about rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, I was speaking from a fear of the Cleveland Browns rushing him onto the field despite him being unprepared for life in the NFL. Knowing the team’s annual summer QB competition was yielding poor results, I had concern about the idea of putting Kizer on the field not because he earned it, but because Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler hadn’t. Such a move could have a serious impact on Kizer’s development, something we’ve seen from previous Cleveland quarterback projects.
After last night, the narrative has shifted a bit. I still think the Browns need to wait until they’re absolutely sure Kizer is primed to go before considering him for the starting job. That said, upon watching his performance in the preseason opener, I believe Cleveland has to start Kizer the second he’s ready.
Of the three quarterbacks gunning for the starting gig, it was the rookie who came out of last night’s victory over the New Orleans Saints looking the most promising. Osweiler opened the game with the first team, looking OK at times, erratic at others. The offense as a whole barely moved, as it took the Browns until their fourth drive to finally gain a first down.
Likewise, Kessler did little to convince anyone he’s worthy of starting Week 1. While he had a couple impressive throws, finishing the night going 5-of-10 for 47 yards is hardly what you’d call inspiring.
Based on how Kizer’s night began, it sure seemed like he, too, was going to induce a few groans from the local crowd. However, it didn’t take long for him to flash the potential everyone’s been noting during training camp.
Kizer’s throwing velocity was on full display, as he was able to hit deep routes with ease. He also knew exactly when to utilize his mobility, fleeing the pocket only when it collapsed instead of getting happy feet and running on a whim.
What left everyone raving, though, was his arm strength.
Down 14-7 in the fourth quarter, the Browns were able to come storming back thanks to a 52-yard bomb from Kizer which put them right at the goal line. On the final drive of the night and facing a 3rd and 24, he was able to hit Rannell Hall for 22 yards to set up a short fourth down conversion attempt.
Of course, instead of running the ball up the middle to eke out a first down, Cleveland decided to let Kizer show off a bit. He did just that, nailing Jordan Payton with a perfectly placed 45-yard pass for the go-ahead touchdown.
Before we go christening Kizer as Cleveland’s quarterback of the future, it’s important to note the obvious caveats. For one, the rookie was hitting these impressive throws against New Orleans’ backups, so everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt.
Additionally, the only reason I noted Kizer has to start the second he’s ready was to point out the fact he’s clearly not there. Not yet, at least.
Sure, his deep throws made plenty of highlight reels. What didn’t make the cut were the passes which displayed his accuracy issues or the mechanics which are still a work in progress. Kizer also showed a tendency to lock in on his first read well before a throw. He didn’t pay for it much last night, but a first-string secondary will surely make him think twice about something like this.
Despite all of these hiccups, Kizer clearly showed us he’ll be Cleveland’s best option once he’s up to speed. It’s clear the Browns don’t see Osweiler as the future. Just as clear is Kessler suddenly becoming a walking example of how not to win a quarterback competition.
At the end of the day, last night made apparent the fact Kizer brings more to the table than Osweiler and Kessler. Right now, though, he’s not quite in a place where he can do so.
Kizer’s potential was on display for everyone to see last night, as was his room to grow. Once the latter is fixed, it’ll be time for the Browns to let him show off the former.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook