DeShone Kizer: A Study in Throwing Mechanics

Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer has opened up this season right where he left off last year, lighting up opposing defenses. But there is one flaw in his throwing mechanics that, if fixed, could make him even better.  Mark Schofield breaks down how Kizer can improve his velocity by syncing his upper and lower body better

DeShone Kizer’s 2016 season picked right up where his 2015 campaign ended. After Malik Zaire suffered an ankle injury early last year that ended his season, Kizer stepped into the starting lineup and led Notre Dame to nine wins in his eleven starts and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. He finished 2015 completing 63% of his passes for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He and Zaire both saw action in the Fighting Irish’s season opener against Texas, but it was Kizer who took over down the stretch, and he completed 15 of 24 passes for 215 yards and five touchdowns, with no interceptions. Although Notre Dame lost in an overtime thriller, the Irish rebounded this week with a victory over Nevada.

Kizer’s performance to date has some prognosticators considering him one of the top quarterback prospects to study – for either this year or next. His tape, particularly against the Longhorns, would back up this notion. There is, however, in my opinion, something more to this player that could improve his prospects. In other words: There’s an even better quarterback inside of Kizer, ready to be unleashed.

Take a look at this throw against Texas. Notre Dame has the football on the left hashmark, and Kizer throws a comeback route toward the right sideline:

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The quarterback has the arm strength to get the football to his target, but notice how the ball dips toward the turf at the end of the throw? This is an indication that the velocity has tailed off near the end of the pass. While this is a long throw, coming from one hash mark to the opposite sideline, you would like the QB to drive this throw in on a line, or as close to a line as possible.

Before getting into the why of this throw, some thoughts from some experts on quarterback mechanics. Specifically: lower body mechanics. These are taken from Earl Browning’s (Editor) Coaching the Quarterback: By the Experts:

If quarterbacks do not have a natural strong arm, and they start stepping out, they do not get as much on the football. They do not get as much body into the ball as they do when they step forward. I do not tell them to take a three-foot stride or a two-foot stride. I tell them to stride the distance that is natural for each quarterback. I want them to land on a soft front leg and I want to see the body weight go through the throw into the football.

– Greg Seamon, University of Cincinnati, 1998

Step and throw on the same line. Your momentum should be in the direction of the throw. This is where we get into the accuracy part more than anything else.

Tom McDaniels, Canton McKinley High School (OH), 1998 (Emphasis in original)

Lower body – Step toward the target, and shift the weight. We want a flex in the left knee. We want the quarterback to allow the hips to come through. We want to take a short stride. We want to follow through toward the target. That is the number one thing that we stress. When the quarterback throws the football, he wants the hips and everything else to follow through straight forward.

Bob Lamb, Furman University, 1997

Now, look at this still from the moment after Kizer releases the football on the above play:

DeShone KizerNotice his back leg, and how it is flared out to the right and away from his body? This is a sign that his hips and his upper body are not in sync throughout the throwing motion. Kizer is flaring his left hip open too soon, and the result is that it takes away from the torque his body is generating; that flared right leg works almost like a parachute, creating drag and slowing his rotation down. This turns him into more of a pure upper body thrower and he cannot generate as much torque – and subsequent velocity – as possible as he could if the hips and shoulders were in sync. In addition, rather than driving that trail foot forward toward the target, it stops suddenly behind him, halting any forward momentum in the throwing motion.

Here’s another look at this in action, from a play later in the game:

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Here, Kizer tries to throw a seam route around 30 yards. This is a difficult throw, but when evaluating quarterbacks you want to see them drive throws into receivers in this 20-30 yard range. Here, that left hip opens up a bit too soon, causing his right leg to flare out and cut down on the torque. Again, the result is that Kizer turns into a pure upper-body thrower here, and the pass cannot maintain its velocity over its entire trajectory to the target; this is why the ball dips near the end.

One final example, this time throwing a slant route from a crowded pocket. Even with traffic, that hip opens early and the right leg flares out, causing the ball to dip:

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Now look at this pass from the end zone camera, which provides a great angle of the hip opening and the right leg kicking out and not toward the target:

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As the coaching points above stress, the back foot should be driving toward the target as much as possible, keeping the forward momentum through the throw. In addition, the hips and upper body need to be in sync, in order to create as much torque as possible. The hips should open slightly before the release, but if the hips open too soon, the over rotation turns the QB into a pure upper body thrower, negating any advantage provided by the lower body and decreasing velocity.

This mechanical issue is not fatal by any means for Kizer’s prospects as a quarterback. Every QB has a slightly different throwing motion, and in that sense, quarterbacks are like snowflakes: No two are alike. If you study Tom Brady or Peyton Manning – two of the greatest to play the game – they each have an ever so slight flare of the right leg as they throw. But that back leg comes forward as well, and does not flare out to the right so dramatically. Even with this flaw to his release, Kizer is still a very impressive collegiate quarterback with some traits NFL scouts will be drooling over when he decides to enter the draft. If he adds some refinement to his mechanics, they’ll be drooling even more.

Follow @MarkSchofield on Twitter.  Buy his book, 17 Drives.  Check out his other work here, such as how Alabama passes to attack the flat, or Tennessee’s use of the double post concept, or how LSU runs play action.

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All film courtesy of DraftBreakdown.

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