Packers believe they have first-round talent in DeShone Kizer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy made a bold statement about what the Green Bay Packers have in DeShone Kizer. There’s at least one player in his locker room who will back him up on it.

"In my opinion, if he was in that [draft] class this year, he would’ve been part of that group of first four guys, or first five," McCarthy said. "I always felt there were five -- the five quarterbacks -- first-round guys."

The five quarterbacks McCarthy was referring to, of course, were: Baker Mayfield (the No. 1 overall pick), Sam Darnold (No. 3), Josh Allen (No. 7), Josh Rosen (No. 10) and Lamar Jackson (No. 32).

Kizer, who came out a year earlier, was the fourth quarterback selected in his draft but did not go until the second round (No. 52 overall) in a year in which three quarterbacks were taken in the first round: Mitchell Trubisky (No. 2), Patrick Mahomes (No. 10) and Deshaun Watson (No. 12).

Kizer started more games (15) than any of those three, yet there’s not a coach in the NFL who would take him over Trubisky (12 starts), Watson (six) and Mahomes (one) at this point. Kizer, of course, did not win a game last season for the winless Browns. He ranked last among all regular starters in completion percentage (53.6) last season and threw a league-high 22 interceptions, which was six more than any other quarterback.

Still, the March trade to Green Bay caught Kizer by surprise even though there was little doubt that new Browns general manager John Dorsey would take a quarterback with the first overall pick.

The Packers showed some interest in Kizer before the 2017 draft, although indications are they didn’t strongly consider him with their top pick (No. 33 overall, cornerback Kevin King). Kizer was gone before the Packers picked safety Josh Jones with their next selection (No. 61 overall).

When first-year Packers GM Brian Gutekunst shipped mercurial cornerback Damarious Randall to the Browns for Kizer, the Packers could not have known they would end up with one of the quarterback’s favorite college receivers -- Equanimeous St. Brown. Gutekunst grabbed St. Brown in the sixth round as the third of three receivers he picked on the final day of the draft.

St. Brown set career highs in catches (58), yards (961) and touchdowns (nine) in 2016, Kizer’s final season at Notre Dame. Without Kizer, St. Brown's numbers dropped sharply last season to 33 catches, 515 yards and four touchdowns.

Kizer was one of the first people to call St. Brown after the Packers picked him.

"He was excited; he was stoked," St. Brown said. "We had a great connection when we played together. Now we’re back on the same team, so it’s good for me."

And it could be good for Kizer, 22, to throw to a familiar target as he learns an entirely new offense, all while trying to refine his throwing motion. The Packers hope Kizer challenges Brett Hundley for the backup job behind Aaron Rodgers.

So far, all of Kizer’s work in Green Bay has come behind closed doors, but the first look-see will happen May 22 when the Packers open up one of their OTA practices.

"I think he has exceptional arm talent," McCarthy said of Kizer. "What we’re asking him to do is, particularly the footwork and just how he fits the scheme, and how he operates is brand new to him. That always excites me, because when you see that guy has no experience or background but has the ability, to me that’s an opportunity for a lot of growth. So I think he has a bright future."