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Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer Has Many Scouts Believing

By Chris Emma--

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CBS) -- As he stepped under center, eager to prove his place at the top of this quarterback class, DeShone Kizer looked to his receiver on the right and could spot a herd of NFL scouts in his peripheral.

Standing out in famed 49ers scarlet was rookie general manager John Lynch, who said Kizer "blew the doors off" their interview at the NFL Combine. Lynch's team picks second overall in April's draft and is a potential place for Kizer. On Thursday, Notre Dame's pro day brought scouts from nearly every team, with the Bears sending two of their own to South Bend.

The spotlight was on Kizer as he looks to earn his way to the top of the quarterback class. The wonder is whether he could become a franchise quarterback or just another bust.

Kizer threw 63 passes in his workout, going mostly under center to show his abilities in a pro-style system. As Notre Dame's quarterback, he worked mostly out of a shotgun. Just when it seemed the drill was wrapped up Thursday, Kizer lined his receivers back up and asked for more throws.

Kizer was smooth in his dropbacks and sound in his rollouts, throwing the ball with great zip. There was a clear comfort as he adapts to a pro-style offense. He missed on just a few throws, though his top receiver in the drill retired from football a year ago. Three of his other pass-catchers are primarily running backs. One was NFL running back Jonas Gray. At one point, Kizer pulled a target aside and calmed him down.

He was calling the shots, directing them along the way.

"That's football," Kizer said. "That's how it's going to be two months from now when I'm throwing with guys I've never thrown to before."

Multiple scouts on hand came away impressed with Kizer's showing in South Bend, a different look from when he underwhelmed down the road in Indianapolis a month ago at the NFL Combine. Showing comforts on his home turf, Kizer looked the part of a top quarterback.

It had seemed Kizer's stock was dropping after Notre Dame's disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2016. After all, he was the quarterback and team leader. At one point, coach Brian Kelly benched Kizer in an act of desperation. The Fighting Irish's struggles would prove to be the greatest red flag on Kizer's scouting report.

Last season, Kizer completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns to nine interceptions. At times, he was left needing to do too much for an Irish offense that struggled without a top target like Will Fuller available. Kizer was often left on an island.

At the Combine, Kizer washed away such concerns by shouldering the blame. Kizer doubled down Thursday.

"Quite frankly, if your team wants to win more than four games, the quarterback has to make more plays," Kizer said. "I didn't make those plays."

Notre Dame teammates swear by Kizer. His character has been widely regarded, especially leading during a losing season. They weren't at all surprised by him shouldering the blame.

"He doesn't shy away from anything at all," Notre Dame tight end Chase Hounshell said of Kizer. "He embraces it all. That's a guy a team wants to huddle around. You can form a team around D.K."

Teams were impressed with their Combine meetings, Lynch included. Kizer's maturity and humility resonated with NFL executives. They've since moved on from the 2016 season and turned the focus to Kizer's fit in an NFL offense.

His showing at pro day left scouts on hand impressed.

"The total package," Hounshell said. "You're talking about football IQ, you're talking about physical ability, accuracy, the complete package. Whatever team drafts DeShone Kizer is going to fall in love with him, and I think he's going to be at that team for a very long time."

While the Bears were busy at Ohio State, Stanford and Halas Hall on Thursday, they were represented at Notre Dame by two scouts, including 28-year veteran scout Jeff Shiver, who was also among the team's contingency to scout Kizer's performance against Virginia Tech in November.

The Bears have a great familiarity on Kizer by now, with general manager Ryan Pace and his brass having seen him play on multiple occasions. By this point in the game, the Bears (and every other team) are compounding second opinions and checking any last boxes. They did the same at Notre Dame as for the pro days of Clemson's Deshaun Watson and North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky last week.

Kizer is expected to meet with the Bears next week at Halas Hall, a source said. Kizer himself was unaware as he manages a busy travel schedule ahead with many stops.

Along this long path to the draft, Kizer has eliminated many concerns with a display of character to match the strong arm and physical tools. Where he goes in the draft remains to be seen. Kizer could be the second overall pick and he may be the third quarterback selected.

None of that matters to him.

"The number means absolutely nothing," he said. "I just want to be put in the right position that allows me to win."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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