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Is DeShone Kizer pushing the ball downfield too much?

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DeShone Kizer is throwing more deep passes than any quarterback this season. Is this a problem, or part of a bigger plan?

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

No quarterback is airing it out as much as the Cleveland Browns’ DeShone Kizer. No, really.

Despite his rookie status, Browns head coach Hue Jackson has not hesitated from allowing his young charge to throw the deep ball. The numbers, in this case, do not lie. JJ Zachariason, the editor-in-chief at numberFire has charted Kizer with throwing 19 deep passes—in this case, those that traveled 15 or more yards in the air—on his 61 attempts, giving him a league-leading deep ball percentage of 31.15. (Zachariason provided the chart below; you can also view it on Twitter, here).

Might this be asking too much of Kizer? In two games Kizer has been sacked nine times despite having one of the league’s better offensive lines standing between him and the pass rush. Many of those sacks have been attributed to Kizer himself, thanks to how long he holds onto the football waiting for plays to develop. It’s not uncommon for a rookie, but it still stands that Kizer has the longest time to throw in the league—3.03 seconds according to NFL.com’s Next Gen Stats (and thus over a half-second longer than is considered the baseline) and that it is undesirable. One would think pairing that up with a long-ball passing philosophy will only exacerbate and exaggerate Kizer’s rookie tendency to overthink and thus hold onto the ball so long.

But perhaps that’s not the case. Jackson, noted for his ability to build up quarterbacks in the past, may be steering into the skid in a sense, because Kizer’s biggest weakness is also tied into his greatest strengths. Kizer has a big arm, but it’s an accurate one when throwing deep and Jackson is not going to take that component away from his offense just because Kizer is learning the same lessons about the speed of the game as all young quarterbacks eventually do.

Kizer has completed eight passes of 20 or more yards so far this season, tied for the third-most in the league. And throwing deep is what he does, and does best; his per-completion yardage averaged at 8.5 at Notre Dame, which would rank him in the top 10 in the NFL so far this season, and his pre-draft scouting reports are peppered with comments on his arm strength. Going deep has its drawbacks; Kizer has been a sack-prone quarterback and nothing has changed since he’s gone pro.

But timing can be coached. Until Kizer can master it (which will require both time and patience) Jackson is smart to let the quarterback lean on what works even if that means taking the rough with the smooth. In other words, it serves the Browns’ interests better to let Kizer be Kizer while he learns rather than limiting his skill set as a form of protection. It’s on-the-job learning, which certainly fits the Jackson style of quarterback development. Taking sacks is, for better or for worse, just part of the package.

Plus, that deep ball could certainly take the Browns places in Week 3 against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have given up 15 pass plays of 20 or more yards over the last two games, second only to the New Orleans Saints. Sunday is an ideal matchup for Cleveland’s passing offense and could be just the confidence boost Kizer needs as he approaches the second quarter of his season.

Yes, Corey Coleman is out for an indeterminate amount of time with a broken hand, Kenny Britt is working his way toward being crowned Dwayne Bowe 2.0 and Sammie Coates has yet to know enough about the playbook to be a legitimate threat, but there’s no doubt that Jackson will want to script Kizer into situations where he can show off his arm against a defense that is susceptible to such plays.

The deep ball is how Kizer can hide away his other deficiencies as he works to minimize them. To ask Kizer to limit his deep passing is to limit Kizer; the rest of the quarterbacking package, the hope is, will come in time.