Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has seen limited action through the team’s first three preseason games, playing just 12 plays in the Browns’ game against the Washington Commanders a week ago. That has opened the door for Cleveland’s backup quarterbacks to take advantage of an opportunity for increased playing time, and one player seems to have capitalized on the chance.
Rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
While Joshua Dobbs is expected to secure the backup job behind Watson, Thompson-Robinson and Kellen Mond are fighting for the third spot behind the duo. But the rookie out of UCLA might be making that decision easier with each passing week.
Thompson-Robinson got the start on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, with Watson looking on in street clothes. The fifth-round selection completed 13-of-25 passes for 164 yards in the first half.
Mond played the second, connecting on 13-of-24 throws for 126 yards and a score.
Beyond Thompson-Robinson’s numbers, however, is how the rookie played the position. He was confident, decisive, and showed an ability to break down defenses with his eyes, as well as his arm and legs.
On the opening drive of the game, Thompson-Robinson hit on two third-down conversions. The second, shown here, highlights the rookie making a snap decision and an anticipation throw. Cleveland runs a “HOSS” concept, with a hitch/seam combination to both sides of the field. Thompson-Robinson spots the outside corner playing in off coverage over the hitch route on the left side of the field, which is the short side.
As soon as he hits his drop depth, the ball is coming out to the hitch:
The timing — plus how well Thompson-Robinson uses his eyes, coming to the hitch after staring at the middle of the field and the seam route — prevents the cornerback from getting a jump on the hitch route. The result? A third-down conversion for the Browns.
On the very next snap Thompson-Robinson again used his eyes, holding the safety in the middle of the field before unleashing a deep ball to Anthony Schwartz along the left side of the field:
What stands out on this snap, beyond how he uses his eyes, is his poise. Thompson-Robinson knows the protection is softening on the left edge, and the hit is coming. But he hangs in the pocket to make this throw, knowing full well he is about to get popped.
In the second quarter, Thompson-Robinson flashed a little pocket movement and ball placement for another big play. With the Browns facing a 1st-and-10 situation, the rookie passer connects with Austin Watkins Jr. on an out route. Watch as Thompson-Robinson climbs the pocket, avoiding some pressure, and then puts this throw in the perfect spot for Watkins:
On the replay angle, you can see how Thompson-Robinson puts this throw away from the underneath linebacker, leading Watkins to safety. That gives the receiver a chance to pick up even more yardage after the catch.
These two were not done connecting. Later in the second quarter Thompson-Robinson found Watkins along the right sideline on what might have been his best throw of the night. The Browns run four verticals against single-high coverage, and Thompson-Robinson fits in a throw to Watkins just before the safety can arrive to make a play on the football:
Thompson-Robinson even resets in the pocket, making this a tougher throw as he sets himself deeper behind the line. But he has more than enough velocity to make this connection.
While he may be a rookie, Thompson-Robinson is playing like a more experienced passer. Something else that stands out about his first NFL training camp? He has yet to throw an interception.
Thompson-Robinson has been given a chance for increased playing time this preseason, and he is making the most of it.
Perhaps playing himself right into a job in the process.