8 min read

2023 NFL Draft: Don't Overlook UCLA QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson

Former NFL head coach and offensive guru Marc Trestman is evaluating the top quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft. This is the fifth in a series of his evaluations.

Others in the Series:

After watching most of the players considered the top quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft, I turned my attention to UCLA's Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who I believe is a dark horse candidate to be selected higher than many expect.

While he doesn't have the hype or frame of the other heavily discussed quarterbacks in the class, Thompson-Robinson's experience, arm talent, athleticism, and functional intelligence give him a good foundation as a future NFL quarterback.

>>READ: The 33rd Team's 2023 NFL Draft Big Board

Dorian Thompson-Robinson Evaluation

2022 Games Watched

  • California
  • Arizona State
  • USC
  • Pittsburgh

Thompson-Robinson's Credentials

The first thing that jumps out immediately in Thompson-Robinson's background is his five years as the starting quarterback at UCLA, with a fifth year granted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thompson-Robinson is the only opening-day starter at quarterback UCLA head coach Chip Kelly has had in his tenure at UCLA, going 26-23 in his 49 career starts. One important positive takeaway is the steady improvement the Bruins showed during Thompson-Robinson's time at UCLA. After going 10-21 during the first three years of Kelly's tenure, they've gone 17-8 since, with Thompson-Robinson's improvement as one of the catalysts.

I watched four games from 2022, and Thompson-Robinson looked well-coached and comfortable in the offense. While Kelly's offense often is thought of as a pure spread attack, there are a number of NFL concepts, including option routes, quick-timing throws, and running-back flare-control passes as third options.

Thompson-Robinson steadily has improved his statistical accuracy over the years. Across the first four years of his career, he completed 60.8 percent of his passes, with percentages below 60 in his first two seasons. In 2022, however, he ranked sixth in the FBS after completing 69.6 percent of his passes. And while his 7.1-yard average depth of target is low, that arguably is due to the UCLA play-calling, not a lack of arm strength.

Arm Talent, Accuracy

After taking the shotgun snap, Thompson-Robinson again looks well-coached from a fundamentals perspective, staging the tip of the ball at the "V" of the neck tight to the sternum, keeping balance with a strong base and showing clean footwork in his drops.

While his throwing motion at times is a bit more elongated than some of the other top quarterbacks in this class, he still manages to get the ball up and out quickly. With his staging, footwork, balance, and quick release, he looks very confident in his ability to make all the throws.

When releasing the ball, Thompson-Robinson shows the ability to throw with multiple arm angles. The ball often explodes out of his hand, as evidenced by his tying Josh Allen's velocity record of 62 mph at this year's combine. For comparison's sake, this year Anthony Richardson (scouting report) clocked a top velocity of 60 mph, while C.J. Stroud (scouting report) managed 59 mph. Meanwhile, Justin Herbert previously clocked 60 mph in 2020, while Patrick Mahomes hit 55 mph in 2017.

This is not to say that Thompson-Robinson has a bigger arm than Allen, Herbert or Mahomes, but he clearly has explosive arm talent. 

>>READ: 2023 NFL Mock Draft 4.3

On tape, it's evident that Thompson-Robinson has the confidence to make impressive throws into tight spaces over the middle. And while he's adept at throwing the fastball, he's also instinctively able to modify the trajectory and speed of his passes when necessary.

Thompson-Robinson's accuracy has steadily improved, and he is consistent, throwing with location and touch to the short and intermediate areas of the field. However, he will overthrow receivers at times. I saw very few outside-lane go routes in the four-game sample, but notwithstanding, Thompson-Robinson showed the ability to make a wide variety of throws, validating his explosive arm talent and touch. The continued vetting of his career will be necessary to evaluate him in this area.

Athleticism, Escapability

Thompson-Robinson is a dual-threat quarterback with explosive rushing ability to complement his passing ability. He is not Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields, but he is on the level of some of the NFL's better running quarterbacks. Let me be clear, though, Thompson-Robinson is a passer first with the ability to extend a play outside of the pocket and make accurate throws on the move or run.

He showed high-level ability as a runner on designed quarterback runs and in scrambling situations, with the ability to make defenders miss in the open field and surprising contact balance for a player with a slighter frame. His ability as a runner forces defenses to have to account for all 11 on each play.

Within the pocket, Thompson-Robinson shows the ability to sense pressure and step up while keeping his eyes upfield. He has good ball security while sliding in the pocket with two hands firmly on the ball, tight to his body, showing courage to stand in and deliver amidst the chaos of pocket pressure. 

When he has to maneuver in the pocket, Thompson-Robinson's flexibility and balance stand out. He can contort his body to avoid contact or keep his balance and break free from pass rushers.

Once he exits the pocket, he shows the creativity to make plays out of structure while moving to his right or left. The ability to make awkward throws, throw on the move and win out of structure gives Thompson-Robinson an added playmaking element that some other top quarterbacks in this class do not possess.

Mental Toughness

One area that immediately jumps out on tape is Thompson-Robinson's functional intelligence to process quickly, manage chaos in the pocket, slow the game down, and quiet his mind to make good decisions.

His decision-making ability to quickly get the ball up and out in the red zone stands out. He also will finish his progressions when making full-field reads and find the hot receiver when pressured. He shows great anticipation while throwing the ball in deep areas over the middle against zone coverage.

Of all the quarterbacks in this year's draft, Thompson-Robinson might do the best job of understanding where all his receivers will be throughout each play, showing full command of the Bruins system.

So where does he need to improve? The tape is clear that, perhaps due to overconfidence in his arm talent, there are too many instances when he tries to get more out of plays than he needs to, forcing passes or taking unnecessary hits when he should throw the ball away.

In the NFL, a quarterback has two key responsibilities: Take care of the ball and live for the next play. Thompson-Robinson's future coaches will want to emphasize these objectives.

Another area Thompson-Robinson should improve is his spatial awareness against zone coverage. Of the interceptions he threw late in the season (six overall in two of the last three games), it appeared he did not see linebackers in underneath coverage, which led to unnecessary turnovers.

Overall, Thompson-Robinson is mentally advanced in some areas, but work remains to be done in others.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to be excited about with Thompson-Robinson's 2022 tape. 

He put together several high-end plays that showed his explosive arm talent and quick decision-making. He calmly worked through his progressions, often finding a third option to a running back, unlike most of the top quarterbacks in this class.

Thompson-Robinson does not appear to have a strong frame, and he has been more turnover prone than any of the other quarterbacks I've studied leading up to the 2023 draft — as evidenced by his 12 turnovers (seven interceptions, five fumbles) in his final five games at UCLA — yet he has a playmaking ability that others do not possess.

I believe Thompson-Robinson deserves to get a complete evaluation from coaches and personnel throughout the NFL. He has too much experience, arm talent and athletic ability, based on my four-game study, to be overlooked. When looking at the landscape of the top quarterbacks in the draft, Thompson-Robinson may be a dark horse candidate whose upside is worth strong consideration. There is a load of talent that any coach could get excited about.

Marc Trestman is a former NFL, CFL and college coach. He coached in four Grey Cups in the CFL, winning three over seven years with Montreal and Toronto before becoming head coach of the Chicago Bears. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachTrestman.