Column: Switch positions? Why scouts prefer to watch UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson throw

 Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws during UCLA pro day.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws during UCLA pro day. He is eligible for the upcoming NFL draft.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Dorian Thompson-Robinson had a secret plan to elevate his draft stock.

“I don’t think anybody else knows this,” he said with a sly smile.

At UCLA’s pro day, Thompson-Robinson wanted to perform drills that would showcase his potential to play positions other than quarterback.

“Just try and show a different look and add value to myself,” he said.

The response from the NFL scouts who visited Spaulding Field on Wednesday: Don’t bother.

“They want to see me as a quarterback,” Thompson-Robinson said.

The USC-UCLA game appears a toss-up but NFL scouts have a definite opinion on whether Trojans’ Caleb Williams or Bruins’ Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a better NFL prospect.

Feb. 28, 2023

Thompson-Robinson was encouraged by the development.

A five-year starter at UCLA, Thompson-Robinson is considered a fringe NFL prospect. He could be a late-round selection in the draft next month. Or he could not be picked at all.


The uncertainty didn’t appear to be weighing on the 23-year-old Thompson-Robinson as he addressed a small group of reporters after throwing passes to other draft-eligible Bruins, such as Zach Charbonnet, Jake Bobo, Kazmeir Allen and Michael Ezeike.

“You can’t really control things outside your control,” Thompson-Robinson said.

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws to a cutting receiver during UCLA pro day.
Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson throws to a cutting receiver during UCLA pro day.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

And he thinks he has controlled what he could.

After UCLA’s nine-win season, Thompson-Robinson moved to Orange County to work out under quarterback coach Jordan Palmer, along with fellow prospects Will Levis (Kentucky), Hendon Hooker (Tennessee), Max Duggan (Texas Christian) and Clayton Tune (Houston).

Thompson-Robinson also trained with speed performance coach Les Spellman.

The preparation resulted in a positive showing last month at the NFL combine, at which Thompson-Robinson registered the fastest throw by any quarterback at 62 mph. (Possible No. 1 overall pick Anthony Richardson was second-fastest at 60 mph.)

“Palmer kept telling us that of all the guys he’s training, he has the best zip on the ball,” said Sam Mirza, one of Thompson-Robinson’s agents at Equity Sports.

Thompson-Robinson measured at 6 feet 2, an inch taller than he was listed by UCLA.

“You measure him in the morning, he’s an inch taller,” Mirza joked.

Still, Thompson-Robinson is aware he remains a target of criticism.

“Very aware,” he said with a laugh.

He knows there is skepticism about his consistency and whether he can make “gimme” plays.

“If you check over the last two years and really watch the tape, you’ll see there’s a different player than the assumption that’s put out there before I even step on the field,” Thompson-Robinson said. “I know I wasn’t the best player in my first few years here, and really even in [the COVID-shortened 2020 season]. But I guarantee you that there’s not many players’ films out there that can compete with ours the last two years here.”

To his point: His completion percentage of .696 ranked sixth in the country last season and established a school record.

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) works out for scouts at the school's pro day ahead of the NFL draft.
UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) works out for professional scouts at the school’s pro day ahead of the NFL draft.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Thompson-Robinson was a divisive figure for the majority of his college career. The way he managed to change the fan base’s perception of him is something his agents hope can be useful at the next level.

“I think any time you have a man who has faced a sense of adversity and grown from it and won over fans, that’s a trait not many have,” said Derek Hawkridge, who represents Thompson-Robinson with Mirza.

Thompson-Robinson said he met with a “handful” of teams at the combine in Indianapolis.

“When I walked into one meeting, I got a basketball thrown at me and I had to make free throws,” he said.


Thompson-Robinson laughed.

“I missed all but one,” he said. “So they definitely knew not to put me on the basketball team.”

Asked what he might do if he isn’t drafted, Thompson-Robinson replied, “I have no thoughts at all.”

He smiled.

“I actually do,” he said. “I have business plans and all that stuff. I’ve made plenty of connections at UCLA.”

Thompson-Robinson said his mother received his degree in the mail about a month ago.

Over the last five years, UCLA coach Chip Kelly and Dorian Thompson-Robinson have overcome countless on-field struggles by having faith in one another.

Dec. 29, 2022

“But I’m not worried about that stuff,” he said. “I know football’s going to work out.”

If Thompson-Robinson doesn’t land with an NFL team as a drafted player or an undrafted free agent, would he take a detour to another league to chase his dream?

“That’s more of a question for about two months from now,” he said. “I was out here in front of [a] million NFL scouts and not CFL and XFL scouts. So right now, my mindset’s on the NFL until I hear otherwise.”

Thompson-Robinson was still smiling. He was calm. He spoke like someone with a UCLA degree in hand, which spoke well of him and coach Chip Kelly’s program. He has a promising future. The only question is whether that future includes the NFL.