The big bombshell news of the week happened on Wednesday morning, when the Cleveland Browns announced that starting quarterback Deshaun Watson needs to have shoulder surgery and will miss the rest of the 2023 season.
But the news that followed might have been just as impactful. The Browns announced on Monday afternoon that rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, not veteran P.J. Walker, will start this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Thompson-Robinson started one game in place of Watson earlier this season, and he struggled, completing 19 of 36 for 121 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 25.3 passer rating in a 28-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
When Watson’s first absence from a shoulder injury stretched into multiple weeks, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski called up Walker from the practice squad and put DTR back on the bench.
Walker wasn’t great in his time in relief of Watson, but he did lead the team to one win after coming when Watson couldn’t finish a game and another as the starter. On the season, Walker is 48 of 98 for 618 yards, one touchdown, five interceptions and a 51.3 passer rating.
Neither quarterback’s numbers are great, but Walker has clearly been the better passer when called upon. So why is Stefanski going back to Thompson-Robinson?
Well, the fifth-round rookie out of UCLA had no idea he would be starting that Ravens game until the day before, and didn’t prepare with the first team at all that week. When he played in the preseason and was given a real chance, he performed well.
In four preseason games, he was 37 of 58 for 440 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and a 110.0 passer rating. Stefanski is hopeful the Browns can get him ready this week for numbers closer to his preseason performance.
“I want to give him a week where he knows he’s the starter,” Stefanski said. “He gets a full week of preparation. … Young players need exposure. You get better in practice. Sometimes you get better through games.”
While Thompson-Robinson is an inexperienced NFL passer, he played five years of college football, throwing for over 10,000 yards in 49 games with UCLA. So his learning curve should not be as steep as it may seem, based on one poor outing.
“He’s played a lot of football,” Stefanski said. “He’s very athletic, can make plays, has a very good understanding of what we do of our offense and those type of things. So he’s a young player that I think will just continue to get better.”