In first live NFL action, rookie QB Skylar Thompson showed why Dolphins are high on him

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

The Miami Dolphins believed they got a steal when they picked Skylar Thompson with their final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft in April. They believed they hit on something when he attacked the Dolphins’ offseason program so well they felt comfortable with cutting the veteran quarterback they had signed to compete with Thompson for the third-string job.

They saw their most positive signs yet Thursday, when the rookie connected for multiple touchdowns in Miami’s joint practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday in Tampa, and witnessed even more justification for their hype Saturday in their first game of the preseason.

“He’s a stud,” coach Mike McDaniel said Saturday. “We’re happy to have him.”

Thompson, in his first live NFL action, put together about as good a preseason debut as anyone could have expected from a seventh-round rookie, throwing for 218 yards, completing more than 71 percent of his passes and leading the Dolphins to a 26-24 win at Raymond James Stadium while playing all 45 offensive snaps.

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Thompson started off 6 of 6 and finished 20 of 28. He linked up with wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. for a 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and also connected on passes of 33 and 29 yards. When he felt pressure in the pocket, Thompson used his feet to extend plays and even finished with 25 yards on three carries.

He’s buried on the depth chart behind quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Teddy Bridgewater, but the 6-foot-2, 219-pound rookie looked more than capable enough to be Miami’s third-string quarterback this year and maybe a future backup to Tagovailoa or even something more.

“I think,” Bowden said Saturday, “he can be one of those quarterbacks in the league that can really go ball.”

Of course, a game like this comes full of caveats: It was just a preseason game and none of Tampa Bay’s defensive starters played, the Dolphins went just 2 of 10 on third downs and Thompson, even though he’s a rookie, is 25—older than Tagovailoa, 24, and 37 other players on Miami’s current roster.

Still, the preseason for rookies — and especially late-round rookies — is more about finding those glimmers of potential than expecting to extrapolate a full-game performance into a lifetime of expectations and there were plenty of moments from Thompson this weekend.

On his very first play, Thompson rolled out to his left and threw on the run to tight end Mike Gesicki for a 13-yard gain and he finished the drive with two more completions to set up kicker Jason Sanders for a field goal. In the second quarter, his 22-yard heave to Bowden came after a pump fake — when paired with a devastating double move — got the receiver wide open in the back of the end zone. In the fourth, Thompson set Sanders up for a game-winning field goal when he stepped up in the pocket and took off for a 21-yard scramble on second-and-9 to move the Dolphins down to Tampa Bay’s 21-yard line.

Most importantly, he avoided any catastrophic mistakes. There was only one moment when he looked like a rookie, when he threw under duress and sailed a pass into the arms of a diving defensive back, and even then he escaped unscathed when a replay review couldn’t conclusively show Buccaneers cornerback Don Gardner got both feet down inbound.

“There’s a handful of plays that are on my mind right now,” Thompson said Saturday. “There’s always room for improvement, there’s always room for growth.”

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Ultimately, it was a building block off Thursday and all the other promising moments Thompson has put together in the three-plus months since Miami got him, and it will be a data point in Thompson’s favor when the Dolphins eventually have to decide whether they want to keep three quarterbacks on the roster at the start of the regular season. With Bridgewater on a one-year deal, Miami has incentive to keep Thompson around, in case Bridgewater, who has started 63 games in his career, leaves next year.

Thompson’s performance was also a sneak peek of what McDaniel’s revamped offense could look like when the Dolphins actually roll out a normal lineup.

For Game 1 of the preseason, Miami held out Tagovailoa, tackle Terron Armstead, offensive lineman Connor Williams, running backs Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert, and wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. With more than half of the projected starting lineup out, the Dolphins’ third-string quarterback still managed to put up a 106.0 quarterback rating — a good indication of just how quarterback-friendly the new coach’s offense is — and it should only get better from here.

After all, first impressions only go so far.

“You’re never going to be completely happy with a performance. That’s the point of being a coach,” McDaniel said. “The day they have a perfect game, I feel like you should walk off into the sunset.”