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Raiders Draft 2023: Aidan O’Connell’s skill set fits McDaniels offense

Quarterback is a system fit but has to make better decisions

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the Las Vegas Raiders moved on from Derek Carr, it began a new era. The team had to find a new signal caller to lead the offense that fits McDaniels vision.

Dave Ziegler went to work signing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The Patriots drafted him, and he knows how the offense should be executed. While it will be an adjustment from the west coast offense, he should hit the ground running on day one.

Garoppolo's issue throughout the years has been his ability to stay healthy. That is why many believed the Raiders would target a quarterback in the 2023 NFL draft. Their main interest was Bryce Young after attempting to trade up to one, but the price was steep, and the Raiders stayed at seven.

The Raiders instead waited until day three when they traded up for Purdue quarterback Aidan O'Connell. O'Connell played four years at Purdue, starting the past two seasons. He flourished in 2021, completing 70% of his passes, throwing 28 touchdowns. 2022 didn't add up to the same results, with his completion percentage diving to 63%. He was steady and helped Purdue make it to the Big Ten championship game.

For the Raiders to trade up, O'Connell was high on their board over more athletic quarterbacks. When you watch his film, you see the reasoning behind the team believing he could play well in the system. On the contrary, there are signs that he may never develop into a starter.

O'Connell fit in the offense.

McDaniels's offense thrives when the intermediate passing game is clicking. His quarterback needs to anticipate windows when working from 10-19 yards. It is an area that O'Connell excels at on film as a passer displaying the anticipation required in the NFL.

According to PFF, 24% of O'Connell's throws were 10-19 yards. He led the 2023 draft class in touchdown passes with 11 with a 57% completion rate. In the play below, O'Connell executes the dagger concept, a clear-out vertical from the slot receiver, and a deep dig from the outside. It is a concept that McDaniels dials up in critical situations, and O'Connell exhibits the timing hitting the receiver in stride.

The next play vs. Michigan in the Big Ten championship shows his anticipation. He has an over route and digs to his right-off-play action vs. Cover 3. Facing pressure, he can see the open window with the strong side corner playing the tight end. His pass leads the receiver to the open window with perfect placement for a gain of 25 yards.

O'Connell's play to the intermediate part of the field put him on the Raiders' radar. It is easy to see why McDaniels feels he could lead his offense. When you add throws on short passing concepts, his quick release fits what they like to do when attacking underneath.

Purdue is running a concept that McDaniels calls rail. It is a drag route with follow by an angle route that is designed to attack man coverage. O'Connell gets the look he wants with a great route from the tight end. His quick release beats the rush throwing an accurate pass that leads to yards after the catch.

These passes are all over O'Connell's tape and paint why the front office was enamored with his talent.

Poor decision making

People will point to O'Connell's lack of athleticism as why he isn't regarded as a top prospect. He is a statue and doesn't have the pocket movement you would desire from an old-school-style quarterback. It is hard to see O'Connell's upside when bundled up with lousy decision-making.

PFF has O'Connell leading the draft class with 25 turnover-worthy plays last season. He has thrown 24 interceptions since becoming a starting quarterback in 2021. He tends to lock onto targets and not go through his progressions, leading to mistakes. Running a pro-style offense in college makes it easier to see how it could be a tough transition.

Here is the rail concept again, this time vs. Wisconsin. The running back runs the angle route instead of the tight end, and O'Connell faces zone coverage. A safety drops down after the snap, switching from two high looks. O'Connell doesn't see the adjustment and assumes the running back will be wide open. It becomes a pick-six because he didn't see through the throw.

There were plays left on the field in the Big Ten championship vs. Michigan. On third and 5, down 14-10 in the second quarter. He is working the out-and-corner route to his left. Michigan is in cover 3, and based on the corner's leverage, the quarterback has an easy first down. Instead, he stares down the corner route and can't get enough juice on the throw leading to a play that should have been a turnover.

Vs. Illinois, he is working a corner route vs. man coverage. He stares down the receiver bringing the safety over, creating a tight window with the cornerback underneath. O'Connell tries to force it in with pressure coming with an underthrow leading to an easy interception helping Devon Witherspoon go top five.

To become even a spot starter, his decision-making has to improve drastically. Turnovers are the easiest way to get you on the bench, and O'Connell seems to have a knack for throwing to the wrong team. If he can consistently develop how he sees the field, his quick release, and anticipation are items any quarterback coach could work with. It is on O'Connell to put in the work.