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Raiders Outlook 2023: Aidan O’Connell can push for main backup quarterback role

Rookie’s skillset makes him an ideal fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense but must prove he’s better option than veteran Brian Hoyer

Syndication: Journal-Courier
Aidan O’Connell displays the quick release, anticipation, and timing on his throws that make him a solid fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense in Las Vegas. The rookie quarterback has a shot to make a push for the backup role for the Raiders.
Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

What Brian Hoyer has in experience and familiarity cannot be discounted. The veteran quarterback is attune to the McDaniels Method and his addition to the Las Vegs Raiders roster seen as inevitable after the New England Patriots released the 15-year veteran.

In fact, Hoyer has three different stints with the Patriots under his belt, the latter two with Josh McDaniels as the architect of the New England offense. So it’s only fitting Hoyer and McDaniels are reunited in Las Vegas. And thus it’s no surprise that Hoyer is the leading candidate for QB2 — for now.

Enter Aidan O’Connell.

The 2023 NFL Draft fourth-round pick (135th overall) out of Purdue lands in a Raiders’ offense that is designed to maximize his strengths while mitigating weaknesses. McDaniels’ system thrives when the quarterback is hitting the intermediate throws with accuracy and anticipation — two things O’Connell did quite well during his Boilermaker days. He makes reads rapidly, has a quick release, and can deliver the ball with either touch or velocity to lead his receiving options open and put receivers in the best possible position to succeed. The quick decision-making and release come will come in handy against NFL defenses that can leave signal callers little to no time to make a read and throw.

Whereas the 37-year-old Hoyer fits the bill as QB2 due to his background and knowledge of the scheme, the 24-year-old O’Connell has the skillset that’s in-tune to what McDaniels seeks from his quarterback.

Thus, training camp and the ensuing preseason matchups are opportune times for O’Connell to continue his development in the Raiders system. He impressed teammates in minicamp back in June and is afforded even more opportunities do so when the entire team reports to training camp July 25. O’Connell and other rookies are already at team facilities in Henderson reporting this past Thursday.

By stacking strong impressions, picking up the offense, and performing well in camp practices and the preseason slate, O’Connell can make a push for the backup quarterback role to presumptive starter Jimmy Garoppolo.

The presence of both Garoppolo and Hoyer in the quarterback room did portend to a more developmental path for O’Connell in year one. And that may still be the case — if Las Vegas’ best laid plans go off without a hitch. Which, considering the medical history on both Garoppolo and Hoyer, merits Silver & Black concern.

“Developmental” may not be the most apt description of O’Connell if Garoppolo or Hoyer miss games — something both have done recently and in the past. Of the two, Garoppolo has the longer injury history.

New Orleans Saints v San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo, seen here last year with the San Francisco 49ers, will be the Las Vegas Raiders starting quarterback — as long as he’s healthy to do so.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the 146 regular season games Garoppolo could’ve played in in his nine year career, he’s seen action in 74 of those contests with 57 starts. (Granted, the 146-game total includes the 2014-2016 seasons with Tom Brady at the helm of the Patriots offense.) In 2022, Garoppolo played in 11 games for the San Francisco 49ers starting 10 and compiled a 7-3 record before a foot injury shelved him for the remainder of the season. It’s that same injury and following offseason surgery that saw Garoppolo miss OTAs and minicamp in the desert.

Hoyer, on the other hand, had a truncated 2022 season, too. He landed on injured reserve with a concussion sustained in the first quarter of a 27-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Hoyer threw six passes, completely five for 37 yards when a hard hit put him on the sidelines. The injury turned to be a concussion. And that was the last action Hoyer saw as Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe battled for QB1 and QB2 duties the rest of the way.

All this harkens on the possibility of O’Connell garnering starts this coming season for the Raiders if Garoppolo or Hoyer can’t manage a clean bill of health. Which means O’Connell picking up the offense, taking his lumps, and growing as an NFL quarterback can only be a good thing for the Silver & Black.

Like with any other prospect, there are things O’Connell must refine as he continues his NFL development. While he can make his reads and throws with quickness, he needs to scan the entire field at the next level. His pocket awareness and ability to shift up and about to avoid the rush must improve, too. O’Connell is a throwback to the statuesque pocket passer compared to the athletic dual-threat signal callers the NFL is seeing more of.

O’Connell must also show he can take care of the football as a Raider, more than he did at times as a Boilermaker. Give aways and turnovers are a quick way to draw the ire of McDaniels.

But what works in O’Connell’s favor is having two experience sounding boards in front of him, an offense that will extenuate his strengths, and his ability to assimilate and learn. He arrived to Purdue as an afterthought and worked his way into the starter. And he shouldered the burden of leading the Boilermakers offense. All admirable traits.

Especially for a rookie quarterback who has a likelihood of seeing the field in 2023 due to circumstance.