clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Raiders’ quick slants: Rams edition

Aidan O’Connell impressive again; other players stake their claims for potential roster spots

NFL: Preseason-Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams
Las Vegas Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell was once again calm and collected in the pocket and was a smooth operator in the team’s 34-17 preseason win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday.
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Another opportunity, another impressive outing from Aidan O’Connell. The Las Vegas Raiders rookie quarterback proved to be a smooth operator again during the team’s 34-17 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

Those wanting to see consistency from the fourth-round pick got it. O’Connell was confident both pre snap and in the pocket, started in the face of pressure, and delivered the football quite well. The Purdue product completed 11 of 18 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns — both of impressive variety that required his targets to not only make the grab, but stay inbounds.

The first scoring pass was a lob to wide receiver Cam Sims near the corner of the end zone. The pass had nice touch and was lofted in a way that allowed the 6-foot-5 pass catcher to make the grab over the defender. Initially ruled an incomplete pass, replay showed Sims got both feet in bounds — touchdown. The second touchdown pass was a strike to wideout Kristian Wilkerson that was a dart the receiver hauled in while tapping in a toe and dragging the other.

Overall, O’Connell proved much sharper and steady than Brian Hoyer, who served as QB2 behind starter Jimmy Garoppolo (more on both signal callers below). It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for O’Connell, though. His long ball wasn’t something he was known for coming out of Purdue and the lack of consistent velocity on his deep passes Saturday may be a long-term concern. But that can be worked on as the 2023 campaign progresses.

O’Connell is staking his claim to potentially be QB2 and make Hoyer either expendable or the emergency signal caller when games count. Other Raiders who made a case for spots on the 53-man roster include undrafted rookie linebacker Drake Thomas, safety Isaiah Pola-Mao, veteran receiver DeAndre Carter and even Wilkerson.

NFL: Preseason-Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams
Undrafted free agent Drake Thomas (57) led the Las Vegas Raiders in total tackles with 12 during Saturday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas, a sparkplug defender out of NC State, led the team in total tackles with 12 (nine solo. He displayed the frenetic energy against the Rams that made him a tackling machine in college. With depth behind starter Robert Spillane uncertain, Thomas could make the squad as the backup. Pola-Mao, on the other hand, housed a give-me interception showcasing awareness and speed from his 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame. He’s being moved all over the Raiders defense and should make the final roster.

There’s more on Carter below, but Wilkerson is a dark horse. An undrafted free agent who played on the New England Patriots, Wilkerson showed impressive pop on blocks in the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers and then displayed nice route running and hands against the Rams. Las Vegas has a ton of depth at wide receiver right now, but if Wilkerson makes the roster, it’ll likely be because of his toughness and willingness to block.

Let’s hit the quick slants as fast as O’Connell asserted himself in Saturday’s victory:

—Rookie David Agoha was the lone Raider to collect a sack in the win. He’s an extra on the team’s roster through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, but he showed awareness and closing speed that was excellent to see from an NFL neophyte. Agoha may be a longshot but it was good to see the Nigerian-born rookie get his highlight.

—Garoppolo was sharp in the Raiders’ opening drive — his lone action of the game — completing all four of his passes for 39 yards. Confident pre-snap and smooth with the ball in his hands, the starting quarterback said it was a chance to knock some rust off.

—Hoyer was the complete opposite. He ended up going 12 of 22 for 144 yards with an interception (pick six) and absorbing a sack (the only one Las Vegas gave up). It was such a hectic performance one could say O’Connell can be the direct backup to Garoppolo.

—It’s difficult to see anyone but DeAndre Carter as Las Vegas’ punt returner. The veteran almost housed a punt before stepping out of bounds on what ended up being a 31-yard return. Rookie Tre Tucker got some play as both kick and punt returner, but Carter has the superior veteran experience.

—Tucker had some mind boggling drops against the Rams but did show nice rapport with O’Connell on a 40-yard connection. Tucker will need to work on his hands but his ability to separate is unquestioned.

—Edge Rusher Malcolm Koonce exhibited a good pass rush toolkit. While he didn’t collect a sack, he did get in the backfield and was a harrier. He’s fighting for a roster spot and being the smallest rusher on the roster, Koonce must continue to stand out.

—Cornerback Amik Robertson jumped on two routes that could’ve been interceptions — for scores even — but couldn’t snag both opportunities. Yet, it’s good to see Raiders defenders attempting to make plays on passes.

—Linebacker Robert Spillane showed how hard he can hit. The starting middle linebacker offers plenty of thump, similar to former Raiders MIKE ‘backer Denzel Perryman.