With Jimmy Garoppolo out because of a concussion in Week 4, the Raiders pulled out a surprise ahead of Sunday’s game against the Chargers. They’re giving the starting job to third-string rookie O’Connell, rather than 37-year-old caretaker backup Brian Hoyer.
NFL.com insider Ian Rapoport reported early on Sunday that the Raiders had decided on AOC, writing on the site:
“Sources say that Aidan O’Connell, Las Vegas’ fourth-rounder from Purdue, is expected to be their starting QB today with Jimmy Garoppolo ruled out due to a concussion. Brian Hoyer, who backed up Garoppolo for the first three weeks of the season, will remain in his No. 2 role.”
Now, buckle up for an ongoing quarterback controversy. Because if O’Connell comes in and lights up the Chargers—a team that has given up 1,011 passing yards, worst in the NFL, as well as 1,352 total yards (31st in the league)—it will be very hard for McDaniels to justify returning to Garoppolo, and the Raiders will find themselves with a quarterback controversy on their hands.
Media Lined up Behind Aidan O’Connell
Not to say that McDaniels was swayed by media sentiment on starting O’Connell, but in the run-up to Sunday’s game, most everyone who covers the Raiders regularly had come out in favor of giving the rookie a chance in what has quickly devolved into a tumultuous 1-2 season in Las Vegas.
So much has gone wrong for the Raiders, starting just before the opening of the season with the social media tirade from Chandler Jones (who has since been arrested and who has been released by the team), the utter stifling of the team’s running game, and the underperformance of rookie Tyree Wilson.
The Raiders have somehow managed to force zero turnovers while giving up seven, the worst ratio in the league. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Chargers, then, there was a feeling that the team had nothing to lose by trying O’Connell as QB1.
Here’s what Tashan Reed, a senior writer at The Athletic who covers the Raiders, wrote on Twitter on Saturday night: “I’d start Aidan O’Connell, personally. Regardless of how he performs, it’s just way more valuable to see what you have in him and give him the live reps he needs to keep developing.”
O’Connell Could Come Through
But what if O’Connell does not need developing—what if he needs to get on the field and play?
O’Connell is a rookie, but not your average rookie. He was a fourth-round draft choice of the Raiders out of Purdue, a guy who came in with a fascinating story. He was committed to playing for tiny Wheaton College before winding up at Purdue as a walk-on and, after two years, eventually earned the job. He spent six years in college altogether, twice earning second-team All Big-Ten honors, and turned 25 at the beginning of September.
His experience level showed when he was given a chance in the preseason, and he threw for a league-high 482 yards, had a 69% completion rate and tossed three touchdowns, with a passer rating of 108.4.
A former walk on rookie emerging to lead the Raiders to a Week 4 win? It’s the start of a movie script.
Of course, the Raiders have Garoppolo and paid him $72 million over three years back in March. He is McDaniels’ guy, brought in from their days together with the Patriots. It’s unlikely that McDaniels would want to give up on Garoppolo—but AOC could, at least, make it a difficult choice with a good performance in Week 4.