If there is a quarterback controversy underway in Raiderdom on this night—with Jimmy Garoppolo finally and surprisingly ruled out for the Sunday showdown in Los Angeles against the Chargers—it rests mostly between the ears of coach Josh McDaniels. Because while McDaniels very well could go with 37-year-old backup Brian Hoyer, who has a 16-24 career record in the role, virtually all of the league’s observer class is pushing the Raiders to give the start to rookie Aidan O’Connell.
Garoppolo sustained a concussion in Sunday night’s loss to the Steelers, though he played through it. It appeared he was trending toward playing against L.A., but he apparently could not clear all five thresholds of the concussion protocol.
And that’s an opportunity for O’Connell. It’s also an opportunity for the Raiders to inject some life into what has already been a depressing first three weeks of the year.
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.”
Aidan O’Connell Has Had a Long NFL Journey
That is typical of the sentiment around O’Connell. 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.
So, yes, he is a rookie, but he is a rookie with some life experience behind him. In the preseason, he threw for a league-high 482 yards, had a 69% completion rate and tossed three touchdowns, with a passer rating of 108.4.
Hoyer, on the other hand, has been kicking around the NFL since 2009. You know what you’re getting from him.
And why not put O’Connell in against a weak Chargers D?
As Moe Moton of Bleacher Report wrote: “Even if Aidan O’Connell is awful in his 1st start, #Raiders should find out if he’s awful. We know what Brian Hoyer is at the tail end of his career. #Chargers are giving up the MOST passing yards. No Joey Bosa on the edge. No Derwin James in the secondary. Start O’Connell.”
Not Much to Lose With O’Connell Start
The worst that could happen with O’Connell against the Chargers is that he could show he is not up to the job. And that is not such a bad thing—at least then, the Raiders will have had a look at him. It will be of little consequence because Garoppolo is all but certain to be back on the field after this week.
So, it’s a one-game look at how O’Connell handles the regular season. Count veteran NFL analyst and Raiders beat guy Vincent Bonsignore in the AOC camp, too.
“The @Raiders should take every opportunity to develop/evaluate Aidan O’Connell on occasions Jimmy G can’t play. No matter what happens tomorrow, if O’Connell gets the start, it represents valuable experience for him and intel for the Raiders. Good or bad.”
Football Guys writer Ben Cummins went a bit farther than that—he is saying that without a doubt, O’Connell will prove himself worthy of starting consideration, beginning with Sunday’s game.
“Aidan O’Connell will be a name many learn tomorrow,” Cummins wrote. “I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t start and surprised if he doesn’t play competently at the very least. He balled out in the preseason. Knows how to read defenses, throws with anticipation and accuracy.”
That is the consensus in the media, it seems. But the media is not picking Sunday quarterback—it will be McDaniels, and not matter the sentiment around getting O’Connell into the game, it’s just hard to imagine McDaniels going that route.
But hey, maybe he’ll surprise everyone.