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Antonio Pierce, Raiders make positive impression on QB prospects

Updated March 1, 2024 - 7:07 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Telesco flashed a quizzical look this week when someone told him they were staying at the NFL scouting combine through Saturday. The Raiders general manager was even more puzzled when informed of why.

“I want to watch the quarterbacks work out,” he was told.

To which Telesco replied, “Just go watch their game tape.”

He was half-kidding, of course. But there was some truth in his words. And they serve as a healthy tip for anyone watching the action Saturday to keep things in perspective when the quarterbacks go through their on-field workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Throwing against air is one thing. But the game tape tells the real story.

That said, the Raiders came to the combine determined to dive deeply into the quarterback position. And based on how many quarterbacks they met with this week and the positive impression they made on the top prospects, they achieved their objective.

“Great questions,” Michigan star J.J. McCarthy. “Great interactions.”

McCarthy was one of a handful of quarterbacks the Raiders formally interviewed. The group included everyone from Southern California’s Caleb Williams, the prohibitive No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, to Michael Penix, the former Washington star who hopes to push his way into the first round.

It’s important to the draft evaluation process, but Telesco said he keeps everything in context.

“I’m not really one that needs to sit down and go eye to eye and then walk away in 15 minutes and say, ‘I know if he can play or not.’ I’m not that good,” he said. “But what I really get from them right now is talking with all of our scouts that have really spent a lot of time watching these players, and then as we move into the next month, talking to our coaches as they evaluate these players, then I’ll have my own opinions as well.”

Among the other quarterbacks the Raiders met with this week is Louisiana State star Jayden Daniels, who was recruited out of high school by Raiders coach Antonio Pierce to play at Arizona State. Pierce was then the Sun Devils’ defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator when Daniels was a high school standout in San Bernardino, California. Pierce sold Daniels on winning a Heisman Trophy, which he did last season at LSU, and the two remain close.

That resulted in some electricity when they met this week.

“There was great energy,” Daniels said.

The Raiders are high on Daniels, but to get access to him, they need to move from the 13th pick in the draft to the top three. It’s a difficult leap, to be sure, but an intriguing possibility being floated around this week.

The talk involves the Commanders, who have the second pick and appear to want Williams, a Maryland native and pupil of Commanders offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury at USC. If the Bears, picking at No. 1, select Williams, Washington might pivot by trading out of the No. 2 spot to get more draft assets for its rebuild.

The Raiders are expected to be aggressive in trying to trade up, according to multiple NFL sources, and undoubtedly would be involved if that situation unfolds.

Daniels’ eyes lit up when presented with the possibility of getting such a call from Pierce on draft night.

“If he did, and I heard my phone ring and it was him, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Daniels said on an appearance on CBS Sports.

Pierce has been a big hit this week with the prospects, many of whom noticed how the Raiders rallied around their interim coach in the final nine games last season.

“What a great job he did this past year,” said North Carolina star quarterback Drake Maye, projected to be the second or third pick. “So much respect for him for earning the respect of the guys.”

Said McCarthy: “Coach Pierce was awesome. Great energy.”

The Raiders probably would have to move into the top 10 to get in range for McCarthy, who is gaining steam as the fourth-best quarterback in the draft. But the cost would be less prohibitive than a move to get Daniels.

At this point, nothing is off the table. And that makes for a fascinating period before the draft starts April 25.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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