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Is Aidan O’Connell a legit option to replace Jimmy Garoppolo?

Updated September 27, 2023 - 7:16 pm

Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a concussion on Sunday against the Steelers, leaving his status for their Week 4 matchup against the Chargers up in the air.

If he isn’t able to clear concussion protocol in time to take the field at Sofi Stadium on Sunday, the Raiders face an interesting decision on who to call on as his replacement.

It includes weighing the short-term term benefit of turning to veteran backup Brian Hoyer against the long-range considerations offered by rookie Aidan O’Connell.

“I think we’ll try to do the right thing for the team this week for sure,” said Raiders coach Josh McDaniels. “No matter what it is and whatever that ultimately ends up being.”

On the surface, Hoyer makes sense because of his experience, understanding of the offense and the opportunity he gives the Raiders to play a competitive game against their AFC West rival.

But a big-picture element might be too compelling to ignore. That would be O’Connell, the Raiders’ fourth-round draft pick from Purdue who impressed throughout training camp and the preseason.

The Raiders could use Garoppolo’s potential absence as an opportunity to get O’Connell onto the field to expedite his development and their evaluation of him.

The experience he’d gain by getting the majority of the first-team reps in this week’s practice and preparing and studying as the Week 4 starter would be invaluable. So too would the chance to command a veteran huddle and face a regular-season defense that will draw up a Raiders-specific defensive game plan.

That is unlike during the preseason, when there is little game-planning and even less usage of starting players.

There is always risk in turning to a rookie quarterback. And for a club that needs to get back to even after the Steelers pushed their record to 1-2 on Sunday, the sense of urgency is real.

The Raiders should, and will, weigh the immediate needs of their team against the long-range objectives of the organization.

“We’re not going to use this like it would be a preseason game,” McDaniels said. “So if the best thing for the team would be to do something down that road, then we would discuss that and consider it.”

Could this be a case of the short-term and long-range lining up?

Recent history suggests rookie quarterbacks can sometimes create a lightning-in-the-bottle effect. Just look at Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers last year.

Even if things go completely sideways, the Raiders have Hoyer waiting in the wings to turn to as an in-game replacement.

One other factor to consider is the deep quarterback draft class that is emerging in the college ranks. The Raiders need to get a handle on whether to pursue one next April.

USC’s Caleb Williams is the consensus top pick overall, but Washington’s Michael Penix, North Carolina’s Drake Maye, Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy and Colorado’s Shedeur Sanders are among the prospects touted as potential first-round picks. Depending on where the Raiders finish this year, they could be in position to draft one of those candidates.

That makes any chance to see O’Connell all the more important for the Raiders, who are under no delusions that Garoppolo is their long-term quarterback. O’Connell’s play can either heighten or lessen the club’s urgency to be aggressive at that position next offseason.

It won’t necessarily come at the expense of a potential win on Sunday — according to oddsmaker Jeff Sherman, there would be no discernible difference in the point spread whether Hoyer or O’Connell started — and the benefits could be far more long-lasting.

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

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