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Graney: Mediocrity would be worst ending for Raiders

Call me crazy, but Antonio Pierce doesn’t come off as a guy who would promote tanking to secure a higher NFL draft pick.

He just might use you as a tackling dummy for even suggesting such a strategy.

But what Pierce — interim coach of the Raiders — has done in naming rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell the starter is risk even more losing than a 3-5 record has already produced.

And yet it’s by far the right move. The only one that makes sense.

It’s true O’Connell just might be the team’s best quarterback right now. Not sure what that really means. Jimmy Garoppolo appears broken, playing some of the worst football of his career. Brian Hoyer is a lifetime backup for a reason.

O’Connell, though, still has just one start to his inaugural season, and it didn’t go well (a 24-17 loss to the Chargers). He’ll get the second against the Giants on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.

Now we’ll see

This is when the Raiders will finally know what they have in their fourth-round pick. This is when it will become apparent if O’Connell could legitimately be an answer for the future or if there is a need to look elsewhere. The next several weeks will tell a lot.

Identifying a quarterback for years to come might not have been priority No. 1 before the season began, but it should be now.

Which is where the draft potentially comes in.

It’s reportedly a deep one for quarterbacks in 2024, meaning the Raiders, depending on things such as their record, could find themselves in a position to grab one of the better prospects.

If, of course, O’Connell wouldn’t impress to a high degree.

If he does, the decision becomes a lot easier.

Let’s say he doesn’t. The last thing the Raiders and their fans should hope for is average play from here until season’s end. For a record such as last season’s 6-11. Or maybe even seven or eight wins but with no hope of a playoff berth.

The last thing any team should hope for is mediocrity. It will inevitably place you in the purgatory of a draft, a losing team without a high enough pick to make an immediate impact.

So you either want O’Connell to be really good or really bad. In the middle doesn’t work for the long term.

Losing stinks. But for a bad NFL team, it’s also the leading way to get better.

Just don’t expect the Raiders to publicize such thoughts, whether they embrace them internally or not.

I’m guessing Pierce and interim general manager Champ Kelly don’t.

Run the race

“We’re going to put our blinders on, and we’re going to run our own race,” Pierce said. “We don’t get to pick the terrain. There will be hills. There will be potholes. We’ve got to run on some pebbles. And the race is not always won by the swift or the strong, but it’s won by those who persevere.

“At the end of the day you understand, just like I do, it’s a production based business. We have to produce. We have to play hard for 61 minutes, which we’ll do, and we have to play with the effort that everybody is used to the Raider Nation playing with.”

Yeah. He doesn’t like losing.

If they can turn things around and make the run owner Mark Davis still believes is possible, good for them. If they come within a real sniff of the playoffs, then go for it. There is every chance to reach 5-5 with games against the Giants and Jets in the next two weeks.

But if things continue down this road and losses get stacked, it’s not the worst thing to be positioned for a high draft pick. Especially if you feel a need for a quarterback.

Aidan O’Connell will have a lot to say about that.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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