Antonio Pierce on Raiders QB depth chart, 2024 draft class

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Monday, March 25, 2024

ORLANDO -- Rookie Aidan O'Connell went 5-5 as the starting quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders last season, including throwing eight touchdown passes without an interception over his final four games. As such, O'Connell will be given every opportunity this offseason to win the starting job in 2024.

The Raiders also signed veteran Gardner Minshew to a two-year, $25 million deal with $15 million guaranteed in free agency to compete for the job, and former Baltimore Ravens backup Anthony Brown is also on the roster.

But that doesn't mean the Raiders' QB1 currently has a locker in their facility.

Not with Raiders coach Antonio Pierce unabashed in his desire to find a franchise passer in the draft. Especially with his personal connection to LSU's Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, whom he initially recruited to Arizona State when he was an assistant coach (2018-21).

Thing is, the Raiders own the No. 13 overall pick, and with Daniels among the consensus top three QB prospects-- along with USC's Caleb Williams and North Carolina's Drake Maye-- trading up to get Daniels would be an expensive if not impossible task. That's because the teams picking 1-2-3 all need QBs in the Chicago Bears, Washington Commanders and New England Patriots.

Pierce went to work at the AFC coaches breakfast during the NFL owners meetings here Monday, giving scouting reports on the next line of quarterbacks entering the draft.

"We interviewed most of those guys at the combine, had great conversations with them," Pierce said. "J.J. McCarthy, you're talking about a national champ, a winner. So I don't know how he's not in the top three, if you want to be honest. And then you look at Bo Nix, I mean, what is it, 61 career starts? Come on, man. That's crazy. Played against Justin Herbert. So if you grab a kid like that, well, he's done that already. That's kind of cool. But there's a very talented group, even Michael Penix Jr., taking his guys to the national championship with the University of Washington.

"So, to be honest, yeah, you want a certain quarterback. You got your eye on one or two or three, but I don't think you can go wrong with this year's draft with any of these guys now. Do they pan out? I don't know. It's the fit. It's when they get brought along. It's the system. A lot of things go into play."

The cynic might see Pierce imbibing in some serious quarterback gamesmanship, pumping up all the signal-callers so one falls to the Raiders.

Even as there is a thought in the organization that there is a line of demarcation separating Williams, Daniels and Maye from the next wave of QBs, a drop too steep to just simply take any of those QBs at 13. Which brings us back to the Pierce-Daniels connection.

"I thought he would be a Heisman winner, I did," Pierce said with a grin. "That was my recruiting pitch to him. I just thought it would be where I was at previously.

"One thing about him, that I think separates him from the rest, is his ability to run. He could run, run. He could run like that in the SEC and put up those kind of numbers? I think that translates very well [to the NFL]."

And that's exactly the kind of quarterback Pierce hated facing in his nine years playing linebacker in the NFL from 2001 to 2009.

"Damn runner, Michael Vick," Pierce said. "Vick. [Donovan] McNabb. All those guys, because it's 11 on 11. I like the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings of the world. Sit there, throw that marker down, he's still there. But when that marker started moving and now I'm in coverage, do I come out? Do I stay with my guy in zone coverage? Do I turn my back, go plaster as we call it, find the nearest receiver?

"Those guys are always difficult, man. The guys that move around, Patrick Mahomes, just a thorn, right? Because he extends the play now and it goes from 2.2 seconds to 2.6, 2.7, sometimes three and four. That's never good for a defense."

Are you picking up what Pierce is putting down? Because even if the Raiders do draft a QB, there's no guarantee the rookie will start right away. No matter his draft slot.

"It all depends on the quarterback you get and who that guy is," Pierce said. "I mean, do you want to throw him to the fire? No, I don't think that's been the best way. I played with a guy like Eli Manning, first pick overall, didn't play until Week 8 or 9 his rookie season. Didn't become a starter until Year 2. So, a thousand ways to skin a cat. We'll do what's best for the player and ourselves going forward."

Until then, Pierce gave updated views on the signal-callers currently on the roster:

On O'Connell: "Would love to see him become more vocal, right? Is he ever going to become a runner? No, not going to happen. That's OK. But there's other ways that you can do that and move around in the pocket. I think he's done a great job this offseason, being in the building, staying in the Las Vegas area and really working on that. So, one thing I'd love to see him do is be more vocal. You don't want the quarterback being a church mouse. I don't need him being a rah-rah guy either. But when things are wrong, I need him to fix it and be vocal about it."

On Minshew: "He's been through a lot of adversity. We want that experience, as well, in here. So, to me, it was a good fit. And it is a culture fit."

On Brown: "Extremely athletic ... gives you a different dynamic. Very mobile, very athletic, gets out of the pocket. Good poise about him."

As Minshew put it, he felt a "great energy" in the Raiders building, one that Pierce is fostering.

"I'm the guardian at the gate," he said. Not letting any evil come through that building.

"You're looking for somebody that wants to come in that room and be competitive. Give us that edge. And again, if it's a rookie, if it's Aidan, if it's Minshew, if it's Brown, we're going to put the best player out there that gives us a chance to win."

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