State of Raiders QBs after missing out in draft

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Thursday, May 2, 2024

HENDERSON, Nevada -- The Las Vegas Raiders, it can now safely be said, had a "Jayden Daniels-or-bust" philosophy when it came to trading up for a quarterback in the first round of last week's NFL draft.

And had Michael Penix Jr. fallen into their laps at No. 13 with no deal to trade up materializing, well, that might have been OK, too. In fact, ESPN NFL draft insider Mel Kiper Jr. reported during the first-round broadcast that the Raiders attempted to move up for Penix.

Alas ... the Commandersmade Daniels their guy at No. 2 after Caleb Williams was picked No. 1 by the Bears. Drake Maye (No. 3) was next, then the Falconsturned the draft on its ear by selecting Penix at No. 8, despite having already signed Kirk Cousins to a $180 million free agent contract with $100 million guaranteed a month earlier. J.J. McCarthy (No. 10) and Bo Nix (No. 12) soon followed.

The Raiders, having witnessed six quarterbacks go off the board before their pick at No. 13 (something that had never occurred in the history of the draft), were stunned to find their "best player available" there for the taking in Georgia tight end Brock Bowers. Even though tight end was not on their list of top needs, which began with, yes, "QB."

So unless Tom Brady decides to come out of retirement -- hey, he loved those multiple-tight end sets, right? -- the Raiders are set to enter training camp with a QB1 battle between second-year returner Aidan O'Connell, who acquitted himself well down the stretch last year, and vagabond veteran Gardner Minshew, on his fourth team since 2020 after signing a two-year, $25 million free agent contract with $15 million guaranteed with Las Vegas.

The Raiders also have Anthony Brown Jr. on their roster, as well as undrafted rookie Carter Bradleyfrom South Alabama, who signed minutes after the draft concluded.

So, how hard, exactly, did the Raiders try to trade up in the first round?

"Not particularly hard," Raiders general manager Tom Telesco exhaled. "We looked into it ... we kind of had a plan to maybe move up if the opportunity was there. It wasn't there. [We] kept moving."

In fact, the Raiders made no trades throughout the entirety of the seven-round draft, coming away with eight players -- a tight end, two offensive linemen, a pair of cornerbacks, a running back, a safety and a linebacker -- but, obviously, no quarterbacks.

Telesco acknowledged he was not particularly interested in drafting a quarterback after the first round, sharing the sentiments of former NFL running back/wordsmith Ricky Watters, "For who? For what?" at the prospect of adding a signal-caller. "On the third day? No," Telesco said. "Really not the second day, either. First day? Yes. But not after that."

Indeed, the Raiders have used a first-round draft pick on a quarterback only five times in their history -- Roman Gabriel (1962), Eldridge Dickey (1968), Marc Wilson (1980), Todd Marinovich (1991) and JaMarcus Russell (2007).The Raiders had only two QBs -- Penix and Nix -- among their 30 pre-draft visitors.

"If we felt there was a quarterback out there that was better than we had, or could potentially be better, certainly we would have done something [about] it," Telesco added. "But it didn't line up."

That said, Raider Nation is not exactly taking to The Strip and celebrating a Rod Farva vs. Uncle Rico doppelgänger battle for QB1.

But its Silver and Black-clad denizens are not about to chain themselves to the soon-to-be demolished Tropicana in protest, either.

In fact, the quintessential bridge guy battling a guy growing into being a bridge guy isn't the worst thing in the world for a team destined to lean on its defense this fall. Not when O'Connell already has the respect of the locker room, the bigger arm and, as coach Antonio Pierce said, has earned the right to compete for a starting gig in the NFL. Then there's Minshew, who is probably the better all-around talent and provides a more mobile option who fits better into today's NFL and more experience in the league.

But both QBs are starting on the same ground-floor level, given that Las Vegas has a new scheme in place authored by new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

How's this for a way-too-early projected starting offense in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), then: LT Kolton Miller, LG Dylan Parham, C Andre James, RG Jackson Powers-Johnson, RT Thayer Munford, TE Brock Bowers, TE Michael Mayer, WR Davante Adams, WR Jakobi Meyers, RB Zamir White with QB TBA?

Yes, there are plenty of moving parts still, and that's a good thing for O'Connell -- who went 5-5 overall last season while throwing for 2,218 yards on 213-for-343 passing (62.1%) with 12 touchdown passes, 7 interceptions and a 40.5 QBR -- when it comes to any outside noise.

"Just don't read it," he said at the start of the Raiders' offseason training program. "Don't look at it, don't read it. And yeah, I'm definitely good to be naïve. I think ignorance is definitely bliss, and that's what I'm doing."

Thrown into the fire after being the final pick of the fourth round of last year's draft, O'Connell had more than his fair share of ups and downs as a rookie, bottoming out when the Raiders were shut out 3-0 by the Minnesota Vikings in Week 14. But he finished with a flourish in throwing eight touchdown passes without an interception in his last four games.

Minshew, meanwhile, beat the Raiders in Week 17 with the Indianapolis Colts and led the Colts to a 7-6 record as a starter last season. He finished last season completing 305 of 490 passes (62.2%) for 3,305 yards, 15 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a QBR of 59.6. Minshew has a career record of 15-22 over five seasons with 9,937 passing yards, 59 touchdown passes, 24 interceptions and a 50.8 QBR.

"It's going to be competitive," Minshew said upon signing with Las Vegas. "I think they're going to try to put together the best quarterback room they can. There's no promises being made. I don't want any guarantees -- I just want a chance -- and I'm excited for the chance I have here."

Fans expected, or hoped for, the Raiders to come away from the draft with a highly touted new QB1. It just wasn't to be. Not this year, at least.

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