Aidan O'Connell has gone from inconspicuous, Day 3 draft pick to talk of the preseason in a flash.
And in a flash is how to properly describe O'Connell's release that has led to 26-of-36 passing for 304 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions through two exhibition showings. He's performed like he's played in Josh McDaniel's system for years.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old Raiders rookie enjoyed a long, flourishing career at Purdue. Given his age and over 1,200 collegiate attempts, it's not surprising O'Connell is playing like a refined, high-floor thrower. That's what he is. Let's highlight some of the strengths to O'Connell's game that he's demonstrated thus far.
There are billion different positives to take from this play against the Rams.
From under center, O'Connell dropped back before flashing a play-action fake. Because he wanted the deep over, which was being run from the right side of the formation across the field, notice how O'Connell stared at the boundary corner on the left to hold him from sinking -- that's next-level planning. After that split-second eye manipulation of the corner, O'Connell started his delivery to the deep over because a defender was bearing down on him.
He took a shot to the midsection at his release but threw a strike. Brilliant quarterbacking from O'Connell there.
In most cases, the quick-release, hyper-accurate underneath passers aren't capable long-ball throwers. O'Connell flashed on downfield throws in college and has demonstrated the same willingness and capability to connect on deep tosses this preseason. Look here, against the Rams, how O'Connell placed this deep shot in the bucket with perfect ball placement and trajectory for a chunk play.
Sure, his pocket was squeaky clean, and his target had a step on the corner -- with no over-the-top safety help. At the release, it looks like it'll be one of the easiest long-ball strikes you'll ever see. However, this play should serve as a stark reminder as to how rapidly windows close in the NFL. Watch the safety on the other side of the field close on the ball. In order for that pass to be completed, the throw needed to be exquisitely placed.
While an O'Connell fastball won't over be confused with rocket from Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, the rookie has had the opportunity to uncork a few high-velocity throws through two preseason outings, none more impressive than this one to Keelan Cole against the Rams.
O'Connell waited for the seam to open -- notice the underneath linebacker drifting to O'Connell's left -- then stepped into the middle-of-the-field throw, which arrived before the two over-the-top defenders could converge on the pass to knock it away. For more than five years now, the league has trended toward explosive arm strength as almost a basic necessity to thrive at quarterback in the NFL. O'Connell displayed he can crank the RPMs when it's needed.
I'll finish with two plays that demonstrate a natural attribute O'Connell possesses that typically can't be coached -- calm pocket presence. I'm a believer the overwhelming vast majority of quarterbacks are either born with the ability to stay focused on the task at hand with chaos around them or they're not. O'Connell has provided evidence he does have that vital trait in his DNA.
Unfazed. Set his feet and found the open tight end in the middle of the field for a positive play. Many young quarterbacks -- and even some good veterans -- would've instantly had an alarm sound in their heads and looked to vacate the pocket up and to the right. O'Connell didn't. He realized his guard's positioning would make it a challenge for the interior rusher to close on him in the pocket, and a quick release would keep him from getting hit.
The last throw was my favorite O'Connell play from his two auditions to date this preseason. It has it all. From the shotgun, he started by checking down the middle of the field. At the top of his drop, he moved to the left side of the field and subtly stepped into the pocket. He was moved off his spot ever-so-slightly, but it allowed him to get his feet aligned with the long throw he was ready to make. With an edge-rusher spinning back into him, O'Connell delivered a gorgeous, anticipatory throw from the far hash to a deep comeback. He released the football well before his target broke off his route stem, and the pass had plenty of heat behind it.
Sure, the receiver had to dive to make the grab, but I like it closer to the sideline instead of hanging it back to the inside, where there's a stronger likelihood of the corner making a play on the football.
Of course, Jimmy Garoppolo is the Raiders starter. And while I'll never predict an injury for any player, the fact is Garoppolo has averaged missing around five games over the past four seasons.
Yes, yes, it's just the preseason, But all O'Connell can do to prove his worth is show out in these exhibition outings, and he's absolutely done that with plenty of advanced quarterbacking in the Raiders offense.