Lost amid the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2-0 stretch and subsequent undefeated record (6-0) under Josh McDaniels in the preseason is a brewing quarterback battle in Sin City – granted, we’re not talking about the starting QB job. Let’s be frank: Jimmy Garoppolo continues to have a firm grasp on those duties. Rather, we’re talking about the individual who will sit behind him on the depth chart. For a moment, it seemed as if veteran Brian Hoyer was all but crowned QB2 in Las Vegas. That was until the rising play of the Raiders’ fourth-round rookie quarterback, Aidan O’Connell.
The Purdue alum now has Raider Nation, and likely Raiders brass, rethinking that decision. Through two weeks of preseason play, how much should we make of Hoyer’s playing time, or lack thereof?
A Rocky Preseason Week 2 Debut For Brian Hoyer
Eyebrows were raised in the Raiders’ Week 1 victory over the San Francisco 49ers as Aidan O’Connell (15-for-18, 141 yards, 1 TD) and Chase Garbers (3-for-5, 11 yards, 1 TD) handled the quarterback duties. All the while, Hoyer remained on the sidelines. Was the 15-year veteran already on the chopping block? Was he immediately demoted to being the Raiders’ third-string quarterback?
Despite the uncertainty leading up to Las Vegas’ second preseason game, Hoyer quieted that noise by lining up under center after Garoppolo’s lone series against the Rams. Then, the only question remaining was how Hoyer would fare in his first action with the Silver and Black.
The answer was a resounding thud that immediately killed the momentum that the Raiders had built up to that point. Following an impressive five-minute opening drive that saw Garoppolo go 4-for-4 for 39 yards while hitting four different pass catchers, which eventually ended in a nine-yard touchdown run from Brandon Bolden, Hoyer proceeded to take over. At that point, you could immediately feel the difference in both pace and momentum.
Despite attempting the most passes of Las Vegas’ three signal-callers, Hoyer went 12-for-22 with 144 yards and an interception, earning a passer rating of 55.9. As ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez noted, Hoyer’s stat line was an eyesore compared to Garoppolo’s and O’Connell’s. His performance Saturday night resulted in a dull 50.9 passing grade per Pro Football Focus, with the veteran recording subpar grades in his deep passes (1-for-4, 59.0 grade) and medium passes (2-for-6, 1 INT, 48.1 grade) individually. He did better in his short pass attempts (4-for-6, 55.1 grade), and tosses behind the line of scrimmage (6-for-6, 64.6 grade).
Aidan O’Connell Time
Hoyer’s rough outing could have been regarded as much ado about nothing if only he had a firm grasp on the Raiders’ backup quarterback job. That discussion remains firmly up in the air thanks to Aidan O’Connell’s efforts. In fact, it’ll only intensify over the next couple of weeks as Las Vegas’ fourth-round pick continues to look poised and in command. Again, these are just preseason reps. But O’Connell’s toughness, mechanics, and accuracy are something to behold for a player who should be facing a rookie learning curve.
Instead, he’s looked like anything but a rookie after completing 11-of-18 pass attempts for 163 yards and two touchdowns with a 127.8 QB rating. The rookie finished with an 87.5 passing grade in Week 2 via PFF, and even more impressive was his 87.2 grade on deep attempts (20+ yards). O’Connell went 3-for-5 on these throws, including this highlight-worthy 40-yard dime to fellow rookie wideout Tre Tucker.
Tre Tucker (top of the screen) can flat out run through secondaries. pic.twitter.com/8RTIHRvcfr
— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) August 20, 2023
The backup quarterback battle began brewing after Week 1’s win against San Francisco. Now, following back-to-back efficient performances from O’Connell, it’s safe to say that Hoyer by no means has a firm grasp on the QB2 job in Vegas.
What’s The Verdict Surrounding Brian Hoyer And The Raiders
If Brian Hoyer had not played in Week 2, there would be serious conversations about his current standing. Instead, head coach Josh McDaniels chose to play the 15-year veteran to see what he brings to the Silver and Black’s offense. After being outplayed by O’Connell, I’d bet the majority of Raider Nation wants to see the rookie as QB2.
Will McDaniels feel the same way? As someone who is a fierce advocate of the “Patriot Way,” it’s hard to assume he’ll give Hoyer the boot. That’s even after two notable preseason performances from O’Connell.
Yes, the Raiders drafted Aidan O’Connell because they valued his IQ, maturity, and accuracy in throwing the ball. Still, Hoyer’s veteran experience and familiarity with McDaniels’ system still give him an advantage. Don’t underestimate exactly how much familiarity means to McDaniels and his offense. During his first year in Las Vegas, the former Patriots coach quickly traded for his New England quarterback Jarrett Stidham. In Year 2, he brought in a signal caller he’s plenty familiar with to replace long-time Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
All eyes will be on the Raiders’ Week 3 preseason matchup versus the Dallas Cowboys. Personally speaking, I’d expect both Hoyer and O’Connell to get ample snaps under center. Should Hoyer bounce back with a solid performance, I would give him a shot to hold onto that backup job. What if the opposite comes to light and O’Connell shines for a third straight week? Then there’s no question the rookie out of Purdue has warranted the opportunity to be Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup in 2023.
*Top Photo: Steve Marcus/Getty Images