Aidan O’Connell: Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room

Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room shares clips from Raiders QB Aidan O’Connell’s performances against the Chargers, Bears, and Giants.

I studied O’Connell for the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio and reviewed 150 snaps of his Raiders’ film over the course of three games — the Chargers, the Bears, and last week’s start against the Giants. This is a 29-play deep-dive into O’Connell’s game:

If you prefer the executive overview, here’s a bulleted list:

  • O’Connell is a pocket passer with limited mobility, but he has the potential to develop into a competent pocket manager.
  • He’s a developing anticipation thrower, who can make short, intermediate, and vertical throws into tight windows of coverage.
  • This confidence in his placement and arm often leads to O’Connell displaying patience in the pocket for routes to unfold.
  • The downside of this confidence is a tendency to predetermine reads or hang with a route too long to the detriment of the play.
  • O’Connell makes enough accurate pre-snap reads to have confidence in his continued growth in this area of his game.
  • One pre-snap issue requiring improvement occurs with schemed plays with one set receiver. He either doesn’t recognize the play is well-defended, or he believes he can force the ball to the receiver. Both issues show up on tape.
  • O’Connell has the potential to become a better mover in the pocket but he’ll rarely win against multiple points of pressure.
  • Move O’Connell off his spot and his accuracy diminishes. He must improve the efficiency of his footwork so he can reset and fire accurately. His front leg can get a little stiff and it leads to inaccuracies when forced to reset and fire.
  • He has the aggressive mindset you want from a quarterback.
  • He can stare down targets and tip off his intentions regardless of how well he can anticipate a route.
  • He trusts his primary receiver to make big plays and gives the star a chance to be a star.
  • He also finds the open man and doesn’t lean too hard on his start to the detriment of the offense.
  • He can read the field deep-to-short and sideline-to-sideline.
  • He must learn when to throw the ball away.

A lot of what I saw from these 150 plays aligns well with my scouting report of O’Connell. Here’s the elevator pitch on O’Connell:

A former walk-on, O’Connell has been an effective Big Ten quarterback with confidence to make tight-window throws from the pocket. He’s an aggressive passer who reads leverage well and delivers with promising accuracy in the intermediate and the shallower ranges of the vertical passing game when throwing from the same side of the field as the target.

He must learn to disguise his intentions as well as manage the game because he often gives away to defense as much, if not more, than what he takes from his opponents. His anticipation as a thrower also needs development.

O’Connell might be better served to earn playing time in a different league and refine his game management and learn his limitations. If he can develop from there, he has the aggression and confidence to become a viable backup in the NFL who could see the field and not embarrass the offense.

He’d fit well in a play-action offense with a dynamic ground game that allows him to work from the pocket with short drops form pistol and shotgun. He has the upside to become proficient craftsman of play fakes but must complete the task more often. His footwork with specific drops also doesn’t set up him for efficient releases.

He must develop more ways to disguise his intentions and make it look natural. Otherwise, defenses will gradually improve how to read his tells and he’ll tip off NFL defenses as he gains more playing time.

That said, I’m open to the idea that I’ve underestimated O’Connell’s ceiling after what I saw thus far as a Raider. He doesn’t always feel when the pocket is too tight for him to operate, but he’s quick to read the blitz and can get the ball out quickly to the appropriate target.

His anticipation has also improved against tight man and off-man coverage. At Purdue, O’Connell frequently waited 1-2 beats after the receiver was at the top of his stem before throwing the ball and it led to inaccuracies and dangerous decisions. So far, O’Connell’s anticipation has been a strong point of his NFL tape.

If this continues to be the case with O’Connell’s play, I can see his ceiling moving from a long-term QB3 on a depth chart to a reliable backup with journeyman starter potential. If the rookie can learn to disguise his intentions, learn when to give up on plays and improve his ability to reset in the pocket so he’s more accurate on second and third reads, perhaps he could emerge as a starter.

I’m not counting on it, but I like what I’ve seen from O’Connell early on and understand why the Raiders are giving him the starting job. At worst, they’re seasoning a long-term backup who can keep the offense alive when called into the game. At best, they got a massive bargain. Time to find out.

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2023 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2022 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat the sexual abuse of children. 

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