Evaluating the Raiders' QB options in 2024 NFL draft

ByPaul Gutierrez ESPN logo
Wednesday, April 10, 2024

HENDERSON, Nev. -- The Las Vegas Raiders are at the choose-your-own-adventure portion of their search to fill the most important position in team sports.

Because while they return Aidan O'Connell -- who started 10 games last season as a rookie and finished the final four with a flourish, leading the Raiders to a 3-1 record while throwing eight touchdown passes with no interceptions -- signed veteran Gardner Minshew in free agency and have Anthony Brown on the roster, it's obvious Raiders coach Antonio Pierce is in new general manager Tom Telesco's ear about upgrading at quarterback.

But how do the Raiders, who hold the No. 13 pick in the NFL draft, move mountains to get into position to select one of the top prospects?

Again, choose your own adventure, Raider Nation.

Heavily linked to LSU Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels, and with USC's Caleb Williams all but a done deal to the Chicago Bears at No. 1, the Raiders would have to move up 11 slots to "assure" themselves a shot at drafting Daniels, the guy Pierce recruited to and coached at Arizona State from 2019-21.

To do that, a three-year-old blueprint exists, kind of.

The San Francisco 49ers went from No. 12 to No. 3 in 2021 to draft Trey Lance. The cost? Besides swapping first-rounders, the Niners gave the Miami Dolphins their first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 as well as a third-rounder in 2022.

Three first-rounders and a third-round pick would seemingly be the starting point ... plus the additional cost difference between going from 13 to 2 and 12 to 3, along with three years' worth of inflation.

"I think everything's on the table," Pierce said at the recent NFL owners' meetings. "Whatever makes the Raiders better, I'm all for. And when I say I'm a go-getter, [that means] whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes to get the best player to make our team the best, that's what I want to do, and that's what I'd like to see us do.

"Tom Telesco has a lot more experience in the draft than myself. I'm going to lean on him and his expertise on what we should do. And if it's the right fit and that guy there that we want is a Raider, and he fits the Raider culture in our way, then we'll go get him."

While there are questions as to whether the Washington Commanders are open for business at No. 2, you have to wonder if Telesco has the stomach to make such a move.

After all, Telesco only made two first-round trades in 11 years as the Chargers GM. The first came in 2015, when the Chargers dealt their first-rounder, a fourth-rounder and a 2016 fifth-rounder to the 49ers to move up two spots to draft Melvin Gordon at No. 15 overall. In 2020, the Chargers got the No. 23 pick from the New England Patriots in exchange for a second- and third-rounder in that draft, then selected linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr.

Sources say Raiders owner Mark Davis has given his blessing for Telesco and Pierce to make a move, any move ... so long as it makes sense.

Read into that what you will.

The quarterback market the Raiders enter this year is similar to the one the 49ers encountered in 2021 when they made their move from 12 to 3. That draft was the third time in NFL draft history quarterbacks went 1-2-3, with Trevor Lawrence to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zach Wilson to the New York Jets and Lance to the 49ers, a scenario that could repeat this year.

Plus, the five QBs taken in the first round in 2021 were tied with the 1999 and 2018 drafts for the second-most quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Many mock drafts have at least four and up to six quarterbacks gone before the Raiders are up at No. 13.

Six would tie the record set in 1983, and that's where you'd have to blow the dust off a 41-year-old blueprint from when the Raiders thought they were moving up to draft ... John Elway.

Per an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary on the QB-rich 1983 draft, the Raiders believed they had a deal in place with the Bears to move up from No. 26 to No. 6. They were going to flip No. 6 to the then-Baltimore Colts, who were shopping the top pick for two No. 1s in that draft -- one of which had to be in the top six selections -- a first-rounder in 1984 and two second-round picks.

That's three first-rounders and two second-rounders ... in 1983 dollars.

The deal with the Bears, which reportedly included future Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long, fell apart. The Raiders felt NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle scuttled the deal while league officials said the Raiders got cold feet about dealing Long.

"Hell, I would have traded me for John Elway," Long howled in 2014.

Then what is a bridge too far for these Raiders to include in a trade-up package? Perennial Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby? Three-time All-Pro receiver Davante Adams? What about defensive end Tyree Wilson, last year's first-round draft pick?

After visiting with "most" of the top quarterbacks at the combine, Pierce gave his scouting report on the top QBs available in this draft, a class including Williams, Daniels, North Carolina's Drake Maye, Michigan's J.J. McCarthy, Washington's Michael Penix Jr. and Oregon's Bo Nix.

The Raiders have played host to Penix and Nix at their facility in the past week.

But if Penix or Nix -- who seem to be the No. 5 and 6 QBs in the draft in varying order -- are there at 13, do the Raiders view them as worthy of being picked that high? If not, why use a premium selection on a player ranked fifth- or sixth-best at their respective position?

Perhaps they stand pat and take a premier cornerback or one of the top offensive tackles at 13, and if either Penix or Nix are still available later in the first round, the Raiders can trade up to snag either of them there.

Then again, South Carolina's Spencer Rattler should still be there in the second or third round, right? The Raiders second-round pick is at No. 44 overall, the third-rounder No. 77.

Keep this in mind: No matter who Las Vegas selects -- if the Raiders draft a QB -- the new guy will essentially be on the same page as O'Connell, Minshew and Brown since the Raiders will be learning a new system with new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

And yet Pierce has said he's not a fan of throwing a rookie into the fire right away.

"Aidan did a hell of a job last year, but, like any other position on our team, we want to make that as competitive as possible," Pierce said.

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