Aidan O’Connell vs. Gardner Minshew: Who puts the Raiders in the playoffs in 2024?

It's not a battle fans desired to see, but somebody has to win.
Las Vegas Raiders v Indianapolis Colts
Las Vegas Raiders v Indianapolis Colts / Dylan Buell/GettyImages

In a few months, the Raiders will enter training camp with their first quarterback battle since exactly 10 years ago when rookie Derek Carr beat out veteran Matt Schaub for the coveted honor.

Second-year Raiders quarterback Aidan O’Connell will try to retain his status as QB1 with the arrival of career journeyman Gardner Minshew.

Despite so much uncertainty at the most important position, the Raiders had a chance at making the playoffs entering Week 17 last season, and with recent upgrades to the roster they can make another run at a playoff spot this season. Ironically, they only had two playoff appearances when they were the most stable at the position under Carr.

Under head coach Antonio Pierce, the Raiders were 5-3 with rookie O’Connell as the starter. Statistically, the 4th round pick had a comparable season to those chosen well-before him in the 1st round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Most impressive was the fact that he so quickly gained support from the locker room.

In that 8-game period, he had six games without turning the ball over. While he did a great job protecting the football, he was perhaps too over-cautious or indecisive, where moving the football became a challenge at times.

In a game that might’ve altered their playoff hopes significantly, O’Connell’s offense was shut out against Minnesota, while only converting 5 first downs and 171 passing yards.

Even in the memorable Christmas Day win at Arrowhead, he only threw for 62 yards (all came in the 1st quarter) and just three first downs.

My optimism for O’Connell comes due to the fact that he was fresh out of college, showed flashes of being an above average passer, played under a temporary offensive coordinator with no prior experience, and that his offensive teammates seem to love him.

The Raiders are currently built to make another run at the playoffs regardless of who plays quarterback. Both options protect the ball well enough to where they won’t hand the game to the opponent. But I do think that in the immediate future, Minshew brings more stability and will move the chains more frequently.

Gardner Minshew is built for the Raiders' 2024 successs

Three times in Minshew’s 5-season career he finished top 10 in the entire NFL in interception percentage. While he doesn’t bomb the ball downfield, and at times looks overwhelmed by pressure, he has proven the ability to win games and make smart decisions along the way.

Minshew may not be viewed as a starting quarterback by the masses, but he is undoubtedly a top tier backup in the league. While the term “bridge quarterback” can have a negative cognition, he’s exactly what the 2024 Raiders need. With a dominant defense and some offensive weapons, the veteran is a good fit.

It’s certain Minshew will have a long career in the league, even if it’s in a limited role. Throughout his half-decade tenure, he’s been placed into tough situations but always finds a way to keep his teams in games – taking over offenses that were built for drastically different quarterbacks (Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville, Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, Anthony Richardson in Indy) and still winning games.

Also in each of this stops, he found a way to become a leader in the locker room, despite not being “the guy." This speaks volumes about his character.

I particularly love quarterbacks who are several teams into their career. Like Rich Gannon in Oakland, Geno Smith in Seattle or Alex Smith in Kansas City – there’s knowledge gained from remaining in the league, seeing the NFL from so many different lenses and learning from so many different people along the way. These types of guys are still in the league because they’re obviously talented enough, but also have evolved into smart offensive minds. And while they may not be a “franchise quarterback” by definition, they are very capable of leading an offense to the playoffs.

That’s what the 2024 version of Gardner Minshew is. He’s no longer the guy you root for just because he’s a young underdog, but rather he’s a veteran in this league who has proven he belongs in any style of offense. Not to mention he’s never had a receiving tandem quite as productive as Jakobi Meyers and Davante Adams in his previous cities, so this could be the best statistical season of his career to date.

Don’t get me wrong, I like O’Connell. I think he wins the job in camp, retaining his title as the Raiders' starting quarterback for Week 1. I also think this early into his career, O’Connell has a higher ceiling long-term than Minshew. But I believe Minshew is the best option at QB1 in 2024 and at some point early in the season, Pierce will too. Just focused on this season alone, Minshew gives the Raiders the best chance at making the playoffs.