Heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, the assumption around the league was that the Las Vegas Raiders may be in business for a rookie quarterback. Sure, Vegas had just recently signed Gardner Minshew and second-year signal-caller Aidan O'Connell played reasonably well down the stretch during his rookie season, but neither of these guys were viewed as the longterm answer at quarterback. But inside of Raiders headquarters, that may not actually be the case.

According to ESPN's NFL insider Jeremy Fowler, Aidan O'Connell is the early leader in the Raiders quarterback battle, in part because of how star wide receiver Davante Adams feels about him.

“O'Connell and Minshew in the spring went tit for tat; went after it. O'Connell probably has the slight edge right now based on coming into Year 2, being more vocal,” Fowler said during a Sunday morning SportsCenter appearance (h/t Doric Sam of Bleacher Report). “I'm told he's acting like a starting quarterback and Davante Adams loves him, which always helps certainly with the brownie points.”

Fowler also said that Minshew has impressed as well, noting that the journeyman back-up has “shown some moxie” and “been good at the off-script stuff.” But the fact that O'Connell is the current leader in the clubhouse shouldn't come as a huge surprise.

From the time Aidan O'Connell took over as the Raiders' starter, Davante Adams hauled in 56 receptions for 605 yards and 5 touchdowns in the final nine games of the season, slightly better numbers on a per-game basis than he averaged in the opening eight games of the season. Not only that, but the Raiders started winning when O'Connell took over. Las Vegas was 5-5 with O'Connell starting, and 3-4 under Jimmy Garoppolo and Brian Hoyer. But that could have a lot to do with new head coach Antonio Pierce as well.

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell (4) talks with head coach Antonio Pierce during the second half against the Las Vegas Raiders at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
© Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Aidan O'Connell has a fan in Raiders coach Antonio Pierce 

When Antonio Pierce took over for Josh McDaniels as interim head coach in Las Vegas, the entire trajectory of the Raiders season changed. Sure, the difference between McDaniels' 3-5 record and Pierce's 5-4 record is not all that great, and it's not as if Vegas ended up making the Playoffs, but in the building, the vibes had clearly improved. And remember, Antonio Pierce stuck by Aidan O'Connell every step of the way.

“Everybody thought I should bench Aidan or do something else, and I stuck with Aidan. I said that day one, remember? I said going forward, we're going to stick with Aidan,” Pierce noted while speaking at the NFL Scouting Combine back in February, per Aidan Champion of Sports Illustrated. “And the first thing he did after the season was over was get his butt right back in the building. First thing he did when we got this staff was come right up there and introduce himself. That's a pro.”

Antonio Pierce was quick to acknowledge that there would be an open competition for the starting quarterback job in 2024, but made sure to clarify that this is the case for every starting job, not just the quarterback position.

“Aidan does know there's competition, Davante Adams knows there is competition, Maxx Crosby knows there is competition. So, if you're going to do it with the quarterback, you got to do it with everybody. And that's one thing about this team is that they're very competitive, they understand it's next-man-up mentality. I get the stars and all of that, but hell, we're a production-based business.”

Aidan O'Connell might not yet be a star, but thus far, he's produced enough to stay ahead in this production-based business.