There’s a rookie fourth round pick stealing headlines and the hearts of NFL analysts over the last two weeks of preseason football and it’s not Stetson Bennett. It was the player on the other side of the field in the L.A. Rams’ 34-17 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders over the weekend, Aidan O’Connell.
That’s okay, it’s only the preseason, but no less it should make the quarterbacks picked on day three of the 2023 NFL Draft far more interesting than the years before it.
Only months ago, O’Connell was the last pick of the fourth round, going 135th overall. Every team passed on O’Connell in the draft at least once, including the Rams.
We don’t know if O’Connell is going to start a single game ever. Like one, ever. But he’s getting far more attention for his preseason play than the average quarterback—not just rookies, but any preseason quarterback—and that at least means that every time Jimmy Garoppolo screws up this year, Raiders fans will start chanting for O’Connell.
Maybe that’s for the best, maybe it’s not, but the Rams got an up close look at Las Vegas’s backup on Saturday and it rarely good news for L.A.’s second and third-team defense.
O’Connell didn’t even play exceptionally well at Purdue in the Big Ten last season, but he wasn’t surrounded by the best coaching or talent. He’s also not the only rookie day three quarterback looking to prove that he should have been regarded as a much better prospect.
Fifth round pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson went 12 picks after Bennett (13 picks after Jake Haener, who went right ahead of Bennett), five picks after O’Connell, and one pick after Arizona’s Clayton Tune. DTR has played well in two preseason games with the Browns and this is naturally gonna be the year where everybody’s asking, “Where’s the next Brock Purdy?”
(Realistically, he’s probably nowhere. Purdy’s story wouldn’t be interesting if it wasn’t rare.)
Browns rookies already making some plays as Dorian Thompson-Robinson finds Cedric Tillman for the first down.— Seven Rounds in Heaven (@7RoundsInHeaven) August 17, 2023
DTR has looked impressive this preseason, the UCLA star has been among the best rookie QBs. pic.twitter.com/NPUHxkrMTy
But the 2023 QB class felt unusual from the start and the odds seem better than average that at least a starter will emerge from day three.
Of the first three QBs picked, Young is unusually small statured, Stroud has the Ohio State curse, and Richardson is unusually inexperienced with poor career stats. But what we got on day three was a mix of highly experienced and accomplished college quarterbacks who have a chip on their shoulder because they didn’t get regarded as having all the “tools” to play in the NFL.
Guys like Stetson Bennett, Haener, DTR, O’Connell, and Sean Clifford, himself another training camp standout, one who beat out Will Levis for the QB job at Penn State.
Even sixth round pick Tanner McKee, one who did have the pedigree but not much experience or great play at Stanford, has gotten people’s attention with his preseason play for the Eagles.
Whether or not Bennett emerges from this day three group as the best steal, I have no idea. It is too early to say! But what’s nice about it is that usually there’s not even a discussion to be had about day three quarterbacks because there’s not much to say except, “He might be a backup on day if he’s lucky.”
That probably won’t be the case this time, I bet at least one of these players ends up as a starter. Watching to find out if it’s Stetson Bennett gives Rams fans something to care about—rooting for him almost as if all these guys went in the first round—is well worth the pick.