Purdue has been competitive in the Big Ten West in recent years, and Aidan O’Connell, with his 2023 NFL Draft scouting report, is deserving of credit in that conversation. Especially down the stretch in 2021, O’Connell drew lots of attention with his production. But how does O’Connell translate to the NFL level, and how does he factor into the 2023 QB class?
Aidan O’Connell NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Quarterback
- School: Purdue
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’3″, 212 pounds
O’Connell’s story is one of resilience and perseverance, as there was a time when no one expected him to see the field at all, let alone become an All-Big Ten starter at the most important position in football.
O’Connell joined Purdue as a walk-on in 2017 and didn’t play for two seasons. In 2019, he finally saw his first action, splitting time with Elijah Sindelar and Jack Plummer. He and Plummer traded the starting job in 2020 before O’Connell eventually emerged as the Boilermakers’ full-time starter in 2021.
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It was a breakout campaign for O’Connell, who went on to complete 315 of 440 passes (71.6%) for 3,712 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. It was a tale of two halves. O’Connell had seven touchdowns and eight picks through his first six games. Over the final six, he had 21 touchdowns to just three picks, along with two 500-yard performances.
By now, O’Connell is entrenched as his team’s starter and has his team in the thick of the Big Ten West race. It’s taken a long time for O’Connell to get to this point, but that’s just another thing that makes him so easy to trust. Head coach Jeff Brohm has called O’Connell’s mental makeup “special,” citing his belief in himself to earn a starting opportunity at Purdue.
That same belief is something that could enable O’Connell to carve out a role at the professional level.
Aidan O’Connell Scouting Report
An All-Big Ten performer in 2021 and one of the conference’s most productive QBs over the past two seasons, does O’Connell have what it takes to make an impression in the 2023 NFL Draft QB group?
With a 6’3″, 212-pound frame, O’Connell fits the prototypical QB mold that’s often cited come draft season. Although size isn’t as important now, O’Connell brings a tall, sturdy frame with good mass, which should grant him favor with some teams.
The upside isn’t a prime selling point with O’Connell — neither with his arm or his mobility — but he does throw a tight spiral, and has flashed the necessary strength to push the ball outside the adjacent numbers into tight windows.
O’Connell at least has enough arm strength to stay on rhythm on short throws, and he’s flashed the ability to mix pace and touch with a crisp release. O’Connell is not a natural creator, but he does have a mild degree of corrective quickness in the pocket and has shown to snap into phase ahead of throws.
Talent isn’t what O’Connell uses to win. Instead, the Purdue QB uses proper execution, and a lot of it stems from his solid processing ability. O’Connell can process fairly quickly from read to read and flashes the ability to make full-field progressions. Going further, he can effectively anticipate WR breaks and windows on intermediate and deep outs, where timing is imperative.
O’Connell has shown to work high to low to a degree on half-field reads and land on his checkdown. He flashes good field vision, even in condensed areas like the red zone, where he can survey the field and pick out windows farther back.
In a similar vein, O’Connell anticipates back-shoulder placement and throws receivers open, flashing eye manipulation as well. He can draw safeties off the boundary with his eyes and open up intermediate windows for WRs. Especially in the short range, O’Connell places defenders into conflict and capitalizes in a timely manner.
O’Connell generally works the pocket well — a necessary side effect of below-average creation capacity. He senses pressure, adapts, and keeps his eyes up while shifting laterally to maintain space, but he’s also very willing to stand at the top of his drop and allow routes to develop.
The Purdue QB rarely gets skittish at the threat of pressure and keeps his eyes up in condensing areas. Overall, O’Connell shows a strong willingness to stand in and throw, even with free rushers closing in on him, and he’s able to make minute adjustments to sidestep pressure and buy himself time.
O’Connell’s poise, along with his general accuracy, makes him a very capable distributor. He’s shown to lead WRs away from contact in tight situations and maximize completion chances with precision. He can also effectively place the ball around the torso for RAC on short and intermediate throws and lead his receiver across the middle of the field.
Going further, O’Connell has flashed the ability to use slight shoulder tilts to actively adjust the trajectory on his throws. Mechanically, he’s shown to keep his shoulders level on release to maintain accuracy on throws. He’s also proven that he can snap into place and keep his base in-phase for proper rotation on rhythm throws.
Stylistically, O’Connell gets the ball out relatively quickly with consistency, but he’s also fairly measured in the risks he takes, and he’s willing to test tight-window throws downfield. The Purdue QB also has the wherewithal to get the ball out quick on pressured rollouts, as well as throw it away when he’s backed into a corner.
O’Connell’s Areas for Improvement
Physical talent is far from the only important factor in QB evaluation, but that talent is imperative in distinguishing quarterbacks who can become impact starters. Upon review, O’Connell does not have that level of physical talent to complement his operational strengths.
O’Connell’s arm strength appears only average to below-average, and he needs to visibly strain to generate maximum velocity. His velocity in the short range is only above-average at best and below-average at times heading to the intermediate and deep ranges. This lack of velocity reduces O’Connell’s margin of error on timing throws and can allow DBs to close in on lofted passes.
Along with strength, O’Connell also visibly lacks high-end arm elasticity. He doesn’t generate great velocity on the run, and he can’t always mix velocity and loft effectively when situations call for it. Additionally, O’Connell’s accuracy wanes considerably off-platform. He can at least operate on designed rollouts, but his off-platform ability is sparse beyond that.
O’Connell’s arm is middling, but his most pressing weakness is his lack of creation value. Creation simply isn’t a part of his game. The Purdue QB excels as a pocket passer, but his lack of athleticism naturally limits his ceiling.
O’Connell has a mild degree of short-area urgency in the pocket, but he’s a tall, rigid, and tightly-wound athlete who isn’t very flexible or agile. He also lacks the necessary linear burst to escape forward through gaps when pressure gets free around the corner.
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In the modern NFL, arm talent and creation capacity are near-vital components for a starter. If you don’t have those traits, you have to be elite in other operational areas. While O’Connell is a strong operational QB, he’s not elite in any area. As a processor, he’s sometimes late to react to out-breaking routes and occasionally hesitates to pull the trigger on tight-window throws, losing time in the pocket.
Mechanically, O’Connell also stands to improve. He sometimes drifts back while throwing on the run, tilting his front shoulder up and causing passes to sail high. Additionally, O’Connell sometimes has his base too wide on release and fails to roll his hips through passes. In fact, his base is consistently too wide, and this negates his lower body on throws. That negated lower body can force over-exertion with O’Connell’s arm, which can lead to streaky accuracy and overthrows.
Expanding on O’Connell’s mechanics, the Purdue QB’s off-hand can be tighter to better channel maximum rotation. His lower-body mechanics can also be tighter and more deliberate. He sometimes shows staggered feet, which can reduce rotation and cause instability. Moreover, O’Connell’s staggered feet can dip his front shoulder and cause short passes to die out, reducing RAC potential.
Even with his mechanical inconsistencies, O’Connell has good accuracy. But there are occasional lapses in short-range placement, where passes behind the WR can invite contact and lead to incompletions. Finally, while O’Connell has good discretion, he occasionally stares down intended targets in the intermediate range and attempts to force risky throws.
Current Draft Projection for Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell
O’Connell’s draft projection will vary from team to team. With his experience and character, he’ll most certainly garner interest as a potential backup QB on mid-to-late Day 3 of the 2023 NFL Draft. That’s where his projection peaks, however. With pedestrian tools, there’s also a possibility that O’Connell goes undrafted and signs with a team as a PFA.
O’Connell checks a lot of the traditional boxes that teams look for out of quarterbacks. He has size and multiple years of experience as a starter at the collegiate level. Not only that, but he worked and battled his way up the depth chart as a walk-on, before sustaining success at a Power Five program. All of that alone will distinguish O’Connell as a valuable locker-room addition.
As a backup, O’Connell has some valuable traits as well. He’s tough and poised in the pocket, a quick decision-maker, and a generally accurate passer who can perform as a distributor in the short and intermediate ranges, and work in touch down the field.
However, while O’Connell has a solid operational floor, his arm is average to below-average, and he offers very little creation capacity. He’ll also turn 25 years old early in his rookie season — another contextual factor that dilutes his profile a bit.
Nevertheless, age isn’t quite as important for O’Connell, who’ll be drafted as a backup if he is selected. In that role, O’Connell has some of the qualities that could help him find and keep a spot for years on end.