The Rise and Fall of JaMarcus Russell

When people used to bring up the phrase “Draft Bust,” it used to signal the talk of Ryan Leaf. Nowadays, Leaf is basically an afterthought. There’s a new man holding down that crown of being the biggest draft bust in NFL History, and that man is JaMarcus Russell. Russell was just recently released by the Oakland Raiders, after playing only three seasons for the team. He was even shunned by “THE” Al Davis, the man who gave the go-ahead to draft him with the 1st pick in the 2007 draft. Davis is notorious for drafting players that have great speed, or had a great combine, or have many accolades. With this article, I’ll talk a little about what made Russell the 1st pick in the draft, and only three seasons later, being jobless.

JaMarcus Russell went through his junior season at Louisiana State as a wonderkind. He was putting up unbelievable stats while leading the Tigers to a 10-2 record and a spot in the All-State Sugar Bowl game against Notre Dame. During the regular season, Russell threw for 3,129 yards 28 Touchdowns and 8 interceptions. In the bowl-game against Notre Dame, Russell accumulated 350 yards of total offense and had 3 touchdowns while being named the game’s MVP in  a 41-14 win. At LSU’s pro-day, Russell measured and weighed in at 6’5 ½ 265 pounds, and was throwing 60 yard bombs from his knees. When people heard of this, most of them were saying, “he did what?” Guys with that kind of arm-strength are basically not human. Can Chad Pennington throw the ball even 50 yards with a running start and full wind-up? I doubt it.

But Russell was basically the topic of pre-draft chatter after what he did at the LSU pro-day. What puzzles me is that nobody was really talking too much about his weight. A quarterback coming in weighing 265 pounds….wouldn’t there be some concern over weight issues? In my mind, yes, there should have been. But the Raiders went ahead and drafted Russell with the 1st pick in the 2007 draft, over the likes of Calvin Johnson, who head coach Lane Kiffin wanted, Adrian Peterson, who is a perennial NFL rushing leader year in and year out, and even Patrick Willis, who just signed a 5 year extension with $29 million guaranteed with the 49ers because of how much of a beast he is. Passing on franchise WR’s, future hall-of-fame RB’s, and Brian Urlacher-type LB’s could set your franchise back years. In fact, in what is definitely a weird coincidence, in the next three drafts for the Raiders after Russell, they drafted a RB, WR, and LB. (Darren McFadden in ‘08, Darrius Heyward-Bey in ‘09, and Rolando McClain in ‘10, just for kicks)

So back to JaMarcus Russell. He held out his rookie training camp before signing a huge contract in the range of 6 years for $68 million with $31.5 million guaranteed. Russell didn’t even take a snap from center until December 2, 2007 when he did so against the Denver Broncos. Russell went 4 of 7 for 56 yards. He didn’t play again until December 23 when he played against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In a disastrous statistical game, Russell completed only 7 of 23 passes for 83 yards to go along with 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions, and 1 lost fumble. OUCH. After that performance, and the Raiders only sporting a 4-11 record, Lane Kiffin decided to start Russell in the last game of the season against the San Diego Chargers.  On Russell’s first pass as a starting quarterback, he threw an interception. Russell couldn’t finish the game after leaving early in the third quarter after an apparent injury. He did, however, finish the game completing 23 of 31 passes for 224 yards and a TD. I failed to mention he had three turnovers which led to 17 Charger points in a 30-17 loss. Without those 17 points, the Raiders would have won that game 17-13.

In the 2008 season, Russell was named the starting QB in training camp and ended up starting  15 games. In what was his best statistical season in the NFL thus far in a very short NFL career,  Russell threw for 2,423 yards, 13 TD and only 8 INT’s. That was not a bad year for a guy who is only starting his first full season in the league. The Raiders thought they had something now. They thought wrong. Coming into the 2009 season, Russell was again named the starting QB in training camp, which didn’t surprise anybody after the season he had in ‘08. Which would end up being the beginning of the downfall of JaMarcus Russell, he finished a horrible season completing 48.8 percent of his passes with an abysmal 3 TD’s and 11 INT’s in 9 starts. During the season, he was also benched for the likes of Bruce Gradkowski and journeyman Charlie Frye. Russell really soured in the Raiders’ front office with his mediocre play and nonchalant attitude. He was often seen on the sidelines looking not interested and non-caring. By the end of the ‘09 season, Russell was now the #3 QB on the Raiders depth chart.

In the off season, Russell was criticized for his lack of conditioning and the talk was beginning that the Raiders front-office personnel was trying to convince Al Davis that they had to move on from Russell. Davis eventually agreed and on May 6, 2010, less than 3 years after drafting him #1 overall, JaMarcus Russell was released by the Oakland Raiders. With $36 million already collected in paychecks and guaranteed money, and another $3 million coming his way in the form of a guaranteed paycheck, Russell collected $39 million from the Raiders for completing 52% of his passes, a little over 4,000 yards passing with only 18 TD’s and 23 INT’s. Now, Russell is jobless. What a shame for a guy to have so much talent, make so much money, to just not care about his job and then subsequently be released so soon into his career.

There was talk that the Cincinnati Bengals were interested in bringing him in as a backup, and there was also speculation some teams were interested in bringing him in and playing another position. Russell is not budging.  The New Orleans Saints have already said they are not interested in bringing Russell back to his home town to backup Drew Brees. Russell has said that he is not at all interested in signing with the Arena Football League or the Canadian Football League. I believe he should leave all doors open. Even if he tried to boost his stock in the newly developed United Football League, I think that’d be great for him. Daunte Culpepper has just signed with a team out in Sacramento. Having two big-name guys in the league would be good for exposure and be good for Russell. He shouldn’t say, “I’m only going to play in the NFL, or nothing.” I truly believe a team in the UFL should definitely try to woo him into playing a year or two with them. He is only 24 years old and doesn’t turn 25 until August. Playing a year in another league where he could work on his conditioning, keeping his weight under control, and even his skills, he could benefit in all aspects. But with that said, having $39 million in the bank is unreal, maybe he’ll just retire. Who knows? Only JaMarcus does.

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