As Jason Campbell prepares to lead the Oakland Raiders in the 2010-11 NFL season, the Raiders seemed to be giving up on NFL bust JaMarcus Russell. There isn’t a quarterback who came under as much scrutiny in his time as an NFL starter as Russell. The number 1 pick from LSU was given a ton of money to be clearly the worst quarterback in the game. He ends his run as a starter in Oakland with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. He’s accumulated a mere 4,000 passing yards and an embarrassing QB Rating of 65.2.
So how does a player with the obvious physical gifts of Russell bust out and become an NFL punchline? While there are a million factors that can lead to a player not living up to expectations, we can narrow it down to 5.
5. Sugar Bowl – Coming off a 10-2 season in the SEC for LSU, the Tigers earned themselves a BSC bowl bid. This was seen as JaMarcus’s coming out party. He had a combined 350 yards rushing and passing and scored 3 TD’s against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They blew out the Irish and Russell was named the Sugar Bowl MVP. It was after that game that Russell decided to forgo his senior year and enter the NFL draft. This game did everything for JaMarcus’s public perception. This couldn’t have been a bigger mistake.
There is no disputing that Russell had a great game and single-handedly destroyed Notre Dame, but anyone who followed the Irish that year had to know that Notre Dame didn’t deserve to be in that game and wasn’t good enough to play with an SEC team. This was virtually the same Notre Dame team that got shredded for over 600 yards by an Ohio State team that wasn’t nearly as fast as the LSU team Russell led.
So it’s no wonder Russell dominated them. But it wasn’t a coming out party. It was an exposure of ND. Vince Young’s performance against USC was a coming out party. Russell’s was just a party.
4. The NFL Pro Day – I’ll never forget it: Mel Kiper on Sportscenter talking about how Russell could throw 50 yards from his knees. This had to rank at the top of dumbest things to rave about a player. It’s like being able to shoot a free throw from your butt. It doesn’t matter. But this is sort of what the combine and the pro day has become. It’s a party to show off a players physical skills while often ignoring the kind of player they’ve always been.
It’s best to be used for players coming off injuries, and players with character issues who need to be further evaluated. But it’s not an accurate indication of how good of a football player someone is.
Russell impressed scouts with his amazing arm strength. He had a great arm and that couldn’t be denied. And after that day the Raiders seemed to have a one track mind, but they seemed to ignore looming issues with Russell.
Early reports were that Russell had real issues. This is from warroomreport.com:
Russell still must work on reading defenses better. At times he exhibits too much confidence in his arm, forcing the ball into spots and leading to turnovers. For a player projected as the #1 QB in the draft and who is getting compared to prospects like Vince Young or Peyton Manning, Russell did not dominate in college, despite having two first day picks at WR.
Doesn’t sound like the ringing endorsement a number 1 pick should get.
3. Contract Hold Out – You hear so many players say that the Rookie season is so important. Apparently Jamarcus Russell never got the memo. Instead of making important training camps with the team to learn the offense and get the coaching everyone knew he so desperately needed, Russell decided to hold out for top dollar.
It wasn’t until September when Russell signed his 68 million dollar contract. Lots of guaranteed money for a guy who was anything but a guarantee. We’ll never know how much sitting out that Rookie Season set Russell back, but we do know one thing: that holdout changed expectations.
2. The Contract – The holdout is one thing. Missing all that time was so hurtful to his development, but the Contract changed everything. Russell was no longer the eager rookie looking to learn the ropes. He was a 68 million dollar investment. Now he couldn’t fail. If he failed it was an epic failure.
That kind of pressure is hard for most people to endure. From all you hear it seems as though Russell was a nice kid who did want to do well but when you need as much work as he did it was easy to get overwhelmed knowing it would be impossible to live up to a 68 million dollar contract. You can’t blame him for getting everything he could in a game where you’re only one hit away from being out forever. But when you make that money you need to produce. Russell just never came close.
1. Work Ethic – You can give a guy the best coaches and trainers in the world. You can give him Ron Jaworski to help him break down game film but all those things don’t matter if you don’t have the work ethic.
Russell, from various accounts, never wanted to work that hard and it’s a shame. A kid with that much talent should want to use every gift he’s been given, but you can’t teach someone to be a hard worker. At best it’s a personal choice. At worst it’s something that is either innate in you or not. Peyton Manning is a work horse. Tom Brady is a work horse. JaMarcus Russell isn’t.
At the end of the day, excellence is about want. What is someone willing to give to be great? What are the willing to endure? Russell never gave much and for that he lost the respect of his teammates. And when a quarterback can’t command the respect of those players he commands then he can’t hope for success. It just won’t happen.
If Russell is eventually given his walking papers he’ll find that there are suitors for him. Teams will love to take a flier on a physically gifted athlete who might be one good coach away from living up to some of the amazing potential he has. I just hope Russell will see that as a new beginning and not an ending. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself. It can happen. Tony Mandrich did it. It can happen. The question isn’t if it’s possible, it’s if Russell wants it? Only he can answer that.