JaMarcus Russell vs Ryan Leaf

The downward spiral of former Oakland Raiders quarterback and overall # 1 pick JaMarcus Russell is scary to watch. He has gone from a future of promise to possibly being washed up at age 24.

Before getting to the debate about whether he the biggest bust of all time, I want to offer some thoughts about him on a stand alone basis.

I believed in 2006 that he was the only logical choice for the Raiders. In fact, I made it clear that any other choice, including all world wide receiver Calvin Johnson, was unacceptable (in all fairness Johnson has not stopped the Lions from going 0-16 and 2-14, although it was not in any way his fault).

I cheered when he was drafted. I was disappointed when he did not sign my ball, while Adrian Peterson signed everything in sight. Yet I wanted JaMarcus to succeed.

I was disappointed even more when he held out, but he was not going to be the starter anyway. The Raiders totally did the right thing by giving him a clipboard. I don’t like putting rookie quarterbacks in right away (obviously a Peyton Manning can be an exception). JaMarcus was groomed slowly.

His second season was his first season starting. The team started 3-11, which was fine for a rookie (Peyton Manning was 3-13 his rookie year). The team won back to back games to finish 5-11, and JaMarcus looked good. Things were coming together.

Then everything went wrong in 2009. JaMarcus regressed. For a couple years I said he did not have the talent around him. In 2009 he did. There were plenty of missing pieces, but there were some solid pieces as well. In fact, Bruce Gradkowski came in and led the team to victories before getting injured.

This led to the question of why JaMarcus was failing. He looked like the complete quarterback. He had the size, and a ridiculous arm strength. My criticisms were that he seemed fat, slow, and lazy. He had the talent, but not the work ethic. Some people felt he did not even have the talent, but I disagreed. His problem was his brain, not his brawn.

Now we know as of a couple weeks ago that JaMarcus Russell has a drug problem.

He was arrested for having codeine without a prescription. He was actually not the main subject of the sting. He got caught up in an ingoing investigation. The codeine was mixed with soda and Jolly Ranchers Candy to form a drug known as “Purple Drang.”

I confess that initially I thought this was no big deal. After all, codeine was no cocaine.

I was wrong.

I learned more about Purple Drang, and it is seriously dangerous. While it is theoretically possible that even without this drug issue, Russell still would have been a lousy player, this drug use does explain his behavior. Purple Drang is a depressant, which causes people to be mellow to the point of lethargy.

This brings up a possible legal issue from Russell from a football standpoint. If he was using drugs, that could violate a morals clause, allowing the Raiders to get some of the $30 million they gave him. It is one thing to be rich with a drug problem. It is another to be broke with one. That story does not end well. Al Davis does not like to be betrayed, and Russell did betray him.

Russell was cut by the Raiders, and he cleared waivers because nobody else wanted to pay his 9.5 million dollar salary. He was going to have to take the league minimum. A few teams expressed very limited interest. Rex Ryan may have added him to the Jets, since it takes a really bad character issue not to be a Rex Ryan guy. He has a high tolerance.

Yet now Russell has nobody interested. The league is going to suspend him at least four games for violating the drug policy.

Even worse is that Russell might go to jail. He is not the main target, but a conviction is not necessary. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might ban him for a whole year.

Let’s get beyond football for a second. JaMarcus Russell may go to jail. From a human being standpoint, I hope something happens to help this man avoid the ultimate penalty…death.

His story is tragic, but now a football question is asked again. Is he the biggest draft bust of all time? Is he a bigger bust than Ryan Leaf?


I say no.

I have made sure that my rooting for the Oakland Raiders and against the San Diego Chargers has not clouded my reasoning.

A cold logical analysis still makes Leaf worse.

JaMarcus had (slightly) better statistics. Also, JaMarcus had a couple of heroic comeback wins that were overshadowed by all the losses. He led a 20-19 comeback over the hated Denver Broncos. This was on the road in Denver, an impressive feat.

Some argue that JaMarcus was paid more money, but salary inflation should not play a factor.

To be fair to Leaf, he almost led a comeback win over the Raiders. In a hideously ugly game, the Chargers trailed 2-0 late. Yes, 2-0. He led a late 4th quarter drive to put the Chargers up 6-2. It was not his fault that the Chargers had a meltdown on defense of their own as the Raiders won 9-6. Later that year the Raiders led 12-0 on only field goals when the Chargers came back to lead 13-12 late. The stout San Diego defense again wilted as the Raiders relied on Sebastian Janikowski to kick the 5th field goal en route to a 15-13 win. The Raiders went 12-4, the Chargers 1-15, but their two games were nailbiters.

Leaf’s legal troubles are still much worse than Russell’s but that should not be a factor. Besides, Leaf’s troubles were after he was already washed up and out of the league, removing that anyway.

To me there is one reason why Leaf is a bigger bust, and that is what was given up for him.

JaMarcus Russell was one very bad pick. No trades were involved.

The Chargers moved up from the # 3 to the # 2 spot in the 1998 draft, giving the Cardinals a king’s ransom. The Cardinals robbed the Chargers blind. The Cardinals also drafted a bust in Andre Wadsworth, but that is immaterial. The Chargers gave up a combination of draft picks and players to move up only one spot in the draft to select Leaf. This trade was not as lopsided as the Herschel Walker trade or the Ricky Williams trade, but the spectacular failure of Leaf is amplified by all the Chargers gave up.

So without factoring in the trade, as stated earlier, Russell was slightly better. Factoring in the trade, Leaf is still the biggest bust in NFL history.

Besides, while it is highly unlikely, JaMarcus Russell could play NFL football again. That would end the discussion altogether.

For now, Russell needs to get his life in order. He is hanging by a thread.

Good luck JaMarcus.


3 Responses to “JaMarcus Russell vs Ryan Leaf”

  1. Russell was overrated coming out of college and he never should have been a starting QB. He’d be a fair back-up, but that’s about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. The league has many career back-up QB’s. Every team needs them.

    Al Davis, who really should not be running a professional football team anymore, seemd to pick Russell based solely on his size and arm strength. Though important attributes, size and arm strength alone do not make a QB. In fact, plenty of the greatest QB’s of all time lacked one or the other (though rarely both). Davis still longs for the days of the Mad Bomber and the “vertical game,” but those days are pretty much over. The last team to have that was the Vikings back when Randy Moss first came in.

    There just isn’t the time to wait around behind the OL for the vertical passing game anymore. With the rise of the MLB and SS in modern defenses, 5 seconds becomes like an hour for QBs. Eventually these guys will read the play and they’re so fast now, they will get to the QB. Hence the rise of the “West Coast offence,” the “plink-and-plunk” many football fans hate. Every NFL team (every decent one, anyway) runs some version of this offence, and it takes brains, a lot of brains, to make it work. It requires split-second reads and incredible accuracy to make it work. Of course, every good team must also be able to run the vertical passing game when the opportunity arises to run it, but it must be set-up, it can never be the set-up. And what’s the best way to set-up the vertical pass? A solid and believable ruinning and short pass game. And how do you get that? With a highly accurate and smart QB and a highly strong and smart OL.

    You mentioned the Jets. How did they get so far last year? With a rookie QB no less! The best OL in the game. If Sanchez played for Davis, the season would have been horrific.

    So, though I wouldn’t put too much on Russell and his “purple drank” (we have no idea how long or when he’s been using the stuff and it’s reallt not that much worse than alcohol). The Raiders have not been built to win for a while. This may be changing.

    For the first time in many, many years the Raiders had a smart off-season and draft. The QB situation is stable now – not great, but stable. Personally, I’d make Boller the starter for now, but it will probably be Campbell. The running game will probably not be much to speak of. The run D may get a little better. I like Cable. I wouldn’t expect a great year, but the Raiders could go 6-10 or even 8-8 if they play well.

    Next year, the Raiders need to beef up the run game on both sides of the ball. If they do that, they could be contenders.


  2. blacktygrrrr says:

    The Raiders actually have the potential for a phenomenal running game. Michael Bush is solid and powerful. Darren McFadden will be all world if he can stay healthy. He has tremendous upside, but durability is the issue. I would not say this is as good as Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson, but it could be very bit as good as Tyrone Wheatley and Napoleon Kaufman.

    The receiving corps has been pathetic, although Louis Murphy was a solid 4th round steal. Chaz Schillens is good at tight end. Darrius has been a waste.

    Run defense is the key. We had Sam Adams in 2002 and went to a Super Bowl. We have not had a run stuffer since.

    The Baltimore Ravens suffered after Siragusa retired before Ngata showed up. A big wedge of beef in the middle is vital.

    As for QB, Bruce Gradkowski deserves a legit shot at the job. He’s earned it.


  3. Well, I don’t know. I don’t think McFadden is an everydown back. It’s really up to Bush. They need to run a one-two punch with both Bush and McFadden. It’s what all the best teams are doing now anyway. Few teams just rely on one every-down back anymore. Today’s NFL is just too punishing.

    I think the pass game would improve with a new QB. It’s hard to believe that so much of the blame rests with an entire receiving corp. What are the odds? 9 time out of 10 the receiving corp is not where the blame lies for a bad passing game. I like Gradkowski (I had a good look at him when he was playing down here in Tampa and I thought it was a mistake to lose him). I just seriously doubt they’d make him a starter over Boller abnd Campbell. I’d love to see him get a crack at starting, though, because we already know that Boller and Campbell are just average QB’s. Gradkowski just might be very good. He’s shown flashes of brilliance when he’s had the chance.

    You’re absolutely right about that run defense, It was the worst I’ve seen in a while. It was just plain bad. Teams were just running over them. As you point out, the Raiders have no great middle man on the DL. That’s where it all starts. On offense, it’s the center and on defense it’s the nose tackle. The Ravens defensive model is the model for a top defenses today – especially run defenses. Rex Ryan made no bones about it when he came to the Jets, explicitly stating he would install an exact replica. It’s worked brilliantly. The Raiders would be well-advise to follow suit.

    I hope you’re right about your running game this year, because it would make a world of difference. With a good ground game, the Raiders could easily take that 5-11 and turn it into 10-6. With Denver and KC seeming to be headed in the wrong direction, and only SD standing firmly in the way in the AFC West, Oakland could have a pretty good year. I wish them luck!


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