When the Oakland Raiders made JaMarcus Russell the top pick in the 2007 draft, owner Mr. Al Davis compared him and his freakish size and arm strength to the great John Elway.
After two years of being scrutinized under the media microscope, you have to give the kid credit for keeping his composure and simply playing ball.
From rumors of his weight ballooning above 300 pounds, to the “Lance” (Mr. Davis infamously mispronounced Kiffin’s first name during the press conference to announce his hiring) Kiffin fiasco, to the constant murmurs of being labeled a bust, Russell has been scolded by both the national and local media since the moment he was drafted.
Russell received an anti-Raider media tongue lashing for essentially red-shirting his rookie season due to a prolonged contract holdout. However, Hall of Famer John Elway also ruffled some feathers his rookie season; who like Russell, was the top pick of the 1983 draft by the Indianapolis Colts.
In limited action Russell, posted an almost identical 55.9 rating in his 2007 rookie year.
In Elway’s second year, he posted a 76.8 QB Rating to go along with 2,598 pass yards, 18 tds, 15 ints, and a completion percentage of 56.3%.
In year two, Russell posted an eerily similar QB rating of 77.1 with 2,423 yards, 13 tds 8 ints with a completion percentage of 53.8%. While Elway had more touchdowns, Russell had fewer interceptions. Both started 15 games in year two of their careers.
The big difference was Elway played on a playoff team that went 13-3, had started 10 more NFL games, and had the NFL’s No. 2 ranked scoring defense, while Russell played on a team that boasted the NFL’s worst record since 2002, Oakland’s last winning season.
Amidst both a porous offensive and defensive line, lack of depth at wide receiver, the overhead projector incident, and a constant media onslaught, Russell somehow managed to produce numbers comparable to two time Superbowl champ (as well as two time loser) John Elway in his second year. Needless to say, John Elway was not a bust.
To put Russell’s 2008 performance in perspective, his QB rating of 77.1 is not that far from John Elway’s career QB rating of 79.9.
Troy Aikman, another Superbowl champ, Hall of Famer, and number one overall pick, posted a QB rating of 66.6 and threw 18 interceptions in his second year.
Before getting on the Russell bust bandwagon, you also have to keep in mind Russell at age 23 is younger than some rookie quarterbacks drafted this year, most notably Mark Sanchez.
Russell along with the entire Raiders team showed signs of life the last two games of the season. The week 17, 4th quarter comeback orchestrated by Russell in Tampa Bay trailing by 10 to a Bucs team that was about 10 minutes away from a playoff birth, provides yet another similarity to Elway.
If there is one clear indication of an elite NFL quarterback, it is the ability to lead a team to wins trailing in the 4th quarter. Russell trails John Elway, the NFL’s all time leader 48 to 1.
With the addition by subtraction of Kiffin, an upgraded offensive line, and a better overall team, Russell is set to explode in a very winnable AFC West in 2009.
In his first 16 starts in the NFL he’s displayed flashes of running over, and throwing through defensive backs in a way the league has never seen.
If Russell can prove he can read an NFL defense, and actually scramble when the defense is giving him running lanes, he could become a bust…. in Canton Ohio.