This is an article I wrote for a UK NFL newsletter in July 2008. I am writing a follow up piece for the newsletter and for Bleacher Report. Would like to here your thoughts.
Steppin’ Up: JaMarcus Russell
Over the next few weeks I am going to be identifying those players who need to have breakout season to fulfil there potential. Those who need to step it up.
Out of all of the stars I will be looking at over the next few weeks JaMarcus Russell has the potential to be the biggest bust. A number one pick in the 2007 Draft he was an All-SEC standout for Louisiana State University. He blew away the scouts at the NFL Combine by throwing a football 60 yards on his knees. Russell is 6ft 6 and 260lbs. To put that in context, Chicago Bear Linebacker Brian Urlacher is 258lbs and Peyton Manning, Quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts is a similar height but 30lbs lighter.
No one could deny his raw power and arm strength. It was his conditioning and technical ability that caused concern. The Oakland Raiders, never ones to shy away from controversy, signed Russell to a monster contract and passed on a more NFL ready Quarterback in Brady Quinn.
His rookie season statistics were 54% pass completion rate and four fumbles in as many games for only six touchdowns. It is difficult to judge Russell on this as he only started four games and so I am going to focus mainly on his 2008 season.
Before the 2008 season, the Raiders signed Javon Walker, a pro bowl Wide Receiver and drafted Darren McFadden, a Running Back from the University of Arkansas who was runner up for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honour. With new weapons at his disposable Russell should have been much more of a presence in the league, yet this was not the case. Russell started 15 games yet had a similar pass completion percentage [53.8%] and a similar number of fumbles [12 in 15 games] leading to a 5-11 finish and another top ten draft pick. Russell seemed overweight and apathetic in many of the games. Over this post-season the Raiders signed Jeff Garcia, a starter for the Buccaneers and a season veteran. The Raiders are clearly providing a real test for Russell and I imagine the raiders will not hesitate to bench Russell for a proven NFL quarterback.
I am not a Russell hater and I realise that this is only his third season; Eli Manning didn’t win a play-off game until his fourth year and had similar stats to Russell, a 52% passing completion average for example.
I am a Texans fan however, and four years of watching David Carr, also a number one draft pick, my gut feeling tells me he needs to step it up soon or risk being labelled a bust.
I hope Russell makes the step up, the raiders fans deserve; they are the most passionate in the league and deserve more success than they get.