The Facts Prove That JaMarcus Russell Is Not the Biggest Bust Ever

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IMay 9, 2010

The debate goes on. 

Is JaMarcus Russell of the Oakland Raiders the biggest bust of all time?

In order for that to be true, Russell must surpass Ryan Leaf of the San Diego Chargers, taken second overall in the 1998 NFL draft.  Leaf is generally considered the biggest bust ever taken in the NFL draft.

Most articles relative to Russell have been nothing more than case studies in the quixotic decisions of Al Davis

Thus, those articles are nothing more than veiled attempts to define the legacy of Mr. Davis by Russell, which merely reflects gross bias that is not based on facts.

This argument is two-fold.  The first component is the empirical evidence (stats, cost), while the second component is the intangibles (work-ethic, locker room presence).


Component One

Statistically, Russell has 680 pass attempts compared to Leaf with 655, which is a difference of 25 passes, which is roughly equivalent to one game.  Russell has completed 52.1 percent of his passes, while Leaf completed 48.4 percent of his passes. 

Even though this is a dubious stat, I use it because there are people who put value in it:  Russell was 7-18 as a starter for a winning percentage of 28, while Leaf finished 4-17 for a winning percentage of 19.

Russell's career total of touchdowns to interceptions is 18 and 23, while Leaf's career total of touchdowns to interceptions is 14 to 36.  Russell has thrown 4,083 yards, while Leaf threw 3,666 passing yards.

In 1998, the Chargers signed Leaf to a contract of $31.25 million with $11.25 million guaranteed.  In 2007, Russell signed a contract for $68 million with $31.5 million guaranteed.

In order to acquire Leaf, the Chargers traded up a mere one spot in the 1998 NFL draft. Despite the fact that the Cardinals had drafted quarterback Jake Plummer in the previous Draft, the chargers mortgaged the farm to get Leaf.

The Chargers sent two first-round picks, a second round pick, and two players to Arizona, including Pro-Bowler Eric Metcalf, whom would have surely helped Leaf as a runner and receiver.

The additional first round picks would be used in the 1999 NFL draft to select wideout David Boston by Arizona.  Boston would lead the league in receiving in 2001.  Though Boston's career was cut short, Boston surely would have helped Leaf in San Diego.

Thus, in roughly the same number of attempts, Russell beats Leaf in the category of statistics.  I should add that Russell could increase that number, if he gets another chance somewhere else.

The cost it took for each team to acquire the respective quarterback is close, because it depends on where you place the most value.

Even when indexed for inflation, Leaf's total contract would have been worth $39.6 million in 2007 compared to 1998, while Russell's guaranteed money is nearly identical to Leaf's total contract.

Yet, the Chargers paid a hefty price in the draft by the trade. 

Knowing that every die-hard NFL fans lives and breathes for the NFL draft, I would say that more fans (if being honest) value priceless draft picks (especially top 10 picks) more than guaranteed money.

Thus, I'm led to conclude that Russell right now has better stats than Leaf, but still has the possibility to increase that number, while the Chargers paid more to get Leaf. 

In component one, Russell is the winner.


Component Two

We all know how Ryan Leaf acted in the locker room. 

By most accounts, JaMarcus Russell's behavior could be summarized as that of a depressed pleasure-seeker (lethargy, over-eating, inability to focus) and often spending more time in Las Vegas than preparing.

Neither quarterback was highly regarded in the locker room, but that is true of many quarterbacks.  The team will put up with you if you win, yet many quarterbacks have been disliked in the history of the NFL.

Russell scored a 24 on the Wonderlic, while Leaf scored a 27, yet Russell has outperformed Leaf statistically, when by most accounts, Russell wasn't trying.

Leaf's work-ethic is unknown to me, but stats show, it wasn't enough. 

Moreover, Russell had little to any support from the coaching staff.  In 2007, then Raiders coach Lane Kiffin openly refused to work with Russell.  The apologists for Kiffin have argued that Kiffin was right to do so, and I would say shame on you for calling yourself a football fan.

Any quarterback needs to be coached.  People complain that Russell wasn't doing his job, yet apologize for the fact that Kiffin refused to do his job.  That job of course was to develop Russell, regardless of personal bias.

Russell is not the first immature player to be taken in the draft.  Just a year before, the Cardinals took Matt Leinart with the 10th pick from USC.

Amongst his "Bad Ben" like ways, Leinart deferred from entering the draft in 2005 for another season at USC. 

During that season, his "curriculum" consisted of ball-room dancing.  In other words, Leinart wasn't interested in playing football, but partying in Los Angeles for another year.

Ben Roethlisberger is another example of an immature player, yet Bad Ben has succeeded because his coaches, including Bill Cowher, worked with him.

Many, many coaches have not liked the players taken in the draft, which is why many coaches long to be general manager and coach. 

The coaches that have had that chance all failed in doing so, which includes Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren amongst others.  It wasn't until Holmgren relinquished dual duties at GM and coach in Seattle that the Seahawks became a legitimate contender.

Kiffin as an assistant from USC, was far from having the resume of Holmgren or any other top coach in the NFL.

Leaf's coach Mike Riley also came from the college ranks, but at least Riley could say that he had been the head coach at Oregon State.

Clearly, Kiffin waltzed into Oakland with his lies and tried to demand what even elite coaches rarely, if ever, get.

After Kiffin was fired in the middle of the 2008 season, Russell remained in his bad habits, albeit showing promise in the late 2008 season. 

Despite all of this, Russell still outperformed Leaf, so I'm led to conclude that Russell is the winner of component two.



Ryan Leaf is still the biggest bust from the draft of all time. 

The real answer in regards to the Oakland Raiders since 2007 is that Lane Kiffin is the biggest bust as a coach of all time.


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