Much has been made as of late about JaMarcus Russell and how poor of a prospect many fans and analysts feel him to be.
Labeled as the "greatest draft bust in NFL history" by some, Russell has continued to be ridiculed and criticized for both his performance on the field and his behavior off of it.
I'm no apologist and I do not seek to provide the readers with a laundry-list of excuses.
Russell's performance in Oakland after being drafted No. 1 overall in 2007 has been well documented; albeit a bit skewed if the intent is to make an honest evaluation of his performance on the football field.
The knocks against Russell in this regard have been that he was essentially ineffective, unproductive, inaccurate and a weak leader.
Easy criticism to make given how poorly the Raiders performed during his tenure.
But have these generalizations painted the entire picture?
My claim is not for Russell to have been a Pro Bowler in disguise but perhaps...
A better quarterback and potential prospect than most give him credit for.
Absurdity say you?
Take a closer look.
JaMarcus Russell (2007)
36/66 (54.5) for 373 yards (5.7 YPA), two touchdowns and four interceptions.
QB rating: 55.9
Not exactly getting off to a fantastic start, but he only started one game that season, seeing action in four games total. Actually reminds me of another quarterback who got off to a shaky start during his rookie season...
Eli Manning (2004)
95 of 197 (48.2) for 1,043 yards (5.3 YPA), six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
QB rating: 55.4
Keep in mind, of course, that Eli Manning had the backing of a Pro Bowl running-back in Tiki Barber, a tight-end coming off two consecutive Pro Bowl seasons in Jeremy Shockey, and a wide-receiver coming off of five consecutive 1,000-yard season in Amani Toomer.
Who was JaMarcus throwing to?
Yet he was more accurate (higher completion-percentage), more proficient (higher YPA), and posted a higher quarterback rating, all in a season deemed a disappointment by most.
That is not to say it wasn't, but didn't Eli eventually go on to win a Super Bowl?
JaMarcus improved substantially however during his "forgotten 2008 season".
Forgotten because despite improved (although far from great) performance at the quarterback position, the Raiders continued their losing tradition in spite of it.
4-12 in 2007 to 5-11 in 2008.
The end results were negligible and thus as I suspect, few even remember how "un-biggest bust in NFL history like" Russell performed regardless of the offensive support that was provided for him.
Raiders fans might remember but for those of you who live outside of Oakland, you'd think I was lying to you if I went into greater detail regarding who the Raiders felt would be the best possible options to provide Russell to throw to.
Zach Miller was (and still is) a respectable option at the tight-end position. Never produced to any exceptional level prior to that point but did manage to rack-up a team-leading 778 receiving yards; too bad he had only one touchdown reception to show for his efforts.
But tight-end wasn't the issue for Oakland; it was the wide-receiver position.
Johnnie Lee Higgins.
I'm mean no offense towards those players, but both were first and second respectively at the wide-receiver position in terms of yards produced on the football field.
Of course there were Javon Walker, Ashley Lelie, and Ronald Curry, all of whom had put up respectable production in the past; yet none of them managed to produce in 2008.
Part of that may have been due to Russell's lack of overall productivity, but for what it’s worth, he did manage to drastically improve his individual performance.
JaMarcus Russell (2008)
198 of 368 (53.8) for 2,423 yards (6.6 YPA), 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
QB rating: 77.1
Not Hall of Fame performance mind you, but a far cry from his "greatest draft bust in NFL history" reputation.
I still couldn't help but find his performance similar to another quarterback whom I had already mentioned...
Eli Manning (2005)
294 of 557 (52.8) for 3,763 yards (6.8 YPA), 24 touchdowns & 17 interceptions.
QB rating: 75.9
So again, Russell still managed to remain more accurate, the YPA's were almost identical, and it was Russell who in his second season actually posted a higher quarterback rating than the more productive Manning.
That is not to say that Russell had the better overall season but when you look at some of the players Eli was throwing to in 2005, it's incredibly impressive to see how well Russell performed in comparison, taking into account the support he was given.
His performance during the 15 games that he had started in 2008 was far more than many top-quarterback draft picks have ever produced.
When you take into context who was coaching him and who he was throwing to, it's all the more impressive.
Nothing to lose your hats over, but exceptionally better than most people give him credit for.
It's not 2008 that was the problem.
It was his tough start in 2007, and his terrible performance in 2009 that has drawn the most criticism Russell's way.
However, the reality is that all of those bad games only comprised of 16 appearances and 10 starts.
All it took was less than the length of one full season for him to be written off.
Is that really all we need to see to truly “know” how good of a quarterback Russell is?
Sixteen games, 10 starts, on one of the worst teams of the entire decade?
From a physical standpoint, Russell is (or at least could be) a coach's dream.
Tall, deceptively quick on the run, and in possession of perhaps the strongest throwing arm the NFL has ever seen.
I've heard the criticism: He's been overweight and he doesn't try hard enough; points that have been expanded upon through virtually every conceivable phrasing and re-phrasing imaginable.
I'd be inclined to think that impeccable work ethic would be difficult to find in Oakland during the years Russell played there. That is not to make excuses as it is every NFL player's duty to give it their best effort, especially players who are amongst the highest paid in the league.
But if future Hall of Famer Randy Moss, the greatest touchdown-machine to ever play the wide-receiver position, could apparently lose much of his desire to compete while he was stuck in Oakland, it should really come as no shock to see that the feeling might be mutual amongst multiple players.
Who is to say than many of Russell's teammates didn't do the same thing; only their efforts weren't under the magnifying glass.
Should it really come as such a shock that a team like the Washington Redskins would be interested in Russell's talents?
Work ethic can be established if certain players are placed in the right situations; it happens all the time, every season in the NFL.
We might wish and hope for it to be a "given" in all instances; but as politically-incorrect as it might be to say, it doesn't have to be for a player to become immensely successful.
If Russell can make the right decisions, refuse to associate with people getting into legal troubles, stay out of legal trouble himself, and become devoted to working hard and playing the quarterback position, I see no reason why he couldn't resurrect his NFL career.
There is simply too much potential to not give it another shot if that is what he wants to do.
From what I understand, Russell has been working out with former NBA No. 1 overall draft selection and former NBA head coach, John Lucas, who has been serving as something of a life-coach to help him get his life back on-track.
Good influences can go a long way.
If you combine that with dedication and the right opportunity, I see no reason why Russell cannot rise to the level that Rex Grossman (for instance) currently holds.
If he can get that far and continue to work hard for the opportunity to become a starter in the NFL once again, we will then see how much of the criticism was actually warranted and we will then see if I was right for being so optimistic.