JaMarcus Russell Not Getting a Fair Shake

Justin Smith@smittstylesCorrespondent IOctober 30, 2008

With the votes in and already anointing Atlanta Falcons rookie Matt Ryan (aka Matty Ice) and Baltimore Ravens rookie Joe Flacco the next coming of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, we turn our attention to JaMarcus Russell.

JaMarcus is also essentially a rookie after only starting one game last season and missing all of training camp. Russell has been anointed as well: as the next Ryan Leaf/Tim Couch/David Carr take-your-choice first pick busts.

I've watched all three quarterbacks play, and Ryan thus far is the most impressive. His poise and calmness in the pocket, coupled with his obvious intelligence for the game, have helped him get off to a quick start.

Flacco is a little unwieldy back there, and gets rattled easily if he gets consistent pressure. He makes too many poor reads and throws the ball into tight quarters at times, thinking his arm strength will be enough to squeeze the ball through. He impressed me with his athleticism, and he can get out and run when he needs to.

Russell seems to struggle a bit with the speed of the game and the intricacies of NFL defenses. He has good mobility to avoid pressure, but he doesn't look to run quickly enough when protection breaks down. He can make all the throws down the field, and has a cannon arm, but he has struggled with putting touch on the ball for shorter completions.

All three quarterbacks have talent, and JaMarcus has played at a level statistically comparable to Matt Ryan, yet the two are viewed very differently around the league. The Falcons are winning unexpectedly, and the Raiders losing as expected, so that is certainly a factor to consider.

At this point, there is no need to further discuss the merits of Ryan and Flacco, as fans, experts, and pundits have all declared their seasons a resounding success thus far. So let's look at JaMarcus Russell, and how he's obviously playing at a much lower level than these two franchise saviours.

(Below stats through seven games.)

Russell has struggled with accuracy, completing only 51 percent of his passes overall. Matty Ice is "lighting it up" with a pedestrian 56 percent completion rate, while Flacco weighs in with a pretty stellar 62 percent rate.

Rank: Flacco, Ryan, Russell

Russell hasn't thrown the ball downfield much, and his leading receiver is his tight end. He doesn't amass a large amount of yardage. Russell has a total of 1258 yds with 6.39 yards per attempt.

Matty Ice has Roddy White, who stretches the field and has made some big plays. Consequently, Ryan has a fairly impressive 1441 yds with a 7.03 ypa.

Flacco doesn't have a great wide receiver corps either, although Derrick Mason is a terrific possession receiver. Without anyone to stretch the field, Flacco has amassed 1216 yds with 6.37 ypa.

Rank: Ryan, Russell, Flacco

Russell has protected the ball well and has not made many costly mistakes. It has limited his vertical passing game and has, at times, slowed the Raiders offense, but Russell is taking care of the ball in the passing game. Russell has 6 TD passes and 3 INT's, for a 2-1 TD to INT rate.

Matty Ice has been a little more careless, but not much. Ryan has 7 TD passes and 5 INTs. Flacco has been pretty careless, although he's protected the ball much better in recent weeks. He currently sits with 3 TD passes and 7 INTs.

Rank: Russell, Ryan, Flacco

Russell plays behind a much more inexperienced offensive line with less overall ability than both the Raven and Falcon units.

Russell has been sacked 18 times, Ryan 9, and Flacco 12. Russell also has been hesitant to pull the ball down and run, and he takes a little longer than you'd like to get through his reads. That contributes to the high sack total.

Rank: Ryan, Flacco, Russell

JaMarcus struggles with his accuracy, but his other stats are solid, if unspectacular. This has led to a QB rating of 74.4. Ryan hasn't really struggled in any aspect of the game, and thus his QB rating is a respectable 79.7. Flacco has struggled with INTs and not being able to stretch the field, so his passer rating is 70.5.

Rank: Ryan, Russell, Flacco

The above categories paint the picture that although Matt Ryan is preternaturally mature and talented, he is not that far ahead of JaMarcus at this point in their career.

Flacco has talent but struggles with the speed of the game, and he cannot deal with pressure.

Both Russell and Ryan have shown the ability to move in the pocket and make plays on the run, whereas Flacco is more of a pocket passer (but the kid can run when he wants to)

These stats can tell any story the reader wants to hear depending on how they are interpreted, but the story I glean is that although JaMarcus Russell is a little behind Matt Ryan in poise and picking up the game, and a little behind Flacco in making accurate throws, he is comparable statistically to both rookie quarterbacks in all important categories.

I ranked the QB's in five seperate categories, with the results looking like this: (note: 1st place rank = 5 points, 2nd = 3 pts, 3rd = 1 pt)

Matt Ryan; Three first-place ranks, two second-place ranks = 21 points.

JaMarcus Russell - One first, two seconds, two thirds = 13 points.

Joe Flacco - One first, one second, three thirds = 11 points.

Russell has a way to go to catch Ryan in overall performance, but his statistics are not that far away from the Iceman.

Russell is statistically superior to Flacco in every category aside from accuracy.

Russell has struggled with his progressions and his accuracy, but those things will come as the game slows down and he gains experience.

The bottom line is, at this point in their careers, there is little difference between Russell and Ryan performance wise, while both are thus far better than Flacco.

JaMarcus deserves more credit from the fans and the media for playing fairly well as a defacto rookie. The divergent levels of performance do not translate to the divergent levels of respect reserved for these three young, talented quarterbacks.