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Lane Kiffin Wanted Raiders to Draft Calvin Johnson over JaMarcus Russell in 2007

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IFebruary 19, 2020

** FILE ** In this July 24, 2008 file photo, Oakland Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin, second from left, quarterbacks Marques Tuiasosopo, left, and JaMarcus Russell (2) watch from the sidelines during workouts at their football training camp in Napa, Calif. The focus of the third exhibition game against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night, Aug. 23, 2008, will be on what Russell and the receivers can do through the air. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,file)
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Lane Kiffin might have been the then-Oakland Raiders head coach for longer than 2007 and '08 had the franchise's late owner, Al Davis, listened to him at the 2007 NFL draft.

Kiffin, hired as Ole Miss' new head coach in December, spoke to ESPN's The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz about wanting the now-Las Vegas Raiders to draft receiver Calvin Johnson instead of JaMarcus Russell with the first overall pick (h/t ProFootballTalk):

"This is nothing against JaMarcus. It was midnight the night before the draft. I said, 'We're going to pay this guy $63 million and he's not ready for it.' I said I wouldn’t be ready for it at 21. He's not ready for that and hasn't played very much. And Mr. Davis is obsessed with the Sugar Bowl game when he beat Notre Dame. He watched that game on TV so he was just obsessed with that.

[...]

"Calvin Johnson was there. I said, Calvin Johnson is the best receiver I've ever seen, ever, work out in my life. This guy is going to be one of the best ever. But he was just set in his mind, and obviously it was his franchise, so that's the direction we went."

Russell had led No. 4 LSU to a 41-14 win over No. 11 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl that January. He went 21-of-34 for 332 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

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Russell fizzled quickly once he entered the NFL, lasting just 31 games across three seasons with the Raiders.

Johnson, meanwhile, did go on to become one of the best receivers in league history after the Detroit Lions snagged him at No. 2 overall behind Russell. The Georgia Tech product recorded at least 1,000 yards receiving in seven of his nine seasons, including an all-time record for receiving yards in a single season with 1,964 yards on 122 catches in 2012. 

The three-time All-Pro surprisingly retired in March 2016 having broken several records.

Johnson finished with 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns on 731 catches across 135 career games.

Kiffin has as strong a case as anybody has ever had to say I told you so.

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