The 2019 season has solidified Derek Carr as the Oakland Raiders franchise quarterback. In his sixth year in the league, the veteran quarterback is on pace to have the best statistical season of his career. He has also been ultra-efficient, as he currently ranks second in the league by completing more than 70 percent of his passes.
While it’s great for the Raiders that they have Carr and are on the brink of earning a Wild Card playoff spot in the AFC, they missed on their shot to pick a franchise QB with their first overall pick in 2007.
They used that pick on JaMarcus Russell, a strong-armed quarterback who put up impressive numbers at LSU. Russell set a few records that were recently broken by Joe Burrow. In his senior season, he set the school record for 28 touchdowns in a season to go along with 3,129 yards and a 67.8 percent completion percentage in his junior season with the Tigers.
Russell has had onlooking observers in awe since his high school days. He was a textbook example of a “workout warrior”, from throwing a pass 70 yards from his knees in an LSU visit to having pro scout and draft analysts like Todd McShay salivating at his stupendous Pro Day workout.
“I can’t remember being in such awe of a quarterback in my decade of attending combines and pro days. Russell’s passing session was the most impressive of all the pro days I’ve been to,” McShay said.
Taking Russell with the first overall pick seemed like an obvious decision for everyone except then-Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin, who really wanted to see Georgia Tech wide receiver and future Hall-of-Famer Calvin Johnson in the Silver and Black. For one of the few times in Kiffin’s tumultuous head coaching career, he was actually right about that evaluation.
The red flags started to pop up as soon as Russell became a Raider, as a contract holdout in 2007’s training camp lead to him becoming the highest-paid rookie in NFL history. The contract guaranteed the quarterback $32 million and would pay him $68 million over the next six seasons.
Russell would not end up lasting in the league for the entirety of that first contract. It didn’t help his case that the Raiders, as the Raiders parted ways with Kiffin a month into the 2008 season, partially because Russell was completing 53 percent of his passes while throwing a mediocre 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions through 15 games.
Russell began his third regular season on the wrong foot as he showed up to training camp weighing in at 305 pounds. After only winning two of his first nine games of the season, the former No. 1 pick was benched in a season where he was supposed to be settling in as a pro quarterback.
For a gunslinger who was heralded to have one of the strongest arms in league history, Russell didn’t even come close to living up to the hype.
The former LSU standout ended his career in Oakland with just seven wins, 4,083 yards, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in 31 games. He never threw for more than 277 yards or more than two touchdowns in a game.
Russell’s life started to go downhill just like his football career did. Two months after he was released by the Raiders in 2010, Russell was arrested for possessing codeine syrup without a prescription.
Russell did seem to make an attempt to better himself, as he was the subject of a 2013 ESPN documentary series as he tried to make an NFL comeback after reportedly losing 50 pounds and being willing to be a scout team quarterback for any professional team.
While Russell seems to be happy now coaching high school football at his alma mater in Alabama, that doesn’t take away from the fact that he has been deemed one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
What ultimately killed Russell’s pro career was his putrid work ethic. A hilarious story that has surfaced over the last year will end up being Russell’s legacy. When his Oakland coaches suspected he wasn’t watching film, they gave him blank cassette tapes to watch before training camp.
When asked what Russell saw on the blank cassette, he claimed to have gained vast knowledge on blitz concepts that opposing teams were running.