Synopsis: JaMarcus Russell is considered by some to be the #1 Bust in NFL history. While there’s certainly enough support for that claim, I can’t elevate him to that position because no other quarterback drafted in 2007 was even half-way decent. I have argued numerous times that a bust should be determined based on the player’s own poor performance. As such, Russell was a bust given his 7-18 record as a starter and career totals of 4,000 passing yards with 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions. At the same time, all-time busts are ranked based on their performance relative to other players available in the same draft. Given the failures of every other quarterback in the 2007 Draft, Russell’s failure is less dramatic. Regardless, it probably doesn’t matter to him because he earned over $30 million in guaranteed money from his rookie contract. Even without the ancillary storyline, Russell still is an all-time bust. In fact, he was so bad that he’s the #3 NFL Draft Bust.
#3 NFL DRAFT BUST: JaMARCUS RUSSELL
As discussed in a previous post, the 1999 NFL Draft could be considered the Year of the Quarterback Bust given the horrendous careers of both Akili Smith (3rd overall pick and #5 Bust) and Cade McNown (12th overall pick and Top 10 Bust – Honorable Mention). While not a Top 10 Bust, Tim Couch underachieved as the 1st overall pick in that draft and has been named on several countdowns of all-time busts as well. That draft also had NFL MVP Daunte Culpepper and probable Hall-of-Famer Donovan McNabb so not all of the quarterbacks were bad. In contrast, the 2007 Draft was devoid of one good quarterback (or even a decent one). As such, 2007 could be considered the Year of No Quarterback.
There were eight quarterbacks (the “Elite Eight”) drafted in 2007 who have thrown for at least 1,000 yards in the NFL. The following table shows the production of these quarterbacks along with Matt Ryan (drafted 3rd overall in the 2008 Draft) who individually has outperformed the entire group (through Week 8 of the 2014 season).
2007 “Elite Eight” Quarterbacks (ranked by passing yards) – JaMarcus Russell et al
|Draft Pick||Weighted Avg Value||Record||Yards||TD||INT||Passer Rating|
Matt Ryan (’08)
As the table shows, Trent Edwards was perhaps the most productive quarterback in the group with a 14-19 record while throwing for 6,033 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Needless to say, if those stats were generated by the most productive quarterback from the ’07 draft, the group as a whole was not good. In fact, the eight quarterbacks combined to generate a 43-90 record with 26,425 yards, 123 touchdowns and 134 interceptions. Matt Ryan, who was drafted one year later in 2008, has outplayed the combined group by having a 62-40 record with 25,778 yards, 168 touchdowns, and 85 interceptions. Only one quarterback (Drew Stanton) from the 2007 draft class is still playing, but he’s a 30-year-old backup with only 1,687 passing yards and seven touchdowns in his career so it’s highly improbable that he’ll be able to change anyone’s perception of this group’s failure.
To his credit, Stanton filled in admirably for an injured Carson Palmer earlier this year by going 2-1 as a starter with 529 yards passing, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. In those three starts, he increased his career passing yardage and touchdown totals by 40%.
When comparing the actual Weighted Average Value (WAV) of the “Elite Eight” to their expected value, only Tyler Thigpen, as a 7th round draft pick with a WAV of 10, produced as expected. Despite a 1-11 career record (going 1-10 for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008), Thigpen was actually a fairly efficient quarterback, and earned a passer rating of 72.5 after throwing for 3,222 yards with 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions during his one year as a starter and four years as a back-up.
Based on the same comparison of actual to expected WAV, the most underachieving quarterback in the group was JaMarcus Russell. In fact, Russell was less productive (WAV of 6) as the 1st overall pick than a typical 7th round pick (expected WAV of 10).
Even though not one good quarterback came out of the 2007 NFL Draft, the only potential busts were Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell because the other players weren’t drafted high enough to warrant such disappointment. As a 1st rounder who was considered a potential top 5 overall pick, Quinn clearly underperformed by finishing his career with a 4-16 record, 12 touchdowns, and only 3,043 yards passing.
Quinn deservedly has been included on countdowns of all-time busts, but he is exempt from being a Top 10 Bust because there are too many early 1st round picks who were equally bad or worse. For this reason, I established a Brady Quinn Exemption for him and all other players drafted outside of the first 10 overall picks in any draft. Regardless, Quinn was so bad that he deserves an Honorable Mention. Russell, on the other hand, doesn’t deserve any exemptions, unless anyone can ever prove that Mike Williams Disease (i.e. getting fat) is legitimate.
Russell was a two-year starter in college for the highly-ranked LSU Tigers. In his first year as a starter, Russell was a red-shirt sophomore who only needed to be a game manager given the team’s strong defense and Joseph’s Addai’s contributions in the backfield. For the most part, Russell met this objective leading LSU to a #3 ranking and a spot in the SEC Championship Game. Unfortunately, Russell got injured in the game, which ended in a 34-14 loss to 13th-ranked Georgia. Even though Russell was replaced by Matt Flynn in the Peach Bowl (a 40-3 victory over the 9th-ranked Miami Hurricanes), Russell deserves much credit for the team’s final top 10 ranking that season. In case you’re wondering, the Matt Flynn who was second string to JaMarcus Russell at LSU is the same one who has the Green Bay Packers’ single-game records of 480 yards passing and six touchdowns, which are more than Starr, Favre, or Rodgers [at the time this post originally was written] ever achieved in their illustrious careers.
In Russell’s junior year, LSU still had a top-ranked defense but didn’t have a quality running back to replace Addai, who was drafted by the Colts in the 1st round of the 2006 Draft. Russell responded by throwing the ball as much in 2006 as 2005 (approximately 26 attempts/game in both years), but he was far more productive with each throw. In particular, his completion percentage increased from 60.5% to 67.8% (which was 6th highest in the NCAA), his touchdown total almost doubled from 15 to 28, and his interception total declined from nine to eight. As a result, his efficiency rating increased from 136.6 to 167.0, which was 3rd highest in the NCAA. With two regular season losses in the SEC, LSU didn’t qualify for the conference championship game, but Russell played well enough to earn the 2006 Manning Award as the NCAA’s most outstanding quarterback. Given his success, Russell decided to forgo his senior year and declared for the 2007 draft.
In addition to putting up impressive numbers during his last year in college, Russell had a great combine during which he impressed many teams and other draft “experts” (not just Dr. Kiper and Mr. McShay). Specifically, they all gushed over his size (6’6’’ and 265 lbs), quickness, and arm strength. Given the Raiders’ need for a quarterback and their possession of the 1st overall pick, no one was surprised when they chose Russell.
Before Russell even showed up for work with the Raiders, his professional career was off to a rocky start. In what was either a brilliant decision or one that doomed his career, Russell (ok, his agent) decided to hold out for more money throughout training camp, the preseason, and the first week of the regular season. It was brilliant because he got almost $32 MILLION in guaranteed money. On the other hand, the decision could have doomed his career because he never recovered from missing so much practice. In addition, Russell lacked motivation and even self-admittedly tested positive to codeine during his holdout.
Raiders’ coach Lane Kiffin didn’t seem overly concerned by Russell’s “vacation” and even cited David Carr as a reason to let a top quarterback prospect watch and learn from the sidelines. Since Russell was not available to start the season, Kiffin chose Josh McNown as the team’s starter. McNown was traded to the Raiders along with “Fat” Mike Williams when both players didn’t pan out with the Lions. I repeat, they didn’t pan out with the Lions! After McNown went 2-7 as the starter, Kiffin replaced him with Daunte Culpepper, who went 2-4. Go figure, Randy Moss had been traded from the Raiders to the Patriots before the 2007 draft (for a 4th round pick nonetheless) so Culpepper didn’t have his favorite weapon. Running out of options, Kiffin finally started Russell in the final game of the year. Despite losing the game, Russell was fairly productive and completed 74% of his passes for 224 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Based on his one start (and the failure of McNown and Culpepper), Russell was named as the starter for the Raiders in 2008. After a 1-3 start to the season, Kiffin was fired but Russell survived. While limiting turnovers with only eight interceptions, Russell only threw 13 touchdowns in his 15 starts so the team certainly did not outscore many teams. In fact, the team finished 29th out of 32 teams with 16.4 points per game so its 5-11 record actually could have been worse.
Russell began 2009 as the Raiders’ starting quarterback, but he lost his job after a 2-7 start to the season. During the year, Russell regressed by completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing almost four times more interceptions than touchdowns (i.e. 11 INTs vs 3 TDs). Head Coach Tom Cable cared more about winning than the $30 million sunk cost in a busted quarterback so Russell was benched. Lacking any motivation, Russell acted more like an offensive lineman than a quarterback and continued to gain weight.
JaMarcus Russell – Tipping the scales at 300 pounds
Despite the Raiders’ financial investment, Russell finally was cut before the 2010 season given his diminished capabilities (i.e. he was slow and overweight). Based on his entire “body” of work, Russell earned his title as an all-time bust. He was an accomplished college football superstar who absolutely failed in the NFL. Considering the other future Pro Bowl players available (Calvin Johnson at #2, Joe Thomas at #3, Adrian Peterson at #7, Marshawn Lynch at #12, and Darrelle Revis at #14), the selection of JaMarcus Russell at #1 is even worse. In addition, the Raiders passed up on Joe Flacco in the 2008 Draft because they believed they already had their franchise quarterback. There weren’t any good quarterbacks from the 2007 Draft, but only one of them was a $30-million mistake. As such, Russell justifiably is #3 on the list of Top 10 Busts. As a preview, imagine how bad #1 and #2 must be.