Raiders' Russell eats his way up draft bust list

by | National Columnist

First, a sincere mea culpa.

There was no question in my mind when Oakland drafted JaMarcus Russell in 2007 he was going to resuscitate a horrid Raiders franchise. Never did I imagine that rather than picking apart defenses he would instead be picking out D-cups.

And so here we are. Just three seasons into the Russell era and he has been replaced by Jason Campbell. NFL team executives believe the Raiders might cut Russell as early as this week, though predicting what Oakland will do is like trying to keep Russell away from the Krispy Kremes.

JaMarcus Russell's expanding girth exceeds his worth to the Raiders. (Getty Images)  
JaMarcus Russell's expanding girth exceeds his worth to the Raiders. (Getty Images)  
This is likely the end of Sherman Klump as a Raider. If the Raiders do release him, can Russell catch on elsewhere and change his life? It's possible, but to this point Russell has demonstrated little initiative, passion, leadership or skill. Other than that, he has been fantastic.

Sometimes, the media declares draft busts too quickly. This is not one of those instances. Ryan Leaf is the epitome of NFL Draft bust but Russell could soon join Leaf, Andre Ware, Akili Smith, Terry Baker, David Carr and Rick Mirer on those notorious top 10 bust lists. It has been striking to watch as Russell, the former No. 1 overall pick, has fallen as quickly and clumsily as any prospect in the past 10 to 15 years.

There are actually two struggling quarterbacks on the West Coast, the Bay Area Busts. The Raiders have Russell while San Francisco has Alex Smith. Russell has failed because he never maximized his ability; Smith has struggled because he didn't possess much talent in the first place.

What makes Russell unique in bust annals is that never before have we seen a quarterback literally eat himself out of a job. Such a thing is usually reserved for offensive linemen and sitcom stars. Eventually, as his weight ballooned to nearly 300 pounds, Russell had a bouncier caboose than J. Lo. Some women pay thousands of dollars to have breasts like Russell's.

What happened to Russell? I've spent the past few days trying to find out and no one can say for certain. Scouts who watched Russell closely while he was at LSU remain shocked because, despite some revisionist history, there was never a trace of laziness or uninspired play when he was in college, scouts say.

The general consensus seems to be that Russell became a classic case of what occurs when some athletes receive too much money and power too quickly. The Raiders have already paid Russell over $30 million in guaranteed money as part of his six-year, $68 million rookie deal. Some players are changed by all of that cash and some aren't. Russell was.

Russell's work ethic completely deteriorated after he signed that deal and just a few years into it Raiders players were publicly questioning his work ethic. Last season Russell's 50 passer rating was the lowest in professional football in 11 years. He was benched for Bruce Gradkowski.

In some ways, the Raiders deserve credit. Oakland's trading for Campbell is an admission by the team that Russell can't be trusted. Most NFL franchises that invest so much in a draft pick stubbornly refuse to admit wrongdoing (just look at the 49ers and Smith). By acquiring Campbell the Raiders are saying: We screwed up.

Campbell is the opposite of Russell. In Washington, Campbell was well respected in the Redskins locker room and rarely complained despite the constant changes on the coaching staff due to sloppy and mistake-prone management and ownership. Going back to his days at Auburn, this is Campbell's eighth offensive coordinator.

Russell had all the benefits and behaved like a child. Campbell didn't and behaved like a man.

Al Davis, the mercurial owner of the Raiders, once compared Russell to John Elway, which is like comparing La Toya Jackson to Patti LaBelle. The only thing that Elway and Russell have in common is that they've both beaten the Raiders.

The Russell Era is likely about to end and even the harshest of Russell critics three years ago didn't see it ending so miserably.


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