JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

JaMarcus Russell

jamarcus

I love JaMarcus Russell. I love his size. I love his arm. Mostly, I love how absolutely, positively terrible he is.

Wait. Let me explain. I never root for athletes to fail. But it is, to be frank, entertaining. I was alive and kicking during Ryan Leaf‘s brief rise and monumental fall. I’ve seen Tampa Bay try to get some juice out of Jack (Thowin’ Samoan) Thompson. I’ve witnessed the horror that was Mike Pagel, the dread that was David Klingler, the nightmare that was Babe Laufenberg starting the last two games of the 1990 season for the Dallas Cowboys. I’ve seen Browning Nagle‘s throws die in the wind and Marc Wilson get blitzed mercilessly. I rooted on Heath Shuler as he crumbled and I laughed as Dave Brown (I was a Jets fan) threw a ridiculous string of picks. From Bobby Douglass as a Bear to Todd Blackledge as a Chief to Mark Malone as a Steeler and a Charger to Mike Hohensee as a Washington Federal (USFL), I’ve been honored to watch and cringe with the worst professional quarterbacks of all time.

Russell, however, is a new low.

By all accounts, he doesn’t work hard. His field vision is terrible, his attitude questionable, his grasping of NFL defenses atrocious. He throws into double coverage all the time, rarely looks off receivers and holds onto the ball waaaay too long.

And yet, despite it all, I don’t blame JaMarcus Russell himself. This is, without question, the fault of the Oakland Raiders, who wisely selected the gifted LSU Tiger with the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Draft, then surrounded him with the biggest mess since Starr Jones’ wedding party. Coaches come and go; offenses are predictable; drafts are wasted on semi-OK prospects praised for their speed (at the expense of, say, good hands). Had Russell been allowed to learn from, say, a Mike Tomlin or Marvin Lewis or Mike Shanahan, things might be drastically different. Maybe he’s on the bench, taking notes. Maybe he’s gradually groomed.

But now, in 2009, he simply looks like a bust. A very big bust.