What do Russell and Leaf have in common? Vegas, baby!
By Doug Farrar
Remember how Jim Mora the Elder and the Indianapolis Colts' front office finally made the decision to draft Peyton Manning(notes) over Ryan Leaf in 1998? When the Colts, who had the first pick in the 1998 draft, interviewed both quarterbacks, they got very different responses to the $100 bazillion question: What are you going to do when we give you all that money? Manning seemed more interested in banking the check and getting to work in the film room, while Leaf said that the first thing he'd do is take his buddies to Vegas. Case closed.
Now, Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell(notes) is bringing back the spirit of Leaf (in a super-sized version - this guy is now bigger than many of the defensive linemen who find him so easy to tackle), and he seems to be interested in putting Al Davis on the hook for a similarly huge error. Reports indicate that Russell missed the Raiders' final team meeting of the 2009 season. Not a big deal if, as it was originally believed, Russell missed the meeting for "personal reasons". It's a bit more of a big deal if, as we have now learned, Russell took off for Las Vegas in lieu of that final meeting.
Selected first overall in the 2007 draft, Russell has failed to distinguish himself in any positive way, except that he's never been a team-killer or directly flaunted Davis' Commitment to Excellence (whatever that means these days) enough for the man himself to call Russell out. Lane Kiffin and Tom Cable, the team's last two coaches, have come out publicly against Russell's production and work ethic, but Davis has been his quarterback's staunch defender. That may be about to change.
The Raiders have a long history of players who studied their playbooks by the light of the closest bar, but those were great players who actually studied their playbooks. Russell has done nothing whatsoever to prove that he's interested in transcending what has been a horrible early campaign. In 2008, he finished dead last among qualifying quarterbacks in passer rating and Quarterback DYAR, making Bruce Gradkowski(notes) look like Joe Montana in the process. In other words, whether you prefer traditional stats or the new sabermetrics, JaMarcus Russell is the worst quarterback in pro football.
It's tough to believe now, but Manning and Leaf were once considered equal NFL prospects coming out of Tennessee and Washington State, respectively, and there were those who believed Leaf to have the better physical skill set. Over a decade later, Manning may wind up as the best quarterback ever, and Leaf is an indictment-filled bust -- perhaps the most colossal mistake in NFL history.
Until now. Remember, the San Diego Chargers took Leaf with the second pick in 1998. Only the Raiders, with JaMarcus Russell, can boast the first-overall selection of a quarterback so uninterested in the betterment of his team, or his own development as a player.