When news broke that the Raiders released former #1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell yesterday, the sports blogosphere collectively wondered weather Russell had claimed the throne as the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL. And while it would be easy to place the Rotund Raider at the top of the list, we’re not going to hand him the crown just yet.
Until now, the general consensus has been that Ryan Leaf – the #2 overall pick of the San Diego Chargers in 1998 - is the biggest draft bust of all-time. For our money, it’s Tony Mandarich, who the Packers selected with the #2 overall pick in 1989 (you can read our previous pieces on Mandarich here and here). But most people seem to think it’s Leaf, and since both he and Russell are QB’s, it makes things much easier for the purpose of this conversation.
The guys at Shutdown Corner put together a nice statistical comparison between the two quarterbacks, and while both players were godawful, the numbers paint Russell in a more favorable light:
So based on these figures alone, Leaf has the edge (for being worse, that is … 14 TDs vs 36 INTs?!? Ouch.) And when you take into account Leaf’s locker-room outbursts and the fact that he was universally hated by his teammates, Russell doesn’t really even come close to eclipsing the train wreck that was Ryan Leaf.
For us, the question of how big a draft bust someone is always comes down to one main thing: expectations. Sports Illustrated took a look back at the pre-draft hype on JaMarcus Russell from 2007, which includes some incredible gems from some of the draft’s top prognosticators, including Mel Kiper:
JaMarcus Russell is going to immediately energize that fanbase, that football team — on the practice field, in that locker room. Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that’s certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league. …You’re talking about a 2-3 year period once he’s under center. Look out because the skill level that he has is certainly John Elway-like.”
Way to go Mel. Good call. But he wasn’t alone … at the time, Todd McShay, Terry Bradshaw, and a slew of other “experts” were all drooling over Russell’s physical skill set.
But while everyone seemed to agree that Russell’s physical skills warranted a roll of the dice, there were plenty of questions about his mental state of mind from the beginning. In the linked SI article, Peter King and Gil Brandt were among those who expressed serious doubts as to whether or not JaMarcus had the desire & work ethic to be a top-level NFL quarterback.
When Russell – who was the best QB in a weak draft class for the position – went to the Raiders, it seemed like a bust made in heaven. After all, Al Davis has made a living out of spending draft picks on physical specimens with questionable heads. And with Lane Kiffin taking over at the helm (if temporarily) for Art Shell, the Oakland organization was entering a dysfunctional heyday in 2007. We all knew how this story was going to play out, didn’t we?
Following the successful example set by Buffalo Bills fans earlier this season, a group of Oakland Raiders fans have taken the next logical step in trying to appeal to Al Davis’ sense of reason: billboards. The guys at MessageToAl.com spent $5,500 on this billboard (pictured above) near Oakland Alameda County Stadium, begging Davis to hire a General Manager to run the Raiders.
But wait, there’s more! They’ve also started a petition that goes along with the billboard, asking 4 things from Davis:
- Step down as General Manager
- Hire a new GM
- Hire a Super Bowl caliber coach
- Agree to refrain from intervention in personnel or football operational matter
The petition has over 25,000 signatures so far, with donations for the billboard being collected via their website. 22-year-old Jared Staszewski of Erie, Pennsylvania – who must have suffered immeasurably lo those many years – is leading the effort on behalf of Raiders fans everywhere.
The Raiders continue to stun. In trading for five-time Pro Bowl DL Richard Seymour, Oakland puts a band-aid on a dangerously bad defense, but the cost is incredibly steep. Oakland traded its 2011 first-round pick to the Patriots (why do people keep trading first-day picks to Bill Belichick?). Unless this team completely turns the ship around in 2009, they’ve surrendered a probable top-10 pick for a player edging past his prime (Seymour turns 30 this season). As reported, Seymour is also in the final year of his contract, and unhappy with the trade, and potentially heading into an uncapped year as a free agent. You think he’ll stick around? Me neither. Nice job, Al Davis.
Greg Ellis told Sports Illustrated: “It shows the commitment of this organization. You can’t guarantee we’re going to have a great, great season this year. But the commitment is definitely there so players don’t have to question that when you’re making those kinds of moves to make something happen and hopefully win right now.”
Ellis has been drinking the Kool-Aid–or something.
Peter King, however, lays the slapdown this morning–painting a clear picture of the Raiders Commitment to Excellence: “Last year, it was $55 million for Javon Walker (who’s been a total non-factor), $72 million plus two draft choices for DeAngelo Hall (cut midway through his first Raider year), $39 million for Gibril Wilson (cut after one year), and $50.5 million for Tommy Kelly (a starting defensive tackle still). This offseason, the Raiders made Shane Lechler the highest-paid punter in history, more than doubling the previous record, and gave cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha more guaranteed money than Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in their current deals.”
With someone other than madman Al Davis calling the shots, the Raiders could have gotten much more for a first-round pick that an aging defensive lineman in the last year of his contract who doesn’t want to be there.
This is why the Raiders, despite any win-loss records, may be the worst team in the league. They strip their fans of any hope for the future–they annually mortgage it away through stupidity and desperation.