JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU Tigers
by Rafael Zamorano
on February 19, 2007 @ 16:00:00
With the National Football League Draft just a few short weeks away, the Oakland Raiders are literally on the clock, as they possess the No. 1 overall draft pick this year. The player that currently seems to have a leg up on everybody else in the race to be the first player selected on Draft Day is Louisiana State University junior quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
Standing at 6-foot-6 and tipping the scales at 260 pounds, Russell is a unique specimen, blending outstanding individual talent and incredible physical tools.
Russell shattered Alabama's high school passing record with 10,744 passing yards while at Williamson High School in his hometown of Mobile. After garnering several awards and recognitions in the process, including Alabama's Mr. Football, Russell opted to attend LSU over Florida State on National Signing Day of 2003.
Russell red-shirted during the Tigers' 2003 National Championship campaign under head coach Nick Saban. He started four games and played in 11 during 2004 as a freshman, sharing quarterbacking duties with then-senior Marcus Randall. He would finish the year with 73 completions of 144 attempts for 1,053 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
As a sophomore, he led the team to a 10-1 regular season record and a spot in the Southeast Conference championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs, which LSU would lose. Unfortunately, Russell injured his shoulder during that game, forcing him to miss the Peach Bowl matchup against the Miami Hurricanes. His stat line at the end of the year would read: 188 completions in 311 attempts for 2,443 passing yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
In 2006 as a junior, Russell led the Tigers to a 10-2 regular season record and a berth in the BCS Sugar Bowl, pitting him against Notre Dame's outstanding quarterback, Brady Quinn, in a game that featured the top two pro prospects at the position on one of the nation's biggest stages. Russell ended up on the winning end of the face-off, completing 21 of 34 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also had five rushing attempts for 16 yards and another score. This performance would ultimately pave the way for his decision to forego his remaining year of college eligibility, declaring for the NFL Draft January 10, 2007. His last season at Baton Rouge would also be his best statistically, as he completed 232 of 342 attempts for 3,129 yards with 28 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. These numbers would earn him first-team All-SEC honors in 2006.
The first thing that will certainly stand out when assessing Russell as a pro prospect is his size; he will be in fact larger than most linebackers and some defensive ends trying to tackle him. Arguably, nobody in the NFL at the quarterback position comes close to his frame while retaining his level of athleticism. His arm strength is almost ridiculous and perhaps no current or past pro quarterback can throw the ball as far as he can. He is fairly accurate and can make virtually every throw on the field. He's lighter on his feet than you'd expect for a guy his size; he can not only break through tackles, but also sidestep the pass rush and prolong the play. He always keeps his eyes downfield despite the defensive pressure. He's used to high-profile games and by playing in the SEC, he faced some of the nation's best defenses for three consecutive years. He really took on a leadership role for his team as a starter. His best football still seems ahead of him. Lately, he's been working with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's mentor, Tom Martinez, to improve his mechanics, displaying a genuine interest in self-improvement. He has been a positive influence in his community, including housing up to 20 people in his home at one time after Hurricane Katrina.
Having started just two full years at LSU, Russell is thought to not be the most NFL-ready quarterback of this draft class. He still needs a bit of work on his throwing mechanics in order to optimize his release and accuracy. His completion percentage can be at least partially attributed to the offense in which he played. He's not quite fast enough to inspire fear into defenses by making plays solely with his feet. Russell has been known to occasionally suffer mental lapses during games and lose focus. He might not be a good fit in some offensive systems.
Heading into the backend of the 2006 season, all of the talk of the "next No. 1 overall draft pick" seemed to be centered around Quinn and perhaps University of Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson (also an underclassman), but little was mentioned of Russell at the time. Fast forward to January of 2007; scouts and media experts all across the nation seem to agree that Russell looks like he'll be the first player to hear his name announced at the upcoming NFL Draft.
While Russell's performance down the stretch, including the aforementioned overshadowing of Quinn during the Sugar Bowl, played a huge part in his fast rise on draft boards everywhere, the fact that the Raiders hold the first pick plays no small part in this generalized perception. It's common knowledge that Raiders owner Al Davis loves physically gifted specimens and does not mind gambling in choosing this type of athlete over more technically sound players. In that sense, Russell is a quarterback with physical attributes that no one has seen before. Plus, Davis knows that it all starts with the quarterback. Equally as important is that the Raiders need to solve a shaky situation at a quarterback position very poorly undermanned by Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo during 2006.
Supposing the Raiders should trade away their pick or decide to pass on Russell, he would seem a very good fit on a team that emphasizes downfield passing in order to take full advantage of his amazing arm strength. At this point however, and barring a meltdown at the NFL Scouting Combine or the Pro Day at LSU, it seems unlikely that Russell will slip past the top four picks of the upcoming draft. That seems true especially after taking into consideration that the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (the latter two depending on a coin flip) are the teams that hold the next picks in the draft order after Oakland; all four of these teams have had their share of quarterback struggles recently. However, if the Raiders pass on him, these other teams probably have greater needs elsewhere, meaning Russell could slip to Miami Dolphins at No. 9.
About Rafael Zamorano
Rafael Zamorano is an NFL columnist and editor at ESPNdeportes.com for Latin America. He has been a contributor at KFFL since 2006.
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