Home > College Football, Div-I FBS, Draft, NFL > Focus on Russell’s Work Ethic Miss Larger, More Critical, Point

Focus on Russell’s Work Ethic Miss Larger, More Critical, Point

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Given that it now appears* that the Raiders will bring back head coach Tom Cable and quarterback JaMarcus Russell for the 2010 season, one of the biggest offseason storylines in the west will be how JaMarcus Russell will respond to having the pressure of a make or break 2010 season, and if Cable is the right man to get the best out of him.

*The Raiders continue to deny everything, as expected.  There’s no such thing as news for the Raiders, there are only obscure fluctuations of a single mind.

With all due respect to all the parties involved, Russell’s questionable work ethic is absolutely not an excuse for a guy who can’t play quarterback at this level.  This is not to deny that the guy has been lazy and that his laziness hasn’t been a potential explanation for why Russell is still so unrefined at this point in his career.  That’s probably quite true, and while it’s not something the Raiders could have necessarily predicted before the draft, Russell’s perceived laziness definitely distracts from the fact that he simply wasn’t a good pick.

Observers of the NFL, and the draft in particular, have been very slow to admit an evaluation flaw on Russell, but there is really little doubt at this point that Russell never should have been a first round pick, much less a first overall pick.  If he had been drafted in the 6th round, much more in-line with his talent, then his questionable work ethic might have been the difference between him hanging around the league for a while and getting bounced from the NFL after a season or two.

Before I just go off and crush Russell, the 2007 NFL Draft has yet to produce a resounding success.  Kevin Kolb and Brady Quinn have yet to receive legitimate shots as a starter on a competitive team (Kolb is still behind McNabb going into the final year of his rookie deal, Quinn will probably open somewhere as a starter next year, but could be traded by Cleveland).  Trent Edwards probably has accrued more total value than any QB in the class to date, but he lost his job in Buffalo to Ryan Fitzpatrick of all people, and could begin the backup portion of his career in 2010.  Tyler Thigpen and Matt Moore are hardly established NFL quarterbacks, but they’ve been at least as successful as anyone in this incredibly disappointing class, while John Beck and Drew Stantion are second rounders who have watched their NFL stock steadily decline since draft day.  Bad class, probably the worst since 2002 (if not before), and Russell is merely the headliner of the class.

But he was also supposed to be the “sure thing” of the group.  And there were some pretty strong indications before the draft that the team that drafted Russell wasn’t getting a very polished player with much except his big arm.  But for some teams, that was plenty.

I have a…I won’t even call it a theory, it’s merely something that I’m investigating…an idea that draft evaluations, particularly media evaluations, are heavily slanted in the direction of the scouting evaluations made by the team that picks first overall in any given year.  In 2007, I believe a lot of the positive vibes that were generated by the Russell camp before the draft came because is was widely accepted about a month before the draft that the Raiders had locked in on Russell at first overall, and so the pick needed to be justified by the media.  In the last five years, the Raiders have also locked in on Michael Huff, Darren McFadden, and Darrius Heyward-Bey near the top of the draft, which is a place the Raiders consistently pick because these draft choices never seem to work out.  Picks the Raiders have made have come under major criticism from media types, with the lone exception of the Russell pick, which was probably the worst of the four.

Russell benefited from the same standard that Reggie Bush and Matt Stafford have as offensive skill position players who have rose above the pile to be determined the most elite of offensive players in a draft class.  Stafford and Bush both largely avoided the criticism throughout the process that others in the same classes have been subjected to.  I believe this has to do with first overall pick status.  Once a single player grabs a chokehold on that pick, as Russell was able to do late in February, it does seem like the player’s camp gets a whole lot more control of the information that circulates regarding their client.  But when it’s the Raiders doing the evaluation, exactly how relevant has this proven to be?  What evidence was there that any competent organization was considering Russell in the top fifteen picks of the 2007 NFL drafts.  If the Raiders had taken Calvin Johnson instead, does Detroit take Russell?

Perhaps the Redskins take Russell at No. 6, but probably not.  Then who?  Buffalo, maybe?  Then KC or Jacksonville right around where the Browns traded up to get Quinn?  Perhaps the price for Quinn gets driven down by the falling Russell.  Now the Eagles don’t have to take Kevin Kolb with the first pick in the second round.  They can select Quinn there or wait on Kolb to the middle of the second.

Suddenly, if the Raiders don’t take Russell, the results of the 2007 draft start to fall in line with the common wisdom we’ve come to accept about the draft.  Russell has the potential to end up the most epic NFL bust ever, bigger than Ryan Leaf, but he was simply never a first overall type.  He was probably overrated by conventional wisdom in general, but the only reason that Russell was even considered a top ten pick was because the Raiders had the platform to convince people that this guy was the next big thing in the NFL.

Luckily for the principle of a rational universe, the Raiders have not had to pick at No. 1 in and NFL draft since 2007, which has greatly improved the quality of draft analysis, not coincidentally.

Then there’s the situational issues that have really screwed Russell since he was overdrafted.  He held out of his first training camp.  The Raiders changed coaches only four games into his first season as starter, and the offense that Lane Kiffin had built to protect Russell ended up being turned to expose him.  Then, this year, Tom Cable’s playcalling also reflected Kiffins desire to protect Russell, and because of the strides Russell was not able to make in the past, have resulted in a man that simply cannot process information at an NFL level.  The holdout is at least partially Russell’s fault, the Raiders’ mismanagement is anything but.  Both have killed Russell’s development, and when you take a marginal prospect with a single elite skill, and just refuse to commit to either surrounding him with talent or developing his as a player, or developing an offense that accentuates what he can do well, it’s hardly Russell’s fault that he’s going to bust out of this league badly.  In fact, the only thing Russell could (should?) have done differently is 1) not commit to the NFL draft as a raw junior, and 2) not hold out for a record contract.

Of course, if he doesn’t commit in a weak 2007 draft class, he doesn’t get all that money to play for the Raiders.  That would have been the best career move, but then again, some others might have a different idea of what defines a career.  Specifically: money.  Because by that measure, both Leaf and Russell have been wildly successful football players.

Instead, Russell’s character–his work ethic–is taking a major beating from pundits who want to put their collective finger on why a No. 1 overall pick has failed at the pro level so spectacularly.  But it’s not just one thing, and the intangibles Russell may or may not have are hardly relevant at all.  This was not a fourth round pick at quarterback who was considered to be on the margin as an NFL quarterback from day one.  This was a player who was always marginally skilled, but there was thought to be so much more.  When the Raiders, the McShay’s/Kiper’s/Mayock’s, and all of the relevant committees miss as spectacularly on a prospect as they did with this man, to internalize his failures into a single reason of the player’s own contol seems rather irresponsible.  There are a bunch of people to blame for this screw up, and most of them are still employed by the Raiders.

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