Will JaMarcus Russell Ever Get Another Chance?
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Short of draftniks actually admitting that JaMarcus Russell had no business being drafted in the first round with the first overall pick, today’s official release of Russell onto NFL waivers, at only age 24, indeed confirms (as close as we can reasonable do so, at least) that Lane Kiffin was right. What you may not realize is that — while Kiffin didn’t exactly respect Russell’s ability to become the next John Elway — Russell’s most successful stretch with the Raiders came under Kiffin, at the beginning of 2008.
There are multiple ways to evaluate a player using statistics. By that, I don’t mean that you can use multiple statistics to evaluate a player, although that is certainly true. I mean that you can use statistics to try to predict how Russell would measure up against other NFL QBs. When you look at his completion percentage from 2008 (53.8%), it was obvious that Russell was never going to improve on that enough to be a quality NFL QB. The Raiders needed to know that going into the 2009 season, but with freely available information, the Raiders probably should have known at least that much when Russell was drafted.
Truth is, if the Russell-Elway comparison was ever an apt one, it would be ludicrous to get rid of Russell now, coming off of a down season, with that sort of potential. Russell was never going to approach Elway, and this was essentially Kiffin’s point pre-draft: the comparison was not accurate. Predictive statistics, going as far back as Russell’s LSU days, suggest that Russell compares poorly to the group that is known as “NFL quarterbacks.” What Russell had to overcome it was his physical tools, which the Raiders certainly never prepared themselves to use his arsenal of elite physical gifts.
Predictive statistics hated the Raiders’ decision to use the first overall pick on Russell, and they completely support the Raiders choice to trade for Jason Campbell, and the decision today to rid themselves of Russell. If the idea was to get an above average quarterback, drafting/developing Russell was just wasted time and money. But predictive statistics aren’t the only kind of statistics. Maybe Russell wasn’t a good pick. He probably was a complete waste of time and money. However, there are statistics that suggest that he went from competent player with the Raiders in 2008 under Lane Kiffin (then Tom Cable), to a complete disaster under Cable in 2009. Frankly, these are the descriptive statistics that the Raiders need to now be concerned with.
In 2008, Russell threw 13 TDs and only 8 INTs. He was sacked on 7.8% of pass attempts, a high figure, but nothing compared to the 11.8% that was a reality this year. His 6.6 yards per attempt figure was pretty respectable. None of these stats suggest that Russell was a budding superstar, and when combined with his 53% completion percentage, it was a bad year overall, but those numbers look like something produced by a professional quarterback. According to yards above replacement, Russell actually made it to replacement level that year (though he falls considerably below when you adjust for quality of defenses he faced).
It would be easy for the Raiders to just internalize all of Russell’s 2009 mistakes as products of personal regression, especially now that he’s not part of the organization, but I would strongly recommend that they internally evaluate what role that their post-Kiffin decisions had in ruining whatever they might have once had in Russell. Kiffin, to his credit, took Russell under his wing, and in four games as head coach of the Raiders in 2008, JaMarcus Russell posted a 84.9 QB Rating, throwing 4 TDs to only 1 INT. Russell did have some disaster starts in 2008, but they were few and far between.
The stunning thing about this discovery, is that even given the Raiders making a bad draft pick AND not giving him a lot of help, there was still something in Russell that could have been developed. Above, I argued that the Raiders were wasting their time developing him, and that’s probably still accurate. But with all the time they did put into them, and given the disastrous result in 2009, the Raiders need to fix what actually ruined JaMarcus Russell. Acquiring Jason Campbell fixes the first part of the Raiders’ QB conundrum, getting a guy who compares well to others who play the position in the NFL. Fixing the other end of the equation is what the Raiders need to do in order to be a playoff team in 2010. It’s also the hardest problem to diagnose. The only thing we know for sure, is that the 2008 Raiders were a much more quarterback friendly team than the 2009 Raiders. I suspect the difference is in the playcalling difference from Kiffin to Cable (Hue Jackson will call plays this year), and in the quality of the OL (Cable will be more involved with the OL this year).
Based on this, should someone give Russell another chance? My initial reaction in writing this article was, no, bringing Russell into your camp is a waste of everyone’s time. Thing is, he’s not turning 25 until the NFL preseason. He’s really not a good guy to rely on as your backup quarterback, but what about the teams keeping three quarterbacks? Is there something tangible (non-Elway related?) to kick around with JaMarcus Russell?
After a more extensive review, I choose to uphold my original notion. My assessment is that JaMarcus Russell is more the player he was in 2008 than he was in 2009, and getting out of Oakland will do him good, but even if you give him enough practice reps to develop him in a new system, his potential to be a quality NFL quarterback just isn’t very good. I do believe he can be trained into be a competent downfield passer, but Russell isn’t anyones competitive advantage. Because of that, I have a hard time seeing who, if anyone, would be wise to take him on, and at this point, I’m not sure that even one team is going to be willing to even work out Russell at this point. He’s viewed around the league as a toxic asset, and while that’s more perception than reality, the truth is Russell just isn’t very good at football, and he’s not the kind of player who would suddenly be an accurate passer with pocket presence four or five years down the road. His birthdate will draw some eyes, but ultimately, I don’t see any one team giving Russell a second chance.
At least not this season.