Jamarcus Russell: The NFL’s biggest bust

Russell ended his career in Oakland with just seven wins, 4,083 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions in three seasons.

Darin Gantt

Russell ended his career in Oakland with just seven wins, 4,083 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions in three seasons.

If you were paid 39 million dollars to embarrass yourself at the quarterback position, would you do it?

Absolutely.

Jamarcus Russell, the 2007 first-round overall pick out of LSU, got to live the life that we all dream of living. Yes, that’s right, he was able to simultaneously scarf down double cheeseburgers and make millions and millions of dollars. I joke about it now, but the rise and fall of Jamarcus Russell really isn’t that funny. It’s actually pretty sad how a stud that threw for 3,000 yards in college transformed into the lazy punchline that we all know too well. 

As a first overall pick, Russell’s combination of size, arm talent, and mobility covered his tracks for the time being in high school and college; however, the NFL isn’t as forgiving. In the NFL, franchise quarterbacks are expected to lead their team, study the game, and train their bodies on a daily basis—without someone there to push them. Russell could no longer get away with just cruising down Main Street in Baton Rouge. He actually needed to study film and live by the notion of “get better every day.” 

Photo by: Kellen Voss. In 2009, Russell was ranked 73rd in passing among league quarterbacks. The NFL has 32 teams.

“Get better every day?” Are you serious? That was a mere slogan on a cheeseburger container for Russell. In fact, Russell might have sported one of the worst work ethics the sporting world has ever seen. For example, he was assigned blank tapes of film to watch. Because the coaches smelled his laziness from 100 feet, they knew that he wasn’t going to even watch a little of the blank tapes. To his own demise, Russell came back to the facility the next day and told the coaches that he thought the film looked good. 

Photo by: Michael David Smith. Russell still holds the record for being the quickest number one pick to be cut by their respective team.

Watching film is one thing, but the need to be bribed with cheeseburgers is another animal. The same teammate that brought his film study story to light, Bruce Gradkowski, also riffed about how Russel had to be baited into watching film. On The Cris Collinsworth Cocktail Hour, Gradkowski told a home run story that goes like this:

If you weren’t a quarterback, Tuesday’s were designated days for rest and recuperation. Quarterbacks, on the other hand, were supposed to watch film all day. Gradkowski and the other members of the quarterback room basically had to drive over to Russell’s house and bribe him—with 10 junior cheeseburgers from Wendy’s—to watch an hour of film with them. 

Stories like the ones above have made Jamarcus Russell’s entry into the exclusive class of NFL Draft busts fairly easy. His membership punch card was punched out the moment his rookie year started. Most rookies enter the NFL with drool seeping from their mouth and eyes wide open because they have finally achieved a dream that started in their bed as a ten-year-old. Even though most NFL rookies are grateful for their rookie deal, Jamarcus Russell was not at all. In fact, he missed his whole rookie season training camp due to a massive contract dispute with the Raiders organization. After two weeks into his rookie season, he finally inked the richest rookie deal in NFL history at a whopping $32 million guaranteed; a yellow flag maybe, a red flag for sure. When Russell’s third campaign with the Raiders rolled around, he weighed in at 305 pounds and eventually found himself out of the league by 2010. Without any sort of accolades to boast about during his short run as an NFL quarterback, Russell can be summed up in one word: bust. 

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Check out Thomas’s column on why Ryan Leaf is the biggest NFL bust of all time!

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