Quick! We need more buildup to the NFL Draft! The top prospects do not have enough pressure on them. Will they bust or become perennial Pro Bowlers? Matt Sussman and Tuffy examine both sides of each coin, writing articles from the year 2011 “looking back” on the top 2007 draft picks. Just another reason to own a flux capacitor.
JaMarcus Russell as a Bust
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns, ending an era of missed opportunities and frustration for fans and players alike, released JaMarcus Russell today. The third pick of the 2007 draft never met the lofty expectations placed on him by a desperate community.
When Russell first shook hands with Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel in front of the assembled Cleveland media in 2007, his potential was as massive as his frame. Even Crennel, a former defensive lineman, stood in awe of Russell’s body. “He’s a biggun, isn’t he?” joked Crennel.
Russell’s arm was legend before the draft. He showed off before the 2007 Sugar Bowl by throwing the ball nearly the length of the field and then sitting on the turf to throw another ball 40 yards. Lesser men tried to catch a Russell Express and earned broken fingers for their trouble.
Stuart Scott, carefully keeping his distance from the demonstration, noted to an ESPN colleague that Russell was fully capable of bettering Daunte Culpepper’s best days. Scott creatively nicknamed Russell the Brown Cannon. While Russell was somewhat inexperienced compared to Brady Quinn, a fellow 2007 draftee, his athleticism provided a future previously unimaginable for Cleveland fans: a positive one.
The first hint of trouble came only two days later. The press conference introducing Russell came after a contract was agreed to but before it was formally signed. While both sides blamed the other, sources from both sides suggest Eric Metz, Russell’s agent, encouraged Russell to press his advantage. Minor contract requests regarding entourages, locker room amenities, and a request for a steady stream of Vanilla Oreos turned into an extended holdout.
While Russell did eventually report to camp, it was far too late to learn the playbook in time to play more than a few downs in the last preseason game and observe for most of another miserable Browns campaign. His first start as a professional in Week 17 ended in a cascade of boos as he failed to complete more than half his passes and was sacked four times in a 42-14 loss to the Packers.
From there, Russell walked a well-worn path to failure. Hurt feelings from Browns fans that expect their stars to understand the privilege of playing in Cleveland never truly subsided. Perhaps the lowest point came when a snowball that hit him in the helmet at Paul Brown Stadium led to a verbal confrontation with a fan in front of the fan’s four-year-old girl that required numerous half-hearted apologies to finally move on from. A false positive for a controlled substance (implied to be marijuana) leaked to the press only confirmed stereotypes for the angry Browns fan.
On the field, Russell never improved his college style of play, holding the ball much longer than feasible for a pro quarterback and relying on his cannon. He never mastered the playbook, which was trimmed back numerous times to give more opportunities for mastery. He spent most of his last two seasons looking up from either the turf or a trainer’s table. His oblique injury in Week 12 this season was almost a relief, knocking him out for the rest of the season.
With his athletic build and rocket arm still intact, a few teams are believed to be interested in Russell. His new agent, Leigh Steinberg, insists his client has turned over a new leaf and has been working out with a new trainer this offseason. The Chicago Bears, looking at their fourth new Week 1 starting quarterback in five years, are expected to be the lead suitor.
Now read Matt Sussman’s take on JaMarcus Russell being a star.