By Brendan Duball
There will never be a completely accurate formula to predict the uncertainty that occurs in sports. The epitome of uncertainty and sports occurs in every team’s (especially the Cleveland Browns) ‘war room’ during the NFL draft every year. Currently, more than 300 collegiate football players are participating in the 2016 Combine in Indianapolis in their hopeful journey to the NFL. Here, prospects compete in a wide range of workouts to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack. NFL scouts and general managers use these 6 days of workouts, weigh-ins and interviews to not only see not only how each athlete’s skill can translate to professional football, but also to get a sense of how the athletes are off the field personality-wise. Selecting the next crop of young players to represent an organization is a formula that scouts and general managers dwell over during the weeks leading up to the draft, but selecting the next young Quarterback to represent an organization is an entirely different process.Sports Illustrated writer Peter King mentioned the daunting decision in one of his mock drafts;
“It is a torturous decision, as the coach of a quarterback-needy team told me. As a GM, if you take a quarterback in the first round, any of them, you’re going to go home and not sleep well that night. If you pass on a quarterback with some spellbinding tools—Manziel, for instance—you’re going to go home and not sleep well that night, fearing what you’ve passed up.”
There are hundreds of variables that factor into a team determining if a Quarterback is worthy of being their first round draft pick; vision, accuracy, being a respectful human being, arm strength, size, timing, touch….the list goes on. But what can’t be analyzed or predicted most of the time is if the traits and characteristics of these college QB’s will actually translate to professional football.
Every QB-needy team wants to land the next Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers in the first round, but for every Luck and Rodgers, there’s always going to be a Tim Couch or an Akili Smith mixed into the QB draft class each year. Rich Exner of Cleveland.com analyzed the 45 Quarterbacks that have been selected in the first round of the past 16 drafts, finding that only 17 of these QB’s have won a playoff game, 16 of these QB’s have winning records during the regular season and that only 6 of these QB’s have a career passer rating that would rank in the top half of the league last year. Determining who has the potential of being a franchise quarterback and who will be in jail for burglary and drug use is a daunting task for any team.
So what actually constitutes as a draft ‘bust’?
1.) The actual pick selection is a large factor in determining the definition of a draft bust; a quarterback that is selected in the first round and fails to live up to expectations is going to labeled as a bust more so than a quarterback drafted in the later rounds, simply because the position where players are drafted determines their value.
2.) The amount of wins vs. losses also heavily plays into whether a QB can be labeled as a failure or not; QB play isn’t the only variable that plays into a win or loss, but there is an argument that QB play is significantly more important than any other aspect of a football team’s performance.
3.) Maybe the most calculated and pinpointed statistic the measures QB performance is the passer rating; a statistic that is calculated using a player’s passing attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. Using these three attributes, the biggest QB failure since the 2000 draft class should easily set themselves apart.
* Graph shows QBs who can be labeled as a ‘bust’ since 2000
After a quick glance at the list of QBs drafted since the 2000 season, these 24 quarterbacks separated themselves as the most unsuccessful quarterbacks to be selected in the first round. A few arguments can be made in favor of David Carr. In 2002 Carr played behind arguable the worst offensive line ever put together; he was sacked 76 times which is still the most in the history of the NFL in a single season. Carr played for a team run by defensive-minded Dom Capers, was provided few skill weapons and was just in general never given the right opportunity to win. Vince Young actually had a few solid seasons, including winning the 2006 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. After reaching the playoffs in 2007, 2008 held high expectations for Young and the Titans, but injuries and psychological problems drove him somewhat crazy. Young’s coach at the time, Jeff Fisher, notified police of him mentioning suicide and driving home with a gun. Also, spending $600 on shots of Cognac might not have been the best idea for a now bankrupt Vince Young.
Drafting the oldest player in the first round ever in Brandon Weeden at age 28 is only a mistake the Cleveland Browns can make. Releasing him less than two years later (no QB drafted in the first round has ever been cut as soon as Weeden) is only a piece of history the Cleveland Browns can make. EJ Manuel might be the most forgettable NFL draft bust ever, being benched for Kyle Orton is something incredibly difficult to do. Jake Locker managed to put together a win total of nine games before calling it quits and retiring after 4 short seasons. Former #17 overall pick Josh Freeman was playing in the “Fall Experimental Football League” with the Brooklyn Bolts before signing a contract with the Colts. To be frank, a lot of the quarterbacks selected since 2000 have been tremendously awful. However, one of these 24 quarterbacks is ultimately the epitome of a QB draft bust; Jamarcus Russell.
In the pre-draft process of the 2007 draft, Jamarcus Russell was widely considered a “can’t miss” prospect despite being the size of and having the mobility of a left tackle. Mel Kiper was enamored with the 6’5, 250 pound mammoth of pocket passer;
“Jamarcus Russell is going to immediately energize that fan base, that football team — on the practice field, in that locker room. Three years from now you could be looking at a guy that’s certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league.”
Todd McShay was no different;
“I can’t remember being in such awe of a quarterback in my decade of attending combines and pro days. Russell’s passing session was the most impressive of all the pro days I’ve been to.”
Lane Kiffin, the Raiders coach at the time, was 100% sold on Russell as a franchise quarterback;
“He’s like a video game. There’s not a throw he can’t make and there’s some he can make I’m not sure anyone else can make. That’s exciting.”
After the Raiders selected Russell with the first pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the first red flag arose; Russell held out and missed the entire summer training camp. It was until week 2 of the regular season when Russell finally signed his six-year contract worth $68 million. In his rookie season, Russell started only four games, completing 36 of 66 passes for 373 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. Russell’s sophomore season was much more respectable; in 15 games he completed 198 of 368 passes for 2,423 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Russell’s third and what ultimately became his final year in the NFL went downhill fast. In the summer, Tom Cable named Russell the starter, but after a 2-7 start, Russell was benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski due to poor play. Russell made only two more appearances during the 2009 season, but only due to injuries to then-starter Gradkowski and his replacement Charlie Frye. Russell finished the 2009 year with the lowest quarterback rating (50.0), lowest completion percentage (48.8), fewest passing touchdowns (3) and fewest passing yards (1,287) among quarterbacks in the NFL.
In the off-season of the 2010 season, Adam Schefter reported that Russell weighed 290 pounds. After the Raiders traded for Jason Campbell, there were five quarterbacks on the roster and Tom Cable hinted at the imminent cutting of Jamarcus Russell; “What it comes down to is that we’ve got five quarterbacks now and we’re going to have a great competition. There will be some decisions to be made here in the next month or so.” On May 6, 2010, just 3 years after the Raiders invested a first overall draft pick in him, Russell was released, ultimately ending his NFL career.
Not only did Russell’s underwhelming production on the field make him the biggest draft bust since 2000, but it’s the fact that the Raiders could’ve drafted at least five different surefire Hall of Famers instead of him. Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Patrick Willis and Marshawn Lynch were all selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft, after Russell.
NFL Media reporter Steve Wyche labeled Russell as the biggest NFL Draft bust in the history of the NFL, specifically pointing out the financial repercussions (before new CBA);
“How bad was Russell’s short-lived career in Oakland? Consider what the Raiders received with their nearly $40 million investment: $5.7 million per victory (7 wins in 25 starts), $2.2 million per touchdown pass (18 in three seasons), and $113,000 per completion (354 in his career).”
At the end of his short-lived career, former #1 overall, $68 million man Jamarcus Russell provided the Raiders with a 52.1% pass completion, 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, 15 fumbles lost, an overall passer rating of 65.2 and zero playoff appearances.
Jamarcus Russell may be considered by many as the biggest draft bust in the history of the NFL, but there are investments that don’t work out in every sport. Analysts spend months in advance of the NFL draft debating and explaining why or why not a player will succeed at the professional level. There’s no science to figuring out if these draft picks will actually produce the way scouts and general managers expect them too, these draft picks are all based on chance. Given the history of selecting quarterbacks in the first round, if a QB actually ends up being productive, general managers breathe a sigh of relief, almost as if they’re happy they didn’t select the next Jamarcus Russell. Nobody saw Jamarcus Russell flunking out of the NFL after three short seasons.
There are many reasons why Russell didn’t work out in the NFL; the enormous amount of pressure that came with being the #1 pick, the amount of money given to him at a very young age, the pressure put on him by the players selected after him or maybe it was just the fact that the Oakland Raiders did not put him in a stable position to win football games. Whatever the reason was, Russell has now become the poster child for what not to become in the NFL, his name will always be brought up when discussing the worst draft picks in the history of the NFL. But when you throw more interceptions than touchdowns and show up to training camp weighing nearly 300 pounds, you deserve the label of being the worst draft pick in the history of the NFL, and nobody will feel sorry for you.