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NFL Combine Snap Judgments

Russell's No. 1 prospects and Quinn's Irish heritage

Posted: Friday February 23, 2007 7:42PM; Updated: Saturday February 24, 2007 10:35AM
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The NFL draft is still nine weeks away. But LSU junior QB JaMarcus Russell appears to be a lock for the No. 1 overall pick (Raiders).
The NFL draft is still nine weeks away. But LSU junior QB JaMarcus Russell appears to be a lock for the No. 1 overall pick (Raiders).
Bob Rosato/SI

INDIANAPOLIS -- Random thoughts on quarterback day at the NFL Scouting Combine. Or rather, the day we get to chat up the quarterbacks. Those who will deem to work out here won't start airing it out until Sunday ...

• Whether or not LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell is the real deal remains the biggest question swirling this draft season.

We in the media got our first real look at him Friday -- all 6-5, 265 pounds of him. And while he's not much of a talker, he sure has NFL types lining up to say plenty about him. And so far, I can't find many doubters when it comes to the big-armed passer, who most are projecting to go first overall, to the Oakland Raiders.

"He's got the most spectacular physical skill set of any college quarterback I've ever seen,'' said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who, for my money, is the most credible of all draft experts. "He can make every throw. He's got better touch and accuracy than I expected for a guy his size, who has a minimal number of snaps. From a physical perspective, he's scary good.''

Mayock does have some reservations about Russell, but they deal more with how instant riches might affect the LSU junior's desire to improve and succeed, and what kind of coaching he'll receive once he gets to the NFL.

"If a team is going to hand him $20 million to $25 million, it has to know, 'How much this kid loves the game?''' Mayock said. "And wherever he ends up, the situation will dictate whether he becomes a perennial all-pro or just a guy. Because I think he has to be involved with a quarterback coach or a coordinator who sits on him every snap of practice. If he doesn't get that, there could be a tendency for him just to coast or get by on natural ability.''

But what natural ability it is. Russell won't throw or run at the Combine, and has been counseled to wait to work out until his March 14 Pro Day at LSU. You can be sure that NFL personnel men and coaches will begin to pick Russell's game apart in the coming weeks; but right now, his powerful right arm and eye-opening size has elicited more awe than anything else.

"When you consider his size and couple that with some of the things he's done on the field, it becomes pretty impressive,'' new Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt told me Friday. "Byron Leftwich was a big guy coming out a few years back; but this guy's not that same guy. He's a big guy, but with a different body type. He's not just a good pocket guy, like Leftwich.

"You watch him and you see him move well in the pocket, and you see him make some throws on the move, and on a line. You also see him make a throw on the move that involves touch. He can do all of that, and he's hard to bring down in the pocket. It makes for quite a combination.''

It's early, but this is a league that hasn't found much not to like about Russell so far. Unlike the past couple of years, we may actually have no real issue about who goes No. 1 in April. Everyone else's candidacy may end up relegated to the sizable shadow cast by Russell.

• Size was also the issue that everyone wanted to talk to Troy Smith about on Friday. The Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner measured in at the Combine at 6-foot, 225 pounds. And yes, that included the chip on his shoulder.

I can't really blame Smith for being a bit defensive about his lack of prototypical NFL quarterback height. I mean, what can you do about how tall you are? Or, in this case, aren't? The guy gets told he's the best college football player in the nation one minute, and then he's peppered with questions about being vertically challenged the next.


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