Me First! No, Me!
Over the next eight weeks two quarterbacks will jockey for the top spot in the NFL draft
Posted: Tuesday February 27, 2007 9:06AM; Updated: Tuesday February 27, 2007 4:56PM
The annual rite of winter in pro football -- picking apart draft prospects -- was heating up last weekend at the sweatshop known as the NFL scouting combine. The two top candidates to go No. 1 on April 28, quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn, were getting it with both barrels, from the media and from scouts and coaches whispering among themselves. Quinn couldn't win the big one at Notre Dame, wasn't accurate enough, threw three or four brain-lock passes a game. Needed a haircut too. LSU's Russell was a little doughy at his weigh-in (265 pounds on his 6'5 1/2" frame), didn't have Quinn's college experience, isn't particularly mobile or consistent in his mechanics and -- this one from NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock -- might not have the work ethic or love for the game to justify the guaranteed $30 million the top pick will command this year.
When that last bit of combine prattle traveled the four blocks from the RCA Dome to the sixth-floor Omni hotel suite of Russell's agents just before midnight last Saturday, the 21-year-old quarterback, who left Baton Rouge a year early to enter the draft, just shook his head. But his uncle, Ray Russell, nearly jumped out of his chair. "Doesn't love football!" Ray said with disgust, his incredulity working him into a lather. "Put it like this: The boy's in 10th grade, going into 11th, and there's this quarterback camp that's supposed to be the best in the country, the Elite 11 in California. We get into our car in Mobile and drive 2 1/2 days to get to that camp -- so he can get the water bottles and help run drills for the 11 guys in camp. That's how important football is to him."
JaMarcus, though more subdued, was similarly indignant. "My junior year in high school, the week before the state playoffs, we're down 21-0 at halftime," he said. "We come back late, score to make it 21-20, and we go for two. I jump up and pass for it, and when I come down I get in a pile and my foot gets all twisted up. We win, but my ankle's swelling up real bad. They take me to the hospital. The nurse twists it around a little bit and says, 'Six to eight weeks. You're out.' They hand me crutches. It's bad all week. I get it packed a couple of nights in red clay and vinegar, like a cast. I don't know what that does, but I tried to practice a little on Thursday and played Friday night. Torched 'em. We won."
Over the next eight weeks the Russell-Quinn debate will be the hottest topic in the nonstop world of draft analysis. Film will be broken down, past performances picked apart in detail. Questions will be raised about each player's development, leadership ability, intelligence, arm strength, foot speed, conditioning, desire. The opinions won't stop coming until one is selected, most likely by the quarterback-needy Oakland Raiders, who own the first pick. The consolation prize for the other will likely be a job with the Detroit Lions (picking second), Cleveland Browns (third), Minnesota Vikings (seventh) or Miami Dolphins (ninth). Quinn is the ultrapolished son Marv Marinovich never had, dying to be the top pick; Russell is the polite upstart, refusing to politic for the position.
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