Russell's to blame for his failings, but Raiders should get the assist
JaMarcus Russell and the Raiders were a combustible pairing
Another Raider bust, Todd Marinovich, had career arc similar to Russell
After Lane Kiffin left, Raiders let Russell essentially do what he pleased
JaMarcus Russell is a big, big boy with an even bigger bank account and access to all kinds resources. So it's wrong to portray him as a victim.
But the Oakland Raiders sure didn't do him any favors, only aiding his path to becoming one of the biggest busts in NFL history.
Russell -- just 24 and already out of the league, released by the Raiders last spring -- was arrested this week in Mobile Alabama for illegal possession of codeine. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007 is a sad parable of excess, sloth and unfulfilled potential.
The rumors about Russell's drug use -- the slang term for a sweet mixture of codeine syrup, candy and soda is called "drank" -- were whispered nonstop throughout his three years with the Raiders. They were loud enough that the Raiders had to have heard them.
But if they did anything to help Russell with his problem, they've kept it to themselves.
But no one does denial like the Raiders. No one does messed up quarterback picks like the Raiders. Nineteen years ago, they selected Todd Marinovich whose career was an eerie blueprint for Russell's.
Would Russell have developed in a different way, with a more structured team?
Who knows? But with the Raiders it was almost guaranteed that he would succumb to his demons.
Al Davis makes the picks and he picked Russell -- which should have been a red flag considering Davis' poor track record with finding quarterbacks. But it seemed like a no-brainer at the time: Russell was big and strong and was coming off a terrific performance over Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. The Raiders needed a quarterback -- and hadn't had one since Rich Gannon retired. So they made Russell the top pick in the draft.
And trouble immediately started. Russell held out through all of training camp and into the first week of the season, a clear sign he was getting bad advice and cared more about money than playing. New coach Lane Kiffin -- understandably -- didn't want to leapfrog a kid who had never played into the starting position. So Kiffin limited Russell's playing time -- the rookie got into just three games, starting only the season finale.
In 2008, Russell was named the starter and there were signs of potential. Kiffin ran an offense designed to protect Russell -- which made sense given Russell's limitations. But Russell was becoming a major source of friction in the festering battle between Kiffin and Davis.
Kiffin was lukewarm from the start on Russell. Davis blamed Kiffin for Russell's lack of development. When Davis fired Kiffin in the famous overhead projector moment, Davis said: "I realized that you did not want to draft JaMarcus Russell. He is a great player. Get over it."
But firing Kiffin only made things worse for Russell. Kiffin had hired a professional staff and tried to run the Raiders as a functional team, after the chaos of Art Shell's second go-round. He actually had structure, and though he may not have liked Russell, he had a plan for him.
With Kiffin's dismissal, the Raiders returned to their normal dysfunction. There was little authority. And the message that Davis had sent -- that JaMarcus Russell had his full support -- meant no one was going to suggest that Russell was too fat, too lazy, too potentially involved with the wrong crowd or a bad substance. Who was going to pick that battle with Davis? No one.
So at 22 & 23, with $40 million in the bank thanks to the Raiders, Russell did what he pleased. And what he pleased was not about getting in shape, working hard or attempting to become an NFL quarterback.
Russell has only himself to blame for his disastrous career. But being drafted by the Raiders sure didn't help.