When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took to the podium at the 2007 NFL Draft to announce who the Oakland Raiders had decided to select with that year’s number one pick, quarterback JaMarcus Russell had no idea that moment would be the highlight of his career in professional football. The former LSU quarterback walked up on the stage at Radio City Music Hall in New York, New York, put on a silver and black Raiders hat, and celebrated the fact that he had accomplished his dream of making it to the NFL.
But Russell did not know that his dream was far from being accomplished. Yes, he was now a member of an NFL team, but he quickly learned that this is the league that truly separates the boys from the men.
At just 21-years-old, the quarterback was expected to figure out how to lead a horrible Oakland franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. While some people his age were waking up at two in the afternoon and binging on beer and Hot Pockets, Russell had to grow up fast if he wanted to be successful in the NFL.
To make it even harder for the quarterback, his own head coach did not even want to draft him. Entering his first season as the Raiders’ head coach, Lane Kiffin reportedly begged late Oakland owner Al Davis not to draft Russell and instead select Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
But Davis went with the quarterback and Kiffin had to figure out what to do with him.
“I do realize that you did not want us to draft JaMarcus Russell. He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field, that is what you were hired to do.”
Al Davis, former owner of the Oakland Raiders
In his first season with the Raiders, Russell only managed to play in four games. Yet, he obviously did enough during his first year to convince Oakland to name him as the team’s starting quarterback for the 2008 season.
The Raiders started out 2-8 that year and the young quarterback was clearly overwhelmed with the duties that came with being an NFL starting quarterback. During a 24-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9, Russell finished the game with just 31 passing yards.
Tom Brady passes for more than 31 yards when he sneezes.
Russell ended 2008 with just 2,423 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and eight interceptions as Oakland only won five of the 15 games he started under center. It did not get much better for the quarterback in 2009 as he was benched by the Raiders midway through the season and was later demoted to being the team’s third-string quarterback.
The following offseason, Russell’s weight was reportedly close to 300 pounds. This would have been fine if he was an offensive lineman, but a quarterback playing at that weight is surprisingly not that enticing for most NFL teams.
His passion for the game was also questioned on numerous occasions during his career.
“(Raiders) coaches suspected Russell was not studying the game-plan DVDs they gave him each week, so they sent him home with a blank DVD. The next day, they asked Russell what he thought of the game plan. He said it looked good to him.”
Scott Ostler, SFGate.com
With his weight out of control and his salary not matching up with his production level, Oakland opted to release Russell in May of 2010. The 2009 season would eventually be known as his last in the NFL.
Following his release from the Raiders, the quarterback began to spiral out of control. He was arrested in the summer of 2010 for being in possession of codeine syrup without a prescription.
He was eventually never indicted for the charges he was arrested for, but the situation basically eliminated any small chance he had at returning to professional football.
Despite his arrest and unflattering playing career with Oakland, Russell made three separate attempts at a comeback in the NFL. But each time, his efforts were still not enough to convince a team to add him to their roster.
Most recently in 2016, he even went as far to say he would play a year for free if an NFL team gave him a chance.
At his current age of 31-years-old, it is always possible that Russell could find himself back in the league one day. But it is also possible that Rob Gronkowski could be come a world famous figure skater one day.
Both have a similar chance at coming to fruition.