It’s bad to make a mistake on a No. 1 draft pick. It’s worse to pretend it isn’t a mistake and try to justify it. That’s where the Raiders are now with JaMarcus Russell.
In 2007, when the Raiders had that top pick, they drafted Russell, who had a great college career. He was not a polished quarterback, but he had the strong arm Al Davis loves, and it seemed he could be developed.
It hasn’t happened. If anything, Russell has regressed since the end of last season. He won’t face reality, either. He claimed that pass interference should have been called on both of his early interceptions in the lopsided loss to the Denver Broncos at the Coliseum on Sunday.
This is a time when rookie quarterbacks are making a splash in the NFL. Mark Sanchez has led the Jets to a 3-0 start. On Sunday, Matthew Stafford led the Lions to their first win since 2007. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco had strong seasons last year, and Flacco has stepped up his game this year. All have come into the league since Russell.
The Raiders signed Jeff Garcia in the offseason and they’d be far ahead of where they are if they were playing him now, but Garcia realized that he would have no chance to play in Oakland, so he asked for his release. He’s since signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Russell is going to play, no matter what. Davis’ puppet, Tom Cable, made that clear after Sunday’s loss. Davis doesn’t like quarterbacks like Garcia or Ken Stabler or Rich Gannon. All they do is win. Give him a guy who can fling the ball 60 yards down the field.
Davis drafted Eldridge Dickey, who never started a game. He traded Stabler for Dan Pastorini, who was so ineffective on the Raiders that fans cheered when he broke his leg in a game, making room for Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls for the Raiders. He signed Jeff George, who didn’t win for the Raiders, or anybody else.
When the Raiders had success, there was usually somebody who would tell Davis he was wrong, from Ron Wolf to Jon Gruden. Now, he listens only to those who say, “Yes, sir, Mr. Davis.”
So, the Raiders are stuck with Russell.
It isn’t just Russell. Tight end Zach Miller is his only reliable target. Rookie Louis Murphy, a fourth-round pick, has his moments, but he sometimes runs the wrong route. First-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey has caught only one pass in three games. After one game in which he didn’t catch a pass, he said he was doing his job because he was clearing out the area for other receivers. Oh, my.
But there’s no question the main problem is Russell. He is woefully inaccurate, below 40 percent in the first two games. His completion average went up against Denver because most of his completions were dump-offs or screens; his per pass average of five yards tells a more complete story.
He has no work ethic. He reported far overweight and is still far from being in good condition. Reportedly, he does little of the video watching that made Gannon so successful. He has no leadership qualities. All he has is a strong arm, which is enough for Davis.
The seventh straight double-digit loss season is looming.
Raiders at Texans
WHEN: Sunday, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Reliant Stadium, Houston
TV: CBS (KPIX, Ch. 5)
RADIO: KSFO (560 AM)