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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Russell vs Leaf - who's the biggest bust?

Some are arguing that JaMarcus Russell is the biggest bust ever. Some agree with me, that he isn't. This isn't to say he isn't a big bust. Sure he is, he's just not near Leaf-dom yet.

Look at who else was available that year (2007). When Russell was taken first overall, the next quarterback wasn't taken until 22nd. It's not as though Brady Quinn was such a standout that whoever didn't get the first shot would surely grab him second. Here's an article that covers it in more detail than I could.

No one can seriously suggest this is anything like the 1983 draft (Elway, Marino, Dickerson, Matthews...), you can't just close your eyes, swing a Nerf bat and swat Hall of Famers left and right in this draft. So, taking Russell wasn't a clear cut bust from the perspective that it's not as though there were a bunch of shining stars by-passed to take him.

After Peyton Manning, Leaf went 2nd, a much clearer "1 and 1a" scenario. Leaf went ahead of Charlie Batch, Brian Griese, and Matt Hasselbeck. Not exactly "Elway/Marino", but all serviceable quarterbacks, with some football pedigree (Griese) and Superbowl appearance potential (Hasselbeck) in their make up. As such, with other opportunities for San Diego, taking Leaf ended up being a lot less worth it than they could have been with other available quarterbacks.

Expectations for Leaf were high - some analysts suggested he stood a better chance for success in the NFL than some guy named Peyton Manning. Some said Indianapolis made the mistake in taking Manning ahead of Leaf. Did anyone, at any time, suggest Russell had that level of potential in him? Russell, in his draft, was more like "well, we've got to take someone" and he was about the best available QB. It took 21 other teams before one finally took a shot on Quinn. My respected and distinguished colleague, Big Mac, just posted that the recent turn of events was no surprise to him, he'd seen it from day 1 - clearly then, there's not a lot of disappointment here at all.

The other aspect in comparing these two is the manner in which these two players have melted down. Russell's issues are primarily taking their toll on himself personally. That lack of professional focus, the weight gain, there are obviously issues that he should address. But Ryan Leaf exploded outwardly and was just not a nice guy to be around, a far more cancerous agent in the dressing room.

And, statistically, Russell beats Leaf in almost every category. More wins, higher completion percentage, more yards, more touchdowns, half the interceptions, one quarter less fumbles. Here'sa decent rundown that also factors in their college careers, for what that's worth.

I must recognize, however, that Russell went #1 and Leaf #2. It's been demonstrated that Leaf could have been the #1 pick. However, comparing apples to apples, is there a #1 pick who performed worse than Russell? Here's a list - Lawrence Phillips jumps to my mind, but he did manage to last four years, one year longer than Russell.

The only other caveat here is that Russell has not yet retired. He could land elsewhere and revitalize his career, or at least slightly improve and end up a journeyman. Worse characters have had 2nd and 3rd chances in this league, that's for sure. Or, he could end up somewhere else and actually perform even worse - if his numbers dip to or below Leaf's, the rankings could change.

Anyway, as of this moment, I'm totally unconvinced that anyone - Russell or otherwise - is going to out-bust Ryan Leaf anytime soon.

One thing they have in common - both played for California teams. Ah, California, where a hockey team can win a Stanley Cup before they can figure out how to keep a football team in Los Angeles. What's up with that?

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