Posted on Mon, Feb. 26, 2007
A safe bet: Russell is a draft-day gem
By Gil LeBreton
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Two things have been made abundantly clear at this year's NFL Scouting Combine.
One is that LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell is going to make an intriguing first-round draft choice for the NFL team that selects him.
And two, I'm about to collect on a bet for a free steak dinner.
For those of you in burnt orange who are still watching replays of the 2006 Rose Bowl, let me explain that Russell is the tackle-sized, big-armed behemoth who quarterbacked LSU to a 41-14 Sugar Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
He dropped anchor on the NFL Combine scale last weekend at 6 feet, 5 1/2 inches, and 265 pounds. The assembled media gasped. Draft experts covered young children's eyes.
No one that big, it seems, has ever been polished enough or mobile enough to make the transition from college -- or from the National Museum of Natural History -- to the NFL.
Russell says that he can throw a football 50 yards -- while kneeling. Standing, he can heave it 80.
And thus, the no-longer-mighty Oakland Raiders are rumored to be keenly interested in making Russell the first pick in the April 28-29 draft.
I can smell the steak already.
Let me explain. We were riding back to the hotel in New Jersey after last December's Cowboys-Giants game. The rental car was full (read: witnesses).
A colleague was aghast to hear me say that Russell likely would not return for his senior season at LSU.
"Why would he come out?" my friend argued. "What's he ever won?"
"Why wouldn't he come out?" I replied. While Russell didn't win any Rose Bowls, his record as a starter in college was 25-4. His strong performance in November all but assured that he would be a high first-round draft pick.
And so we bet. My colleague, who shall remain nameless -- for the sake of this story, though, let's call him "Clarence" -- wagered that (1) Russell would not be foolish enough to declare for the NFL Draft, and (2) if he did, he wouldn't be selected in the draft's first three rounds.
"He won't get picked on the first day," my friend insisted.
"First day?!" I argued. "Clarence, he'll get picked in the first 15 minutes!"
Or something like that.
I'll soon be having, therefore, the filet mignon, cooked medium, with a small salad. Remind me to send JaMarcus a thank-you note.
But I'm no draft genius. Nor is my colleague draft-impaired.
What I realize is that he was simply giving me the stark, national, public conception of what had been an enigmatic young quarterback. My interest in Russell and his team was personal, and so I didn't expect my fellow wagerer to know first-hand about the transformation that JaMarcus had made, the increasing maturity that he had shown as LSU won its last seven football games.
Six games into the LSU season, I thought Russell was a tad fat, too. I wondered why he couldn't get the ball into the end zone at Auburn, and I blamed his fumble at the goal line for costing the Tigers the game at Florida.
And I wondered why Matt Mauck once had quarterbacked LSU to a national championship, and high school All-American JaMarcus Russell hadn't.
But Russell's performance at Tennessee -- and in the month that followed -- silenced all those questions.
In the Tennessee game, the LSU coaches seemed to turn Russell loose. He was already difficult to bring down in the pocket. Russell is so big, he truly does shrug away tacklers, allowing him more time to find his pass receivers. But against the Volunteers, Russell reminded everyone that he knows how to run.
He threw for 247 yards and three touchdowns that day and rushed seven times for a net of 71 yards. Defenses never played Russell the same for the rest of the season.
NFL scouts need not worry about Russell's extra 10 pounds. He'll shed them.
This is a mature 21-year-old who had the sense this winter to hire coach Tom Martinez, the man who helped mold Tom Brady into a Super Bowl quarterback. This is a grounded young man who worked with the medical people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Russell opened his own apartment door for 20 relatives and friends who fled flooded New Orleans. His most famous boarder, you might recall, was New Orleans blues legend Antoine "Fats" Domino, a relative of his girlfriend.
There is nothing wrong with either Russell's maturity or his work ethic. LSU fans can attest to that.
"Somebody's going to get a hell of a player," Martinez told Glenn Reeves of The Oakland Tribune.
"He moves well. He's very fluid, very strong, very agile with great touch. He's not fat.... If he had thick legs, he'd weigh 300 pounds.
"I know who I'd take," Martinez said. "A JaMarcus does not come along very often. There have been a lot of Brady Quinns."
JaMarcus Russell, in other words, is about to lose 10 pounds in winter fat, but gain it all back in his wallet.
First day? He'll be the first quarterback, if not the NFL Draft's very first pick.
Pass the steak sauce, please.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7760 email@example.com