The NFL Draft theoretically gives the worst teams in the league a chance to reboot by granting them the opportunity to sign the up-and-coming college football players with the potential to help them reverse their fortunes.
Over the years, a number of franchises have managed to capitalize after being granted the top overall pick, as was the case when the Steelers drafted Terry Bradshaw in 1970 and the Colts scooped up Peyton Manning in 1998.
However, the nature of the NFL Draft means successfully predicting which guys will be able to live up to the hype surrounding them is much, much easier said than done.
A grand total of 14 players who’ve been selected first in the NFL Draft have gone on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but an even larger number weren’t even named to the Pro Bowl before their time in the league came to an end.
A good chunk of those guys would be largely forgotten by the vast majority of football fans if it wasn’t for the ever-popular conversations about players who failed to meet the lofty expectations that understandably come with having your name called before everyone else at the biggest event of the NFL offseason.
That list of “busts” includes the likes of Baker Mayfield, Tim Couch, and Courtney Brown (all of whom were selected by a Cleveland Browns franchise with a very rocky track record at the draft), but there’s really one man who stands above the rest: JaMarcus Russell, who was viewed as a potential savior after the Raiders picked him in 2007.
However, that did not end up being the case thanks to the unfortunate series of events that saw his career come to an end after less than three seasons and burdened the LSU product with an incredibly unenviable reputation.
How JaMarcus Russell became the biggest bust in the history of the NFL Draft
There was plenty of buzz surrounding Russell after the quarterback declared for the NFL Draft following his junior year at LSU, which was only compounded by the fact that year’s class featured a pretty stunning lack of highly-touted QBs (Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn was the only other person at the position to be selected in the first round and ended up going 22nd).
However, there were also more than a few red flags.
Russell showed plenty of flashes of brilliance during his time with the Tigers and turned a ton of heads with his physical performance at the NFL Combine. However, there were a number of concerns stemming from meetings and other interactions that made more than a few franchises ask questions about his mental fortitude and levels of commitment.
However, that wasn’t enough to stop the Raiders from selecting him with the No. 1 pick before sighing him to a six-year deal with a potential value of $68 million (including $31.5 million in guaranteed money).
Russell only played in four games during his rookie year (which included a lone start in the final showdown of the season). However, Lane Kiffin was impressed enough with what he saw to declare the QB would replace Josh McCown as the team’s starter—although things didn’t exactly pan out as envisioned.
In 2008, the Raiders posted a 5-11 record over the course of a year where Russell completed a dismal 53.8% of his passes while throwing eight interceptions and 13 touchdowns in the 15 games he started.
He got a chance to improve the following season, but he regressed in a fairly shocking manner. The Raiders once again went 5-11 during a campaign where Russell was replaced as the starter midway through the season, and when everything was said and done, he threw three touchdowns and eleven interceptions while completing less than half of his passes.
Things officially fell apart just a few months later after a report surfaced that claimed Russell had packed on enough weight in the offseason to surpass 300 pounds shortly before he was released by the Raiders on May 6, 2010 (he would never play another game in the NFL).
More details concerning his downfall would surface in the ensuing weeks, months, and years, including his reliance on codeine, the infamous anecdote about the coaching staff giving him a blank game tape he claimed he watched, and another story about his teammates bribing him with cheeseburgers in order to get him to prepare for opponents.
Russell understandably attempted to shy away from the public eye after his career came to an end, but in 2022, he shared his side of the story in an eye-opening essay he penned for The Players’ Tribune where he candidly discussed his battle with addiction, the grief that exacerbated it, and the other mental health issues he was forced to grapple with.
I’m certainly not trying to pile on, but from what I can tell, the 31 NFL games Russell played in before his time in the league came to an end marks the fewest of anyone selected with the top overall pick when you take injuries out of the equation (Bo Jackson, who refused to sign with Tampa Bay in 1986, still played 38 games with the Rams before a hip issue made him decide to focus on his MLB career).
There’s a chance someone could surpass Russell as the biggest NFL Draft bust of all time at some point in the future, but it would be quite the feat.