Making JaMarcus Russell the #1 draft pick in 2007 was an easily avoidable mistake

Sam Obitz / May 3rd, 2010 / No Comments »

Sure it is easy to play Monday morning quarterback and sit here three years later and say it was a mistake. However, unlike all the pundits who are currently talking about what a mistake it was, I am going to tell you why I think it happened and how it could have been avoided at that time. Many teams in the NFL, when selecting players, still place too much emphasis on the physical side of the equation and not nearly enough on the mental side. The Raiders appear to be among the worst mental evaluators of them all, making me wonder if they do any mental evaluations prior to making their selections. In this article which tries to name the top 10 Raider draft picks of all-time, not one player on the list was drafted before 1988! It’s unrealistic to think any player drafted in the past five or six years would have already made the list, but ZERO out of the previous 22-years seems to defy the odds even more.

I suspect that throwing darts at available player’s names for every pick in those other 16 drafts, would have produced at least one player who made the list. In the 1998 draft, there were two highly regarded QB’s expected to go with the first two picks of the draft: Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. The teams holding those picks did mental evaluations and what they revealed were that one of them was likely to have a long and potentially outstanding career and the other was likely to be a flop. So you ask then, why did the Chargers select Ryan Leaf ? The reason was by the time they got the mental evaluation on him they had already publicly backed themselves into a corner saying they would take whoever the Colts did not end up selecting. They tried to unload the pick but the word on Leaf was already out and they were stuck having to hope that the mental evaluation was wrong; it wasn’t. Ever since that draft the smart teams have put a lot more emphasis on the mental side.

Did the Raiders do a solid mental evaluation of Russell? I doubt it, as there were several things you can see from the outside looking in that raised red flags about him before the draft. I ask players two simple questions that by themselves give me a good read on whether they are going to be successful or not. Even if they did, it is clear they do not put much if any stake in them just looking at their selections going back over 20-years (now they may have two of the worst QB selections of all time in Russell and Todd Marinovich). The bottom line is that freakish physical skills alone, at the quarterback position, may help you dominate in college but are always exposed in the pros without the proper mental skills. I would even argue that physically, Ryan Leaf was a better pick than Peyton Manning, but that’s not the most important thing at the highest levels. I bet the Raiders would have drafted Leaf over Manning, if they had the number one pick in 1998.

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