The only thing we enjoy more than a wild success is a massive failure. There's nothing quite so satisfying as pointing out the shortcomings of others. The internet encourages this binary view, and the clicks rush in for articles proclaiming the new hero or kicking dirt over the freshest corpse of a career.
As we creep ever closer to the NFL Draft, the single worst event on the American sports calendar, we are reminded today of one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history, our very own JaMarcus Russell. Russell helmed the flaming wreckage of a team that was the Oakland Raiders in Al Davis' last days after the Raiders selected him with the #1 overall pick in 2006.
He threw a bunch of interceptions, got sacked a lot, and completed around fifty percent of passes, more than earning a pink slip for his play on the field. Russell piled on top of that with his off field behavior, earning a reputation for laziness, gaining a bunch of weight, and eventually getting arrested for possession of codeine syrup in 2010. He is the poster child for draft bust.
JaMarcus Russell humbled himself and opened himself up for a new round of snark and mockery by writing to each and every NFL team this week, asking for a second chance. Russell is now a 30-year old player who has been out of the league for six years. The chances of him making a team are about the same as yours.
Even the news item ends with the rather brutal line, "Russell is done in the NFL, even if he doesn't realize it." It's one thing for a columnist or, er, a blogger to be so blunt, but that's a pretty harsh slam for a news story. But that's the reputation that Russell has fostered by his own actions. He is persona non grata in the NFL.
It's rather remarkable just how despised Russell is by the League. We're talking about a league in which almost everyone gets a second chance, except for JaMarcus. Ryan Leaf, the former patron saint for NFL draft busts, drew a paycheck from FOUR different organizations, and made the Cowboys roster after getting cut by the Chargers (and that's after he couldn't play his way off the Bucs' practice roster). And Leaf had a TD/INT ratio of 14/36, a career passer rating of 50.0, and a completion percentage of 48.4. Russell's numbers were bad, but they weren't THAT bad.
JaMarcus posted a 198/368 line for 2423 yards in his one full season as a starter. That's 53.8%, 6.6 YPA, and a TD/INT ratio of 13/8. His 77.1 passer rating wasn't any good, but it's also not get drummed out of the NFL bad either. Heck, compare his 2009 to Andrew Luck's first full season as a starter: 339/627 for 4374 yards, 54.1%, 7.0 YPA, 23/18 TD/INT, and a 76.5 rating. Luck's only real advantage is scale, throwing for nearly twice as many attempts.
This is a league that loves second chances for its quarterbacks, due to a scarcity of talent at the position. Tim Tebow got a second chance with the Jets. And a third with the Patriots. And a fourth with the Eagles.
But at least Tebow was a good guy. Russell sealed his fate with his arrest for possession of codeine syrup. Yes, I'm sure a league full of players doped to the gill with painkillers, steroids, HGH, and God knows what was terrified of the guy who wasn't even indicted of a drug charge.
Which of course brings us to Johnny Manziel. Manziel is about as close of a comp to Russell as we're going to get, at least when it comes to a wildly successful player in the SEC who then struggled as a pro, partly due to his off-field struggles with addiction. Manziel's career line is 147/258 for 1657 yards, 57.0%, 6.5 YPA, 7/7 TD/INT, and a 74.4 rating. That's square in JaMarcus territory.
But his off-field struggles are even more pronounced. He doesn't have a one-time arrest that was later dismissed by the grand jury. He has a long history of partying in public, which was kind of cute until it has spun into domestic violence and cocaine possession charges. He has already checked into rehab before, but now his substance abuse problems have spiraled past simply harming himself and now presenting a clear danger to others.
Yet the New York Times is writing articles about Manzeil as a human interest story. They close an article about a litany of alcohol and drug abuse, only casually reference that pesky assault charge, with a line about Manziel being teased about being a bust.
After the Browns cut Manziel, super agent Drew Rosenhaus signed him as a client. He has since quit, in the wake of the domestic violence indictment, but it shows just how committed the NFL was to giving Manziel another chance: he hadn't just retained a new agent, but the best in the business.
The NFL will always give you a second chance if you can throw the football, unless you are JaMarcus Russell. I admire that he's willing to swallow his pride and beg the league to let him back in, but his time for second chances long since passed.
But it's also time to stop comparing Johnny Manziel to JaMarcus Russell. Russell only hurt himself. Outside of his multiple run ins with addiction, Manziel is now on a second assault charge, and this one looks like it will stick. Only one of these guys deserved a second chance, and the wrong guy got one.
Both players will go down as among the biggest draft busts ever, but only one of them merits sympathy. It's never dignified to beg for a job, especially when it is so transparently a lost cause, but there is at least some nobility in Russell's words and actions: he has accepted responsibility.