There are busts, and there are Pamela Anderson-busts. To be a bust as big as the Baywatch star’s, you must be selected in the top ten picks of the NFL draft and fail incredibly as a professional athlete. Ex-Oakland Raiders JaMarcus Russell and Rolando McClain fit the category.
The Raiders invested heavily in Russell and McClain and returned with nothing, so it’s understandable for those close to the organization to hold resentment against the two. The quarterback and linebacker respectively will be remembered as two of the biggest draft busts ever, but we can logically deduce who was worse.
Russell was drafted first overall in 2007 and McClain went ninth in 2010, and both lasted barely three years in the league. Their limitless potential was overshadowed by bad attitudes and laughable Sunday performances, which convinced team management to cut ties with them.
Russell was deemed the franchise savior, and at 6’6” and 260 pounds (coming out of college) with decent mobility and a rail gun arm, he aced the eye test.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, a CAT scan on the signal caller’s brain couldn’t reveal his lack of drive or care for anything football-related, infuriating coach Tom Cable and others as he missed team meetings and gave poor effort during practices. By the end of his tenure Russell’s colleagues didn’t want to join him on the field, which was evident by players’ body language.
And of course, Russell was an atrocious passer. His accuracy never improved from his LSU days, and he struggled to make pre-snap reads. In his final season as a Raider (2009), the quarterback completed less than half his pass attempts (averaging 5.2 yards per throw), totaling two touchdowns, nine interceptions and an atrocious 47.7 passer rating in nine starts. For his career, Russell was 7-18 as a starter.
McClain never shared a locker room with Russell, but the thrower’s spirit likely possessed the linebacker, as his Oakland stint was deja vu for the organization on the defensive side of the ball. Hailed as a strong leader at Alabama, the 2009 SEC Player of the Year couldn’t win his teammates’ hearts, and he bashed horns with coach Dennis Allen, which led to a two-game suspension.
McClain was a sloppy open field tackler and struggled to orchestrate the defense while calling audibles from the middle linebacker position. Last season, the physically gifted athlete became so unreliable he was removed from passing situations (for a rookie, no less), after being an every-down player for two years. Despite his advantageous upper-body strength, McClain only forced one fumble in 41 game appearances.
Both busts were considered the best prospects at their positions, although Russell was seen as the cream of his entire class by Al Davis (who may have forgotten to wipe the crust from his eyes at the NFL combine). Both failed to consistently inspire their units and win the trust of their coaches.
Russell caused more financial damage to the Raiders, walking away with $31.5 million in guaranteed money (earned through a lengthy holdout) as to McClain’s $23 million in hard salary (partly voided due to his suspension). Along the way, the former top pick undermined Cable’s authority (Davis temporarily vetoed Cable’s wishes to bench the flop in favor of Bruce Gradkowski) and disgraced the Raiders’ national reputation. McClain, for his all faults (i.e. arrests), simply enforced the “bad boy” image of the team.
As a quarterback, Russell was held to a higher standard than McClain, so his career implosion was more exceptional. On the bright side, he finally won something substantial.
Verdict: Russell over McClain. We don’t need the chains.