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Jameis Winston is not JaMarcus Russell

JaMarcus Russell, drafted by the Raiders in 2007, is perhaps the poster child for NFL quarterback flops selected No. 1 overall.
JaMarcus Russell, drafted by the Raiders in 2007, is perhaps the poster child for NFL quarterback flops selected No. 1 overall.
Published Apr. 26, 2015

TAMPA

If there's one thing that NFL scouts and personnel executives should be ashamed of this time of year, it's serving as one of the unnamed assassins that seem to surface the week before the draft in an attempt to devalue players.

The latest example appeared last week in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in which a reporter Bob McGinn surveyed 19 NFL executives in personnel, revealing that they think Jameis Winston is much more likely to be a bust than Marcus Mariota.

McGinn is a Pro Football Hall of Fame writer and nobody should have fault with his work. Given Winston's off-field questions, it's hardly surprising that some NFL executives would be skeptical of Winston having a bigger failure rate than Mariota at the next level.

What is questionable is that several personnel officials would compare Winston to JaMarcus Russell, the poster boy for quarterback busts.

Russell, the No. 1 overall pick of the Raiders in 2007 out of LSU, was done with football after three seasons with a 7-18 record (including a win over Jon Gruden in the final game of 2008 that led to the Tampa Bay coach's firing).

"Lack of focus by JaMarcus is what I see in Winston," an unnamed personnel man told Journal-Sentinel. "They're physically talented, but during the course of a game they kind of lose their focus and just put the ball up for grabs.

"I see the body. I see the lack of focus. I see the same coach and system. Only Winston's not as good an athlete and his arm isn't as strong as JaMarcus'."

Russell played under Jimbo Fisher when the Florida State coach was the offensive coordinator at LSU.

"We're looking at another guy (Winston) that's a product of the system and has tremendous athletes around him," another personnel man said. "Oh, my goodness.

"Is this guy really going to be the first pick of the draft? You'd be drafting a quarterback that can't run, has off-field problems, has no power in his legs and makes bad decisions on the field. Somebody's going to make a horrible mistake."

Another scout compared Winston to Russell this way, "He's got that same smile that JaMarcus had. They light the room up. That's what Jameis seems to be doing."

His smile? Really? Can you imagine a scout comparing a player's smile to Ryan Leaf's?

After his release, Russell was arrested, accused of possession of codeine, but a grand jury failed to indict him. He admitted to ESPN that he tested positive for codeine after the Raiders selected him No. 1 in 2007 and used the drug without a prescription. Nobody has ever accused Winston of having a substance-abuse problem.

What eventually torpedoed Russell's career was his lack of work ethic. He wasn't dedicated to his craft. He didn't love football or show the kind of sacrifice Winston has to become great.

Russell held out his first season, not signing a contract until the first game of the regular season and ending up starting only one game. He was fined for being overweight when he showed up to training camp in 2009. He completed 48.8 percent of his passes with three touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 50.0 passer rating that season, his last in the league.

As for that lack of focus? Winston threw 18 interceptions last season at FSU as a redshirt sophomore, but he was focused enough to bring his team back in games over and over again and finished 26-1 in his career. Dan Marino threw 46 INTs his final two seasons at Pittsburgh. Matt Ryan threw 19 picks his final season at Boston College.

"He doesn't have all-time great talent, but he's just clutch," one personnel man told the Sentinel-Journal. "He's pro-ready. It's clear-cut to me Winston's the best quarterback in this draft, talent-wise."

Clearly, not all the personnel executives surveyed had negative opinions of Winston. But for those comparing him to Russell, it seems more than just off the mark. Negative spin from NFL "sources" is often done to drive down a player's value, sometimes in the hope they fall to those teams picking lower in the draft. The same occurs when certain prospects are talked up in hopes of driving better players at another position further down in the draft.

Of course, all that matters is what Bucs coach Lovie Smith and GM Jason Licht think of Winston. If they're wrong, it will get them fired.

Ultimately, Winston might not succeed. But it won't be for the reasons Russell failed.