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Brian Billick offers a cautionary tale on JaMarcus Russell

JaMarcus Russell

Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell (2) walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009. The Redskins won 34-13. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)


Few teams have drafted as well as the Ravens in recent years. But in a reminder of just how hard it is to get draft evaluations right every time, the former coach of the Ravens said this morning that one of the biggest draft busts in history was also the player the Ravens liked the best.

Brian Billick said on ESPN Radio that in his nine years as head coach of the Ravens, the highest grade Baltimore ever had on any player heading into the draft was in 2007, and the player wasn’t that year’s No. 2 overall pick, Calvin Johnson. It was that year’s No. 1 overall pick, JaMarcus Russell.

“We did a pretty decent job, and obviously they continue to do a phenomenal job in Baltimore, with Ozzie Newsome and his group,” Billick said. “JaMarcus Russell was the highest-rated player I’ve ever seen on any of our boards. So we all missed on JaMarcus Russell. Make no mistake.”

Billick (who will be a guest on Friday’s PFT Live) compared the way Russell shot up draft boards in the spring of 2007 to the way Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill is shooting up draft boards this year. Billick wasn’t suggesting that Tannehill will bust like Russell did, but he was saying that teams can sometimes fall in love with players for reasons other than what happened on the field during their college careers. And the Ravens certainly fell in love with Russell.

The reality is the Ravens knew they weren’t going to draft Russell: Baltimore went 13-3 the year before and had the 29th pick in the draft, and they were gearing up for another playoff run with quarterback Steve McNair while still hoping McNair’s young backup, Kyle Boller, would develop into a quality NFL starter some day. The Ravens probably gave that high grade to Russell without digging too deep because they knew he wouldn’t be coming to Baltimore.

But still: There are no sure things in the NFL draft. And if there’s a player you think might be, just remember that JaMarcus Russell once looked like a sure thing, too.