Quinn-Russell debate rages on

The Baltimore Sun

An unpredictable draft without a clear-cut No. 1 choice will start with debate, not consensus. It will start with the Oakland Raiders weighing the promise of JaMarcus Russell against the production of Brady Quinn.

Unless the Raiders obtain a veteran quarterback between now and noon tomorrow, they almost certainly will choose between Russell and Quinn, the 1A and 1B of quarterbacks, with the first pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

One has a tremendously strong arm and surprising accuracy.

The other demonstrated impressive consistency and leadership over four years, along with the ability to avoid interceptions.

Or, as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said recently, one has a higher floor and the other a higher ceiling.

The tremendously strong arm and higher ceiling belong to Russell, a 6-foot-6, 256-pound prodigy from LSU.

The consistency and higher floor belong to Quinn, a 6-4, 232-pound prototype from Notre Dame.

Let the debate begin.

"From a physical skill set perspective, I've never seen a college quarterback with more ability than JaMarcus Russell," Mayock said in a conference call. "You put the tape on and it's frightening."

Said Russ Lande, another draft evaluator and former NFL scout: "He can be a franchise quarterback. He can carry a team on his back. He makes plays to pull teams out of holes and beat teams with a lot better talent. He's freaky talented. He does things so few NFL quarterbacks could do."

Russell, a junior, is as tantalizing as any quarterback coming out in years. He reportedly can heave the ball 85 yards and already possesses the strongest arm in the NFL. His size and agility allow him to keep plays alive. He completed a staggering 68 percent of his passes last season, with only eight interceptions.

But he has started only two years at LSU and is raw.

Coming to a team like the Raiders, who scored only 12 offensive touchdowns and endured a league-high 72 sacks last year, might not be the ideal way to break into the league.

Not that it would be any easier for Quinn. But Quinn often had to carry an overmatched Notre Dame team. He was the school's all-time leading passer with 11,762 yards and 95 touchdown passes as a four-year starter.

Perhaps more impressively, he holds Notre Dame's three longest streaks for passes without an interception. Those streaks covered 226, 143 and 130 passes.

Mayock believes Quinn is a "franchise" quarterback. Lande isn't so sure.

"Quinn is a good solid prospect, but he's not going to be the star he's being made out to be," Lande said. "He'll be a decent quarterback."

Lande puts out his own draft publication, GM Jr., and he ranks Quinn as only the fourth best quarterback in the draft. He has Houston's Kevin Kolb second behind Russell and BYU's John Beck third.

"I charted 10 quarterbacks and [Quinn] was the least accurate of the 10," Lande said. "In six games [against strong competition] I saw, he played very well in one, decent in another and below average in the other four."

Mayock agrees with the accuracy issue on Quinn ("Every game he misses a couple wide-open receivers"), but defends him on the knock he doesn't play well in big games.

"I think that's a tough knock on the kid because, quite frankly, most of the games they lost, there was more talent on the other side of the field," Mayock said.

For all his promise, there is no guarantee Russell will reach his potential. He showed up at the NFL combine in February at nearly 300 pounds, an ominous sign for a player with the chance to make $30 million guaranteed in one swipe of the pen.

"The only thing that's going to keep [Russell] from being great is him," Mayock said.

"What it comes down to is you've got to figure out whether or not this kid wants to be the best quarterback in football. If he wants to be the best quarterback in football, he can be."


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