Former Ravens coach Brian Billick will be forever linked to Kyle Boller. When Billick was in Baltimore, the Ravens traded a future first-round pick for the right to draft the California quarterback 18th overall in 2003. Boller never lived up to the hype, but at the time the Ravens were convinced that Boller would be very successful.
According to Billick, though, Boller wasn't the best college quarterback prospect he saw in his time here. That would be JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.
In a Thursday morning appearance on ESPN Radio, Billick was asked about Ryan Tannehill, the Texas A&M quarterback who could be a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft. He compared Tannehill's rise on draft boards to that of Russell, who was selected by the Oakland Raiders. And then he shared this interesting Ravens tidbit.
"We did a pretty decent job [with the draft], and obviously they continue to do a phenomenal job in Baltimore, with [Ravens G.M.] 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."
Wow. And what a colossal mistake it might have been for the Ravens had they been in position to select Russell.
Sure, a decent argument can be made that Russell's career might have turned out differently had he joined a stable organization like the Ravens. But Russell fell well short of living up to that six-year, $61 million deal he signed with the Raiders. He survived three years in the NFL, throwing 18 touchdowns against 23 interceptions and fumbling 22 times. Russell, who had a career passer rating of 65.2, last played in the NFL in 2009. Here's what he's up to now.
Of course, the Ravens were coming off one of the most successful seasons in franchise history when Russell was selected first overall. Led by Steve McNair, acquired from the Tennessee Titans before the 2006 season, they finished 13-3 and won the AFC North before losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC divisional round.
The Ravens, according to Billick, graded Russell highly before the draft, but who knows how much they scrutinized him because they knew there was no chance that they would be able to select him. Russell was probably already partying somewhere by the time the Ravens took guard Ben Grubbs at No. 29 in the first round.
The Ravens were in the market for a franchise quarterback -- and a replacement for McNair and Boller -- a year later, and they went with another big-armed quarterback who rocketed up draft boards in his senior year. Some guy out of Delaware named Joe Flacco. It looks as if Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens have done OK with that pick.