The JaMarcus Russell lottery ticket
What is JaMarcus Russell's upside?
Things probably aren't going exactly as planned if you are considering taking QB JaMarcus Russell on draft day, but could that just be a blessing in disguise? Taking Russell will cost you a 16th-round selection, but considering that most players taken there are either kickers or lottery tickets, let's focus on all the things that could go right when it comes to a potential jackpot if you draft him.
Let's start with the impact RB Darren McFadden could have on Russell. McFadden, the presumptive starter for the 2009 season, is an excellent receiver. In 2008, McFadden recorded 29 receptions and averaged 9.8 yards per reception while sharing time with Justin Fargas. Fargas recorded only 10 receptions all season despite being the clear No. 1 back for the Raiders. If McFadden can establish himself in that role -- something the Raiders drafted him for -- it's possible for Russell to find McFadden on another 30 to 40 passes throughout the season, which means another 300 to 400 easy passing yards for JaMarcus.
Next, say what you want about the overreaching that occurred during the NFL draft, but Darrius Heyward-Bey is an upgrade to whatever misfit you wanted to call the Raiders' No. 1 wideout last season. Heyward-Bey posted a 4.30 40-yard dash time and a vertical leap of 38.5 inches. At 6-foot-3, those numbers make him a physical force who will allow the Raiders to use him multiple ways to stretch opponents' defenses.
Continuing through the depths of wide receiver, we'll find Chaz Schilens, who showed a nice level of promise in his rookie season. Similar in size and speed to Heyward-Bey, Schilens demonstrated improvement early this preseason, and he should be able to offer a solid boost to Oakland's passing attach once he returns from the broken foot he suffered in mid-August.
Finally, Javon Walker was just been activated off the physically unable to perform list. As recently as 2006, Walker attained over 1,000 yards receiving. Obviously, Walker can't be expected to be a game-changing talent anymore, but when he played last season, he averaged 13.1 yards per catch, which is similar to veterans like Santana Moss and Derrick Mason. If he can manage to stay healthy enough to haul in 60 catches, you'd be looking at almost 800 receiving yards from his slot.
The further development of Zach Miller is also a plus that should add to JaMarcus' fantasy development. Miller posted the sixth-highest receiving yardage among tight ends last season, but scored only once, on a 63-yard haul. Considering that most offenses utilize their tight ends in red zone opportunities when mismatches are easier to create and as safety valves for other passing plays, it's not impossible that Miller could take a gigantic leap into the elite level of tight ends by receiving more targets in these situations. Assuming that Miller can grab five touchdowns in these situations, that's more free production to Russell this upcoming season.
Lastly, let's also remember the turmoil that surrounded the Raiders last offseason. They entered the season with Lane Kiffin as their head coach despite the fact that everyone with a pulse knew the Raiders didn't want him and Kiffin had little to no interest in remaining there. Unfortunately for the players, the financial stalemate that existed between Kiffin and owner Al Davis, who didn't want to pay Kiffin the remaining value on his guaranteed contract, was so transparent that it became the de facto topic of every media conversation from January 2008 through Week 4, when Kiffin was ultimately fired.
Obviously, the above analysis was done by looking though the rosiest-colored glasses ever worn by man. There's a lot that would have to break right for Russell to be worthy of being owned in standard ESPN.com fantasy football leagues. However, the question posed above dealt only with JaMarcus' upside. Considering how many things would have to perfectly align for Russell to be in a conversation about being a worthy fantasy backup, the one thing you should be taking from this piece is that it should take a little bit more than a minor miracle for JaMarcus to find his way onto your fantasy squad, and you are much better off picking up a lottery ticket elsewhere.
Ken Daube is a fantasy football analyst for espn.com. You can check out his espn.com fan profile by clicking here.
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