OAKLAND — Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman lost his first six starts as a rookie in 1989. Same goes for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning in 2004. Eli's older brother Peyton went 1-5 in his first six starts for the Indianapolis Colts in 1998.
Needless to say, those three quarterbacks survived the growing pains in fine shape. They emerged as polished quarterbacks sporting Super Bowl rings and, in the case of Aikman, a yellow Pro Football Hall of Fame blazer.
Yet, for every Aikman, there's a Tim Couch, who flamed out in a hurry. For every Manning, there's a David Carr, who is hanging on to a clipboard and his NFL career these days.
Every quarterback selected No. 1 in the NFL draft gets ascribed greatness by the multitudes. It wasn't any different for Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell when he arrived in 2007. Now, things don't seem as clear-cut. However, history is filled with cautionary tales about judging a quarterback too soon in his NFL career.
"We've got a plan here," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "We've got to develop this young quarterback. We have to, and sometimes you've just got to be stubborn about it. Obviously, we have been lately. The thing we all have to keep in mind is, there's a process going on with that quarterback. He's the future of the franchise. To retard that would be foolish."
Russell started one game as a rookie last season and all five of his team's games this season. Today's game against the New York Jets marks his seventh career start. It likely will be some time before we know how his career is destined to play out.
For instance, Aikman lost all 11 games he started as a rookie. He guided the Cowboys to the first of three Super Bowl victories in a four-year span in his fourth year.
Eli Manning lost his first six starts in 2004. By then, the boos, incessant media hounding and comparisons to his older brother became part of his everyday life. It wasn't until last season, when he led the Giants to a Super Bowl victory, that he fended off all criticism.
Peyton Manning fared even worse in his first six starts. Sure, he won a game during that span, but he also had 14 passes intercepted, eight more than he had for touchdowns. Soon thereafter, his career took off into a stratospheric level.
The same can be said for former Denver Broncos star John Elway, former Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett and numerous others who struggled early in their careers.
Few No. 1 picks succeed right away at quarterback. It takes more than a handful of games and, in many cases, two or more seasons before a quarterback matures into the player the team envisioned when it ponied up tens of millions for his services.
That makes Russell part of the norm and far from a bust in the making. After all, despite a 1-5 record through his first six starts, he has more yards than Eli Manning and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick did at a comparable time in their development, as many touchdowns as Vick and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, and far fewer interceptions than both Mannings and Palmer.
Russell, 23, realizes the pressure he is under. He knows that with the $32 million he is guaranteed to receive after signing his first contract comes a ton of responsibility as the savior of a franchise that has won 20 of 85 games since the 2002 season.
"I am," Russell said, "and I thank God for that, that I'm in this position. It's your face that's out there when people say 'the Oakland Raiders.' So, you have to carry yourself in a good way and watch your surroundings.
"You have to be willing to take any criticism that comes with it. Just by growing and being around older guys, I've learned to handle things. I know I have to, no matter what comes, look forward because better days will come."
Former Raiders coach Norv Turner is credited with developing Aikman into an elite player. He said he likes what he has seen of Russell so far this season.
"He looks a lot more comfortable," Turner said of Russell this season. "He has all the physical skills, and he does look like he's making the progress that you'd want a guy to make."
Contact Steve Corkran at email@example.com.
Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell has started six games -- five this season -- during his two-year NFL career. What follows is a look at how some notable quarterbacks selected No. 1 in the NFL draft in recent seasons fared in their first six starts:
Player Year drafted Atts.-Comps. Comp. pct. Yards TDs Ints. Sacks
Peyton Manning 1998 123-210 58.6 1,364 6 14 11
Michael Vick 2001 70-131 53.4 794 5 1 19
Carson Palmer 2002 116-211 55.0 1,221 5 9 15
Eli Manning 2004 74-161 46.0 833 3 6 11
JaMarcus Russell 2007 90-165 54.5 1,051 5 3 16