Russell has upside as Raiders' starting QB

August, 24, 2009

Raider Nation and fantasy owners all over the world can rest easy. JaMarcus Russell has been named the starting quarterback for Oakland.

While it's easy to mock a franchise that hasn't won more than five games in a season since 2002, and has been among the worst offensive teams for much of that span, the fact remains Russell does possess significant upside, and the Oakland Raiders have to give him the opportunity to succeed. Jeff Garcia, picked up in the offseason after periods of production for Tampa Bay, has been able to move an offense the past few seasons, but doesn't throw nearly the same deep ball and can't stay healthy. And he wasn't the first overall pick of the 2007 draft.

JaMarcus RussellJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJaMarcus Russell may be ranked 26th, but he's still got plenty of upside.

Russell isn't going to be picked in many 10-team fantasy leagues, but to some he's an interesting backup option because he finished strong in 2008. He threw two touchdown passes in each of the final three games in December, actually winning two of them. Certainly the Philadelphia Eagles are convinced; the Raiders' win over the Buccaneers on the final day allowed the Eagles to make the playoffs. Russell threw two touchdown passes on the opening weekend and six the final three games, but in between he managed five in 11 games. He has to get better, right?

Raiders coach Tom Cable noted that Russell has improved over the summer, and Garcia really hadn't been able to push him due to a calf strain. Cable needs Russell to make strides during the regular season. Fantasy owners are currently drafting Russell as the No. 30 quarterback, after Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Michael Vick, among others. We project Russell for 2,641 yards and 14 touchdown passes, and the No. 26 spot among quarterbacks.

(Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz also discuss Russell's fantasy value in Monday's Fantasy Focus podcast. Listen)

• Speaking of the Raiders, running back Darren McFadden shows up on many sleeper lists, and that might seem wise since "starter" Justin Fargas has carried the ball three times in two preseason games, and might be limited again this coming weekend due to a hamstring injury. Don't let the preseason or potential sway you too much. Fargas remains a Raider and will get chances to run once the season starts, no matter his preseason performance. Michael Bush is scheduled to get the start against the Saints this weekend, and it's still possible he gains a significant role this season if he plays well. Any of the top three running backs could start for Oakland in Week 1, which is another reason why McFadden is probably being overdrafted.

• Speaking of quarterback situations that should have been settled by now, Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris expects to name his choice later this week between Luke McCown and Byron Leftwich. McCown played well over the weekend, and that's likely the reason the decision hasn't been made. Neither quarterback appears appealing in fantasy at this point.

• Don't get too worried about Carson Palmer being ruled out for this week's preseason game against the Rams. You don't want Palmer playing and risking more injury to his sprained left ankle. With veteran quarterbacks who have proven themselves, there's really no reason for them to play in the preseason anyway. Palmer isn't a safe fantasy starter, but I am seeing him on many sleeper lists.

• Speaking of quarterbacks, the Eagles likely will announce in the next day or so that Vick will be active Thursday night against the Jaguars. In this case it's nice for Vick to get out there and play, but don't read into the performance no matter what happens. He could go 10-for-10 with three touchdowns and Donovan McNabb remains the starter. He could go 0-for-10 and it wouldn't change his pending role.

• Rams wide receiver Donnie Avery was expected to miss four to six weeks after breaking a bone in his foot in early August, and certainly that might have affected his availability for the start of the regular season. Now Avery is a possibility to play in this week's game against the Bengals, as he's already running at full speed. Avery should be a sleeper to many, as he's the No. 1 wide receiver for the Rams. If injury isn't an issue, he has breakout possibility.

• Sometimes preseason numbers can matter. Former Denver Bronco Mike Bell stands to be next in line for backup running back attention in New Orleans should something happen to Reggie Bush, and as we all know too well, something will probably happen to Bush. Bell gained 100 yards on 10 carries against the Texans this weekend, including a 46-yard scamper, and he was relevant in fantasy back in 2006. Sometimes that's enough.

Eric Karabell | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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