The Oakland Raiders made JaMarcus Russell the first overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft. Russell’s potential is undeniable, his arm is one of the strongest if not the strongest in the league, and he enters the NFL with a chance to rank among the greatest professional athletes to come out of LSU. While it might someday be easy to compare him to the likes of former LSU standouts like Y.A Title and Bert Jones, both NFL quarterbacks, how will Russell stack up against other LSU greats? Below is a list of the greatest professional athletes to have come out LSU, ranked in descending order. Where will Russell’s name end up when his NFL career is done?
1) Shaquille O’Neal:
Easily one of the most recognizable figure in sports, Shaquille O’Neal’s tenure at LSU was not a long one, yet it’s hard not to be impressed with the overall collegiate and professional career of this gentle giant. During his two years at LSU, Shaquille was a two time All-American as well as the NCAA’s player of the year in 1991. His pro career has shined even brighter than that, and like former LSU alumni Pete Maravich, he was selected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. Along the way the 7’1″ O’Neal has collected four NBA Championships, three NBA Finals MVP, and two MVPs in the regular season. Shaquille has also collected an Olympic gold medal as part of the heralded “Dream Team” of 1996.
2) Pete Maravich:
One can’t think of the LSU Tigers without first thinking about the legendary Pistol Pete Maravich. The NCAA all-time and single season leading scorer was a wizard on the court for LSU between 1968 and 1970. Although having his father as the team’s coach probably didn’t hurt, Maravich averaged an incredible 44.2 points a game during his colligate career, doing so without the benefit of a three point shot. His pro career began when Pete was drafted 3rd over all by the Atlanta Hawks in the impressive NBA draft of 1970. Though he played spectacular for both the Hawks and later the Jazz, his individual performances were often hampered by the poor teams he played on. Still he had moments of shear brilliance on the court as both a ball handler and shooter, and he once scored an amazing 68 points in a 1977 game against the Knicks. That same year the five-time All-Star led the league in scoring with a 31.1 average. Pete finished his storied NBA career as one of the top 20 scorers of all-time, and in 1996 he was selected to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.
3) Steve Van Buren:
One of the NFL’s best entries yields from a long forgotten era. Steve Van Buren was a star halfback in the 1940’s who led the nation in scoring his senior year at LSU. Upon graduating Van Buren was made the third overall pick in the draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, where he went on to have a Hall of Fame NFL career. A versatile player who could play both safety and halfback, Steve was the backbone of an Eagles offense that won back-to-back titles in 1948 and 1949. Van Buren was the star of both of these championship games, scoring the only touchdown of the 1948 game in a blinding blizzard, and setting a league record with 196 yards rushing the following year. By the time that his stellar NFL career came to an end due to injury, Steve Van Buren had set a league record for both yards rushing and touchdowns scored.
4) Jim Taylor:
If Steve Van Buren was a great NFL running back so was fellow LSU running back Jim Taylor. Taylor who was picked in the second round of the 1958 NFL draft went on to start for four Green Bay Packer championship teams in the 1960’s, collecting a Super Bowl ring along the way for the 1967 game. A workhorse of a fullback who was a Pro Bowler for five straight years and a league MVP in 1962, Taylor set multiple rushing records for Lombardi’s fabled Packers. By the time his Hall of Fame career came to an end in 1967, Taylor had rushed for over 8,500 yards in the NFL, and had over logged over 10,500 all-purpose yards.
5) Y.A. Tittle:
LSU has not produced a more prolific NFL passer than the great Yelberton Abraham Tittle, better known simply as Y.A. Title. For JaMarcus Russell to out do Tittle’s NFL career totals he would need to pass for over 28,000 yards and more than 200 touchdowns, both numbers which would be much higher had Title not spend a few years in the AAFC. Though an NFL title escaped him and he ended up on the losing side of three straight championship finals, Tittle retired as a 6 time Pro Bowler and three time league MVP. To honor him, the New York Giants retired his number and the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him in 1971.
6) Billy Cannon:
Former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon enjoyed a legendary career at LSU, leading the school to a National Championship in 1958. To honor their star halfback the school retired his famed #20 jersey. After his career at LSU came to an end both the NFL and AFL made bid for Cannon’s service, with the AFL’s Houston Oilers winning the rights to sign him. This promptly gave the upstart league some badly needed prestige. Cannon went on to have a long career in the AFL (he also played one year in the NFL after the leagues merged) as both a halfback and a tight end, his best year coming in 1961 when the lead the league in both rushing and all-purpose yards.
7) Bert Jones:Long before there was Russell, there was Bert Jones. Bert became LSU’s first All-American quarterback when he finished 4th in the voting for the Heisman Trophy his senior year in school. Coming into the draft as a heralded passer with a strong arm, Jones was the second player taken overall in 1973 by the Baltimore Colts, a team for which he would become the NFL’s most valuable player four years later. Yet right when he was on the verge of stardom, a chronic shoulder injury robbed Jones of two of the next three seasons and he was never the same again. Bert Jones retired in 1981 for the Rams, but Colt’s fans will never forget his memorable double overtime 1977 playoff showdown against the Oakland Raiders, a game some consider one of the greatest ever played in the NFL.
With so many great pro athletes hailing from the same school, even a talented kid like JaMarcus Russell has a tough road ahead of him if he is to be considered among the greatest pros LSU has produced.