NEW YORK - JaMarcus Russell or Brady Quinn? That is one question. And then there is this one: What about Calvin Johnson?
One day before the National Football League draft, it is impossible to predict just what the Oakland Raiders will do tomorrow. Pick Russell, who is big, strong, and has that rocket arm? Or go with Quinn, the longtime Notre Dame starter who has been like a politician on the campaign trail, lobbying for Oakland's vote?
Or surprise many and become the third team to use the No. 1 overall pick on a wide receiver - the dazzling Johnson, who has been compared to Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, only without the baggage?
"I'm as in the dark as everybody is," said Gil Brandt, the veteran football man who now serves as an analyst and draft expert for NFL.com. "I'm anxious to see what's going to happen, to be honest with you."
While Brandt may not know - or probably, more accurately, may not be saying - whom the Raiders intend to pick tomorrow, he has developed a fairly reliable test for projecting an elite college quarterback's NFL career. Of the quarterbacks selected in the first round over the last 10 years, the ones who started 40 or more games on the college level have tended to be successful.
Five of the 10 players in the "40" club - Daunte Culpepper, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers - have taken their teams to the playoffs, and been to at least one Pro Bowl. Eight of the 10 are starting. Two - McNabb and Manning - have played in Super Bowls.
Only Cade McNown, the UCLA quarterback Chicago picked in 1999, can be considered a bust. He is no longer in the NFL.
In the "fewer-than-40" club, among others: Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf and Akili Smith - all colossal busts.
"When you look at this thing as far as who has failed and who has prospered, the guys who started more games tend to prosper," Brandt said. "I'd like to get something where you have a 90 percent prediction rate. That's pretty good."
And then there's Tom Brady, who defies predraft prediction. A two-year starter at Michigan (20-5), a sixth-round pick by the Patriots in 2000, three NFL championship rings. As with anything, there will be exceptions.
If you apply Brandt's theory to Russell and Quinn, then Quinn should be the higher pick. He started 46 games over four years at Notre Dame, and threw 1,602 passes for more than 11,700 yards, with 95 touchdowns and 39 interceptions.
Quinn has played in huge venues, in front of weekly national television audiences, under the enormous pressure of being Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The knock against him is that he never came up big in a big game, most recently in the Sugar Bowl against Russell's Louisiana State Tigers. But Quinn begs to differ.
"I think the things I've done late in games, if you go over my history of being at Notre Dame . . . the two-minute drives to bring the team back to kick a field goal to win, a touchdown to win, a winning drive, anything, it's all there," Quinn said yesterday during a luncheon at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.
Quinn also says that people who knock his accuracy based on his career completion percentage of .580 aren't taking into account the balls his receivers dropped or the balls he threw away because of pressure.
"It's funny, when people talk about accuracy, I'm like, they can't be watching film. They can't be, because what they use is completion percentage," Quinn said. "How is that really a good indicator of how accurate you are? It's not. It's going to be a little off one way or another, so what I think people need to do is start watching film, and I think they need to start seeing the types of throws you make, and things like that."
Russell started 30 games at LSU, including 12 as a sophomore and 13 last season as a junior. His 797 pass attempts are dwarfed by Quinn's, although his completion percentage is better at .619. Russell also threw 52 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, orchestrated eight fourth-quarter comebacks for LSU, was 25-4 as a starter, and led the Tigers to that 41-14 rout of the Fighting Irish in January.
And, Russell is 6-foot-6 and can sling a football 85 yards. He is, even by NFL standards, abnormal.
"In college, we ran so many formations and offenses, all the different ways of doing what [NFL teams] do," Russell said. "Looking at all [the teams who might draft him], I think I'd fit in anywhere."
Russell said he hasn't had contact with the Raiders since his visit to Oakland earlier this month. One of his representatives on Tuesday said that he thinks the Oakland front office is split among Russell, Quinn and Johnson.
It could come down to this: If the Miami Dolphins can get Kansas City to trade them Trent Green, the Dolphins presumably would release Culpepper. The Raiders could snatch up Culpepper, thus allowing them to draft a receiver - presumably a replacement for Randy Moss, who could be out the door - instead of one of the quarterbacks.
"My agent is handling all that stuff," Johnson said yesterday when asked whether Oakland has offered him a contract yet. "And, I'm not going to talk about what they talked about."
By tomorrow afternoon at the latest, we'll know the answer to Oakland's question.
ESPN 2 (8 p.m., NFL Network (11 a.m.)