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Having the worst records in the NFL in 2006 gave the Oakland Raiders and the Detroit Lions the top two picks in April’s draft. Only one of those players selected will be on the field Sunday, though, in the season opener for both teams.
Russell, who passed for 3,129 yards and 28 touchdowns in leading LSU to an 11-2 record last season, remains in a contract dispute and is the only unsigned first-round pick.
The Lions, meanwhile, are hoping they didn’t make a mistake by drafting a wide receiver in the first round for the fourth time in the last five years.
Johnson caught 76 passes for 1,202 yards and 15 TDs at Georgia Tech last season, and joins a Detroit receiving corps that ranked fifth in the NFL in 2006 with 263.0 yards per game behind the efforts of Pro Bowler Roy Williams and Mike Furrey.
Williams, who was the Lions’ first-round pick in 2004, tied Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne for the third-most receiving yards in the league last season with 1,310. Furrey led the NFC with 98 catches and had 1,086 receiving yards.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” Johnson said.
With Russell unsigned, the Raiders will turn to either Daunte Culpepper or Josh McCown to help them rebound from a miserable season. Oakland dropped its final nine games and was a league-worst 2-14 in 2006 - posting its fewest wins since going 1-13 in 1962 in the AFL.
Culpepper, who signed a one-year deal on July 31 after an injury-riddled season with Miami, is battling McCown for the starting job. First-year Oakland coach Lane Kiffin has told the quarterbacks who won the job on Tuesday and that the rest of the team found out during practice Wednesday, but he will keep the Lions guessing.
“It’s simply a matter of always trying to gain a competitive advantage,” Kiffin said.
Culpepper, McCown and Andrew Walter shared time in the first three exhibition games before Kiffin said either McCown or Culpepper would be the starter.
“I don’t know the deal. I’m just working,” said Culpepper, who battled knee injuries in his last season with Minnesota before being traded to Miami in March 2006. “I’ve said from the beginning that no matter what my role, I’m going to help the team as much as I can.”
Culpepper has played in 11 games since the start of 2005, compiling 2,493 yards and 15 touchdowns. He had four touchdowns in the preseason.
McCown, who was acquired from Detroit in April, appeared in two games for the Lions last season.
“If our coaches think this gives us an advantage, then by all means you do it,” McCown said. “If it doesn’t, then who cares? No big deal, no harm done, other than some family members that wanted to know. Other than that it’s no big deal. I’m all for it as long as it can possibly help us.”
The poor 2006 season prompted Oakland to hire the 32-year-old Kiffin, the youngest coach in the modern NFL. With just a year of pro experience, Kiffin looks to improve an Oakland team that is 15-49 since 2003.
“There was nothing fun about what we were doing last year. Nothing,” running back LaMont Jordan said. “But Kiffin has definitely put back the fun in Raiders football. And I’m looking forward to see how this thing comes together.”
Oakland’s offense finished with the NFL’s lowest averages in yards (246.2) and points (10.5) per game, while committing a league-high 46 turnovers and allowing the most sacks (72) last season.
The Raiders played well on defense, though, allowing the third-fewest yards per game (284.8). That unit will now try to contain the Lions’ Jon Kitna, who returns after becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to take every snap in a single season as Detroit went 3-13 last year - its sixth straight season with double-digit losses.
Kitna had a league-high 372 completions and was fourth in the NFL with 4,208 passing yards. He also had 21 touchdowns for Detroit, which ranked seventh in passing offense with 238.8 yards a contest.
Detroit bolstered its backfield with the acquisition of Tatum Bell and signing of T.J. Duckett, as it is uncertain when Kevin Jones will return from a broken bone in his left foot that sidelined him for the final three games last season.
Jones, who was removed from the physically unable to perform list last Saturday, appeared in his first practice on Monday. He hopes to be back before an Oct. 21 matchup with Tampa Bay.
“I want to definitely be back before six (games),” said Jones, who rushed for a team-high 689 yards and six touchdowns on 181 carries in 12 games last year. “But I can start practicing now and take it day by day.”
Oakland is 6-3 against the Lions and has won four of the last five meetings. In the most recent matchup, the Raiders lost 23-13 in Detroit on Nov. 2, 2003. Oakland has won all four meetings when hosting the Lions.