''It's tragic,'' said safety Calvin Branch, who was drafted by Oakland in 1997, the same year the Raiders made Russell the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. ''It's crazy when young people see an untimely death like that. It's so sad.''
Russell, 29, and a former teammate from USC who was driving both died after the car they were traveling in went out of control, hit a fire hydrant then slammed into a parked bus just after 6 a.m. local time.
''We are deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Darrell Russell,'' said the Raiders in a statement released Thursday afternoon. ''He was a brilliant athlete who met misfortune early in life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.''
According to a report on CBS2.com, the car -- a 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix -- left a near-50-yard path of destruction, jumping a curb and knocking over several news racks before hitting the bus.
A spokesman in the CBS2.com report said the car Russell was in might have been racing another vehicle before crashing.
Firefighters and paramedics on the scene worked for more than 25 minutes to free both men from the wreckage, according to the report. Russell was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center while the driver died shortly after being taken to UCLA Medical Center.
Former Raiders offensive lineman Lincoln Kennedy, who played with Russell for five seasons in Oakland, was understandably shaken by the news of his former teammate's death.
''Darrell was a good guy, he really was,'' said an emotional Kennedy while choking back tears. ''He was a big kid like me that had a big heart and (long pause, while sobbing). He couldn't say no to anybody. That's what had a big deal with his demise, especially in the NFL, because he couldn't let his friends go, from San Diego. He couldn't let his past go. He always wanted to try to take care and do for other people. It ended up bringing him down.
''He became so big and so much into himself that he didn't want to do what it took to stay in the league. He had a couple of chances and he could just never right the ship, could never get it right. I had to separate myself from him because I couldn't allow him to drag me down with him. As much as I tried to help him, I had to realize that, he's ultimately a grown man, he's going to have to make his own decisions. That's always the way I've treated people, with respect. The reason I'm so upset now is that I wish I could have done more to maybe prevent this. Because he was a good guy. He made some mistakes but he was a good guy who, when I talked to him last year, might have learned his lesson and was going to do better.''
Russell was the Raiders' first-round draft pick in 1997 and was the second player taken overall after St. Louis selected offensive lineman Orlando Pace. A Pro Bowl pick in 1998 and '99, Russell had an up-and-down career in which he recorded 28 1/2 sacks but was suspended three times for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
He attempted a comeback with the Raiders but was released in 2003. In 2004, Russell again tested positive for drugs and was suspended indefinitely.
Offensive lineman Adam Treu was also a teammate of Russell's, one of the few still left on Oakland's roster. He recalled Russell as a fun-loving prankster with overwhelming talent cut short by tragedy.
''It's very sad,'' Treu said. ''I just heard about it so I haven't had a lot of time to hear about it. But a fun-loving guy like that, you feel bad for his family and the people he was close to.
''I remember coming in as a rookie. I hadn't had a shoe contract yet and he had one. I remember him giving me some shoes because we both wore size 15. And his ability to jump the count in gap-blocking schemes when I was trying to run on scout team, trying to block back on him. It was very aggravating.''
According to Branch, Russell was a guest speaker at the NFL's rookie symposium in West Palm Beach, Fla., this past summer and used the platform to talk to other players about the problems he had in his career.