2016 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Notre Dame CB KeiVarae Russell

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As you should know by now, our attention has now shifted to the 2016 NFL Draft as it relates to the prospects. From now until the draft takes place, we hope to profile as many draft prospects as we possibly can for you. Most of these player profiles will be centered around prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have interest in.

Another look at a corner. Notre Dame’s KeiVarae Russell. 

#6, KeiVarae Russell — CB/Notre Dame/5’11”/192 Lbs/Senior

The Good

-Long-limbed corner with good speed and quickness
-Able to stick in hip pocket of receiver throughout route
-Good balance and consistent play speed
-Clicks and closes quickly on throw
-Responds well to play action and has good recovery speed
-Solid tackler with good form.

The Bad

-Tall pad level and stiff hips in pedal
-Ball skills are below average and need work
-Doesn’t have second gear to stay with quicker receivers
-Fails to turn head and find the ball in coverage
-Can get grabby, leading to penalties

The Other

-Injury concern with broken leg suffered this past season
-Suspended for all of 2014 season due to “academic dishonesty”
-Originally went to ND as top running back recruit
-Started from first day on campus
-19 passes defenses and five career interceptions in 37 career starts

Film Breakdown

KeiVarae Russell has quite the story off the field coming out of Notre Dame.

It’s well-documented how Russell was dismissed from Notre Dame before the 2014 season due to “academic dishonesty,” but the way Russell responded to the problem showed a great deal about his character as a person, as well as his drive to regain status as a Notre Dame student-athlete instead of running away from his problems.

Following the dismissal, Russell went to a local community college and worked his butt off, pulling in two straight semesters of a 4.0 GPA, allowing him to return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

Unfortunately for Russell, he suffered a broken fibula late in the year, holding him out from testing at the combine or during his pro day, which could hinder his placement and value in the NFL Draft due to injury concerns.

That being said, if you look at the film and believe in it, Russell has the makings of a solid No. 2-3 corner who can play on the boundary, as well as in the slot.

During his time at Notre Dame, Russell often drew the toughest assignment each and every week, holding his own for the most part.
A former top running back recruit who made the switch to cornerback due to injuries at the position upon his arrival in South Bend, Russell made a smooth transition to the defensive side of the ball.

For him, the arrow still seems to be pointing upward, but just how high it goes and how well he develops aren’t certain at this point.

In both clips above, Russell shows a strong ability to stick in the hip pocket of receivers on 9 routes, but he doesn’t have that extra gear needed to really stay with the receiver down the field.

Despite having good speed in the 40 (4.47), Russell simply doesn’t possess that extra gear down the field to keep pace with receivers.

However, in both instances shown above, displays the ability to stick with the receiver. UMass’s Tajae Sharpe and USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster aren’t known as burners, but they’re good route runners that can lose corners in space.

Not here.

Russell is a sticky corner that likes to grab at his opponents in subtle ways down the field, trying to slow down or bump them off of their route, and most times it works. But there are times where he’s called for penalties that really hurt the defensive effort.

With the game getting called tighter at the next level, he’ll need to hide the grabbing or completely remove it from his game as to not draw penalties against faster receivers.

Where I do get concerned with Russell is in his long speed against long, fast receivers that can simply run by him, especially with his stiff, upright backpedal that gives him problems when he has to change directions quickly.

On the simple post route the Texas receiver is able to push Russell vertically before breaking towards the post, turning Russell around completely.

From there, Russell is simply in catch-up mode, but his lack of long speed really deters him in this area.

If he can work on his backpedal and clean it up, creating a smoother transition in his COD, Russell could become a really solid corner, pairing his 4.47 speed with his long limbs (31 5/8 inch arms).

Despite having below-average ball skills for the position, Russell can come up with some impressive interceptions like the one shown above.

I really like the way Russell isn’t overaggressive biting on the double move from Smith-Schuster.

By staying patient and reading his keys, Russell is able to stick with Smith-Schuster following the double move before making a tremendous play on the ball in the air.

Far too often Russell is too slow to get his head around to find the football in the air, leading to easier catches down the field.

When he’s able to get his head around he can make good plays on the ball. It will be up to his next coaching staff in the NFL to bring this out in him on a more consistent basis.

Russell also needs to work on his release in tight coverage.

Often times, Russell releases over his left shoulder, leaving him prone to quick moves inside like the one you see in the clip above.

While the receiver is able to get a clean release and work up the seam on the play, Russell does a great job of recovering quickly to get back on the trail of the receiver. Fortunately for Russell, the UMass quarterback didn’t even look his way, so his slip-up was covered up by the offense.

The same thing won’t happen next year in the NFL.

Outside of being an adequate cover corner, Russell is a defender that is willing to come up against the run and throw his hat into the ring to make plays.

He’s by no means a thumper, but he’s a sound tackler that wraps up and drags the ball carrier to the ground with consistency, which is what you’re looking for in a cornerback.

Against the run, Russell is not opposed to coming up against lead blockers.

Against Texas, Russell fills nicely here off the edge. Taking on the cut block, Russell is athletic enough to stay in the play, getting a hand on the Longhorn running back to slow him down, allowing his fellow defenders to close off the edge.

But what I really like about this play is the fact that Russell never gives up and fights to make the play in the very end.

He takes his craft seriously and works to make plays through sheer effort at times, which will endear him well to his next coaching staff.

With the right system, talent around him and the proper coaching, I could see Russell developing into a solid No. 2 corner that can allow defenses to blitz with abandon knowing that he can hold up on his own in coverage.

His versatility should get him onto the field quickly. Where he goes from there is completely up to him.

Projection: Mid-4th

Games Watched: vs. UMass (’15), vs. Texas (’15), vs. USC (’15)

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