It is a little perplexing that two groups would see him as an elite defensive player while another doesn’t think he is among the best 39 defensive backs in the country. Of course, not being on the watch list doesn’t mean you cannot win the award and Russell’s coaches may even be secretly pleased that he will come into this season with a chip on his shoulder.
(For the sake of reference, 5th-year senior cornerback Shane Walton was not a finalist in 2002 despite finishing among five finalists in the voting for the Nagurski award, won by future NFL All Pro, Terrell Suggs.)
If Russell is able to play his way into contention for the award and eventually pick up the trophy, it would be a first for Notre Dame. Bobby Taylor was a finalist in 1993 when the award was won by Alabama’s Antonio Langham, and Todd Lyght was a finalist in 1989 when USC’s Mark Carrier collected the trophy.