ND A-to-Z: KeiVarae Russell

Potential first-round pick KeiVarae Russell returns to Notre Dame with at point to prove. The outspoken corner is next in the A-to-Z series.

How did KeiVarae Russell spend the past nine months?

Irish Illustrated travelled to Seattle to find out, revealing the guts of Russell’s workout regimen that’s returned him to South Bend for a final season. You can read the story on Russell’s comeback here, with the cornerback already back at Notre Dame for summer workouts.

As for where Russell slots into the Irish Illustrated A-to-Z series, few players have a better “Best-Case Scenario” than the outspoken cornerback who’s started every game of his Notre Dame career to date.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

Russell gets it all. Captain. All-American. Thorpe winner. First-round pick. That’s the ceiling for Russell this season. It’s an obviously optimistic take on where the cornerback can go in the coming year, but it’s not completely out of the question if he makes good on his potential. Regardless, Russell comes back to Notre Dame as its best cornerback since the Lou Holtz era. Grabbing a few more interceptions – Russell has just three in his career – is an area where Russell can take a big step forward. He had just one as a sophomore, and that came against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Would going in the third round of next year’s draft really qualify? It’s hard to create a worst-case scenario for Russell beyond last season’s suspension putting a layer of rust on his game that requires a few weeks of action to kick. Russell should quickly pick up where he left off as a sophomore to become Notre Dame’s top defensive back. Whether that’s good enough to be a first round pick next spring or just an early round pick is more the question. Regardless, there will be no fifth-year senior season for Russell. He’ll be in the NFL next year.

CAREER COMPARISON

Take your pick of Todd Lyght or Bobby Taylor. Even though neither were full-time starters as freshmen, both played and both shifted to corner during their careers. Lyght was first a wide receiver while Taylor was originally a safety. Both evolved into All-Americans, which is where Russell seems to be trending. Lyght ultimately went in the first round of the draft with Taylor going in the second. Each played a decade in the NFL. Taylor left Notre Dame a year early, which is something Russell will technically do with two seasons of eligibility remaining despite coming back as a senior.

DEVELOPMENT VS. RECRUITING RANKING

Believe it or not, ESPN ranked Russell as a three-star prospect out of high school and equal to C.J. Prosise, Mark Harrell and Will Mahone within that Irish haul. Scout, Rivals and 247 all saw a four-star prospect with an overall rank that ranged from No. 207 (Scout) to No. 122 (247). Regardless of the ranking, not one service projected Russell to develop specifically on defense, where he’s started all 26 games of his career. Rivals did list Russell as an athlete, although that was more a split between running back and wide receiver, where Russell played during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. In the end, everybody missed here in terms of position and talent.

Best Game

Russell’s best moment was his de-cleating of Nelson Agholor two years ago that capped Notre Dame’s defensive domination of USC in a game the Irish played without offense. But his best game helped announce Notre Dame as a legit national title contender when a freshman Russell posted a career-high nine tackles at Oklahoma, to go with a half a tackle for loss.

QUOTE TO NOTE

“He’s an alpha player. He’s got that warrior personality where he will hold others accountable.” – Brian Kelly on Russell in June

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