After a few days off due to some work obligations, we are back to our countdown and are going to be finishing this off at a fast and furious pace with just a week to go until the season officially starts. The #11 spot on our countdown of the top 25 players on the 2013 Notre Dame football roster is another player who was originally recruited for the offensive side of the ball before making the switch to defense last year – sophomore cornerback Keivarae Russell.
Notre Dame recruited Keivarae Russell as a hybrid wide receiver/running back to play a role similar to that of Amir Carlisle. When Russell signed his letter of intent though Notre Dame had early enrollee Tee Shepard already on campus and Carlisle had not yet decided to transfer to Notre Dame. After Shepard left the program before spring practice and Carlisle decided to leave USC for South Bend, however, the Irish faced a numbers and talent crunch at corner and suddenly had plenty of playmakers on offense.
When Russell reported to campus last summer, the coaches let him know that he would get a look at cornerback. After Lo Wood was lost for the season in camp, Russell saw an immediate opportunity for playing time and seized it over Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown even though both players had been in the program for a full year and were specifically recruited to play corner for the Irish.
Why Keivarae Russell could be ranked higher
Russell received freshman All-American honors last year despite playing a completely new position and being thrust into the starting lineup due to injuries. Now imagine what the sophomore could be capable of with a year of starting experience under his belt and an entire off-season to digest everything that he learned at a break neck pace last year.
Russell is an elite athlete and gives Notre Dame a combination of speed and cover ability at corner that they haven’t had in a long time. Even when Notre Dame has had strong corner play over the last few years from players like Robert Blanton, Mike Richardson, and even Bennett Jackson; those players have been more physical corners as opposed to speedsters like Russell.
If the old saying that a player improves the most between their freshman and sophomore years holds true for Russell, this young man has the ability to be ranked much higher – especially with a pass rush allowing him and fellow corner Bennett Jackson the ability to take more risks since they will not be forced to be in coverage too long on most plays.
Why Keivarae Russell could be ranked lower
While Russell was one of the biggest surprises of the 2012 season, there is always the risk of a sophomore slump – especially when a new position comes so easy to a player. The risk of a player coasting a little is always there. That is not to suggest at all that Keivarae Russell as done that at all – quite the contrary actually – but in terms of assessing how he projects for the 2013 season that is one of the very few reasons we can see him be potentially ranked any lower.
Skill, talent, and ability wise, there really is no reason Russell should be ranked lower. There was some speculation that Lo Wood might challenge him for the starting cornerback position, but any challenge from Wood didn’t last long and Russell’s got a stranglehold on the starting role this year.
Normally with a second year corner we’d be talking about them needing to at least improve in the run game, but that was a strength of Russell’s last year as well. If you haven’t caught on yet, we expect really big things from #6 during his career at Notre Dame.
What would a successful 2013 season be for Keivarae Russell
In 2012 Russell collected 58 tackles including two for loss while intercepting two passes and breaking up two more and defending a total of four all while learning a new position. With that in mind, those numbers should really be the baseline for Russell in 2013. Russell doesn’t have to improve much on his tackle total since 60 tackles for a corner is pretty strong to begin with, but a successful season for Russell will need to include improvements in his pass defense statistics.
For comparison’s sake, Bennett Jackson only had 7 more tackles than Russell last year but he also doubled all of Russell’s pass defense stats with 4 ints, 4 break ups, and 8 passes defended. That is to be expected since Jackson is older and had played corner for a full year prior to the 2012 season. With Ruseell in the same boat experience wise as Jackson in 2012, Jackson’s 2012 performance from Russell in 2013 would be ideal.
Keivarae Russell could very well be Notre Dame’s first All-American corner back since Shane Walton – unless Bennett Jackson beats him to it – before he leaves for the NFL at some point. That might not happen this year, but he has the talent to do it and it’s really only a matter of time.
The rest of our countdown so far:
#12 – Matthias Farley – CB
#13 – Troy Niklas – TE
#14 – Tommy Rees – QB
#15 – Amir Carlisle – RB
#16 – Danny Spond – ILB
#17 – Dan Fox – OLB
#18 – Jarrett Grace – ILB
#19 – Greg Bryant – RB
#20 – Christian Lombard – RT
#21 – Elijah Shumate – S
#22 – Jaylon Smith – OLB
#23 – Ishaq Williams – OLB/DE
#24 – Max Redfield – S
#25 – CJ Prosise – WR