How Notre Dame Will Replace Keivarae Russell

Keivarae Russell - Notre Dame CB
Photo: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

Another day, another Notre Dame player with eligibility remaining entering the 2016 NFL Draft.  Saturday it was running back CJ Prosise.  Sunday it was All-American wide receiver Will Fuller.  Monday it was cornerback Keivarae Russell joining the growing list of Notre Dame draft eligible prospects.

And with that Notre Dame will be down another defensive starter in a secondary that was shaky at best at times in 2016 to begin with.  The Irish will now be replacing Russell, safety Elijah Shumate, and nickel back Matthias Farley this off-season.  Luckily for Notre Dame, they got a sneak peak at what life without Russell would be like in the season finale and in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State with Russell on the sidelines following his injury against Boston College.

When Notre Dame traveled to Palo Alto in November, Devin Butler started in Russell’s place.  Last week it was rising junior Nick Watkins filling in when Butler suffered a broken foot in Fiesta Bowl practices.  The results for both players were a bit mixed, but both showed at times that they have the potential to fill in just fine Russell in 2016, but at the same time both have a lot of work to do this off-season before one of them secures a starting spot.

Before diving too deep into Butler or Watkins’s chances, here’s a quick run down of all of the cornerbacks Notre Dame will be returning in 2016.

  • Seniors: Cole Luke, Devin Butler
  • Juniors: Nick Watkins
  • Sophomores: Nick Coleman, Ashton White, Shaun Crawford
  • Freshman: Donte Vaughn, Tony Pride Jr, Julian Love

Luke is locked in as a starter we all know, but its the cornerback that starts opposite of him that will now be one of the more interesting battles to watch this off-season.  Shaun Crawford was slated to start at the nickel this year before suffering an injury in camp and figures to settle in there again in 2016.  The battle for Russell’s spot will most likely come down to Butler, Watkins, Coleman, and White.

Nick Coleman saw some playing time early in the season in a reserve role, but when Russell went down, Kelly turned to his more experienced players.  Butler first before his injury thrust Watkins into the lineup.  In Butler’s lone start, he made a couple nice plays early, but his performance against the Cardinal was marred by a missed tackle on a 3rd and goal that resulted in an easy Stanford touchdown.  Watkins meanwhile had a few struggles early, but settling in breaking up a pass in the end-zone in the second half.  Watkins was victimized for a first quarter touchdown and nearly another in the fourth but was bailed out by a dropped pass.

Neither Butler or Watkins wowed enough to be considered the leader in the clubhouse heading into the off-season although to Watkins’s credit, he was tasked with facing a much more dynamic set of receivers against the Buckeyes than Butler faced against the Cardinal.  With neither really establishing themselves in their brief action, the door should be open for  rising sophomores Coleman who has already cut his teeth in game action and White who “redshirted” this past season.

Notre Dame is also set to sign a trio of corners (perhaps more if Jalen Elliot ends up playing corner or if the Irish were to add another before National Signing Day), but it’s tough to imagine any of them coming in and locking down that open starting spot without a ridiculous showing in fall camp since none are early enrollees.

Losing a player the caliber of Keivarae Russell is never fun – especially since he was just starting to play to his old form in the second half before his injury robbed the Irish of his services for two of its toughest games of the season.  That said, the Notre Dame staff has done a heck of a job recruiting the cornerback position over the last three recruiting classes and because of that, the Irish have a lot of depth at the position and should be in solid shape at the position in 2016.

As for Russell, it’s tough to say where he will be drafted.  His early season struggles and late season injury will likely result in a bit of slide for him.  His tape which will show his two game clinching interceptions and the ridiculous measureables that he will turn in at the combine however will ensure his name is called.  As of now though, CBS Sports has Russell ranked as the #95 overall prospect and has placed a 3rd round grade on him.

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  1. Lets not forget KVR was recruited as a RB and converted to a DB. The coaching staff did an excellent job of developing him into a top level collegiate DB. Did the suspension hurt his development somewhat? Probably so. Lack of a pass rush didnt help either. I support his decision.

    As far as the rash of injuries go, i believe they are an unfortunate coincidence. Field Turf, grass, rain , snow, or strength and conditioning program played no role in these injuries. Nothing but bad luck and a huge contributing factor to some of the losses the last two years.

  2. Does anyone know what BVG contract buyout clause is? If any? Screw that. I am guessing BK is going to say this is the defense I want to run and to be taught. I see no need to pay BVG $$$$ for work not preformed. That crap wears on people. At leastt I it does me. Yes I understand ND can afford it.

  3. Liberals? Not to be political. I would think the opposite. Having the right & freedom for making your own decision especially about income. But ok. I could understand and possibly side with that position. Except for the fact that scholarships are on a year to year basis. Therefore a student athlete may not be offered another year. Coaches discretion. Some coaches send students packing and not just because of grades or disciplinary reasons. No guaremtees or loyalty.. Two way street. If it is contract law. Contract is on a yearly basis.
    As far as grass vs. turf? Who knows. Grass was associated and considered the culprit of injuries for many years. Seems we are coming full circle. Possibly it’s just kinetics & physics. Athletes are heavier and faster. Weight and force on a weak joint of the human body.? Still like the idea of studying Stanford’s S&C program though. Thanks.

  4. I would say give Brian Van Gorder one more year. I cannot debate any of your comments on him, they are all valid. I think that he must find a way to simplify it so that players do not struggle to comprehend it what he is teaching them. The kids have two jobs, school and football. NFL players have one job. With that said, no doubt BK and BVG will have plenty to discuss this winter/spring. I would also be interested to see if the coaching staff consults any outside medical facilities concerning the two year rash of injuries or do just assume (ass-u-me) that it was blind luck. Paul Longo and David Grimes would need to be in on that discussion. No doubt Jaylon Smiths injury influenced the other players decision. I would do the same in their shoes. One last thing, everyone is replaceable. WE lost Tyler Eifert, Golden Tate, M. Floyd, Kyle Rudolph, I mean the list goes on. The baton will be picked up. My last head scratcher is the loss of OSU’s starting 3 on the D-Line and we did little to take advantage of that. Are they that deep or are we just not that good on O-Line? Gentlemen, take care and have a blessed new year. Go Irish!

  5. Ridiculous how this article implies that KVR was just a bit rusty throughout the entire first half of the season instead of facing the fact that he was severely overrated. It’s quite a coincidence that KVR was finally “starting to play to his old form” just in time for powerhouses Temple, Pitt, BC, and Wake

  6. I don’t hold anything against kids who declare for the draft. It’s their life, it’s their choice. They have a limited amount of time to earn the big bucks. Some kids who do declare should stay for another year to further develop their skills but again, it’s their decision.

    Good Luck to all three of these guys!!!

  7. I wonder with all the injuries if a study has ever been done on real grass vs artificial turf and whether or not one is involved in more injuries than the other? I venture to say that artificial turf fields would have more, particularly knee, than grass. The Irish were decimated by injuries as were probably other programs.
    I hate the fact that college student/athletes can just decide to turn pro and leave school. They should go back to having them not be eligible for the draft until there class graduates. I know all you liberals say that is unconstitutional but…….. I could understand if they get injured like Zaire or Smith this year but most players leave because of the money. Somethings got to change but it won’t. To bad! Go Irish!!!!!

  8. It’s about progressing through one’s life. None of the 3 that declared doesn’t come as a surprise. Thanks for your contribution and best wishes in your new endeavors, to all 3 who declared.

  9. MTA is spot on about those that graduated and KVR’s situation. As far as replacing him. No disrespect to KVR but that’s already been prepared for. Jeff is also correct about initially softer schedule. Will it end up that way? Seems every year CFB gives us the unexpected to a large degree. Hoping its favorable enough not to hinder.. Let’s not leave out Texas yet. On the rise. Can’t remember the rest. But I’m sure there is a few more challenging respected programs besides Navy. I’m concerned about to many having “sophomore slumps”. Correcting the D? I really feel Defense will be strong next year. Adaptations. Just plain hungry, mean, & nasty. Lot of depth and athletic. Thanks.

  10. Michael is right, Russell almost has to declare going before the NCAA is a crapshoot. No guarantee that he would have been granted another year. Procise is not even the guaranteed starter next year with Folston coming back. His draft stock is most likely as high as it is going to get. Fuller is going to get drafted high, and there is a stable of WR’s behind him if he stays, most likely all good friends that he would be holding back if he stayed.
    Honestly it would be sweet if all stayed but these kids have given there all for ND and I think that they are making the right decision for themselves and the team for the most part.

  11. The schedule is soft next year. The teams that are annually predicted to give ND a tough test will be Michigan State, USC, and Stanford. All three of those teams will be breaking in new quaterbacks with no experience whatsoever. ND on the other hand should easily average 30 plus points per game with who they have returning. Problem that I see is on the defensive side of the ball. The front seven has never been good enough and that wont change next year. But even with an inadequate defense i believe ND will win 10 maybe 11 games next year based on a soft schedule and top shelf offense

  12. I agree with all who chose to leave.

    Some leaving already will have their degree- choosing the chance to play in the NFL than in South Bend.
    You’d have to ask them how much they’ll miss ND, or BK or BVG for that matter. I left after I got my degree, and with far less an opportunity than what the NFL offers.

    If players close to graduation want their degree, they can get it later, if they value getting it. At ND, when you leave after three years, you’re at least close to getting a degree or you wouldn’t have been eligible. This isn’t one and done Kentucky, who at least own up to it unlike the semi-pro college programs who use their athletes as interns to support their athletics without classes getting in their way- rant ended!

    As for K Russell leaving, the most obvious right choice of all.
    Would you leave your chance to even play next year in the hands of a NCAA committee?
    I look forward to seeing K Russell on Sundays next year, and hopefully for years to come.
    Thanks for the memories.

  13. It used to be that Weis was the hated coach , now it is BVG. It seems no one except the boss like him. As for the ones who left, I think all 3 needed another year. But, that is just me as a person who is gifted in the realm of coaching like so many on this board., I remember an old saying, be careful for what you ask for!

  14. Another guy bails…except for Will the Thrill, these are not 1st rounders by any stretch. So why leave?
    Are they tired of the leprechaun?

    My first prediction for 2016…Kelly brings up how many ‘starters’ deserted him after 2015.

  15. @ Mike…re: BVG…AMEN brother!

    Please, please people don’t bring up injuries. There were plenty of injuries to the o, yet the replacements did pretty well. NOT so with the d. He barely had his starters prepped. Where was the ‘rush’ all season? JT Barrett had so much time to find an open guy, he thought of throwing one to our #7, just to give him a catch in the game. VanNo must go!

  16. It’s all irrelevant if BVG comes back. If he does, the offense will be put on notice that they need to score 35 pts per game if they want to compete for a playoff spot.


  18. It wouldn’t surprise me if Crawford got moved from nickel to Russell’s position, with one of the other players on the above list put in at nickel.

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