The draft is over, the picks are in, and it's time to try and make some sense of who the Chiefs grabbed.
There's going to be a lot to talk about with regards to the draft over the next week or so, then we enter the dreaded dead time of year, in which we will debate over and over about Alex Smith and maybe occasionally fight about whether Dontari Poe is elite. I'll try to fill the time with mailbags and film reviews of current Chiefs (I'll resume the Zach Fulton review once I'm done with the rooks, and Smith's will happen when I feel like getting yelled at a lot), but we all know that time of year is ROUGH.
So we might as well enjoy this time of new information while it lasts, right? Let's start by talking about third round pick Notre Dame CB KeiVarae Russell.
Like every other player the Chiefs drafted, I knew nothing about Russell when his name was called. Like I said when I wrote about Chris Jones, this can be a good thing when I'm trying to objectively evaluate a player. It allows me to make up my own mind rather than parroting the narrative surrounding a player.
So I went to watch the three available games of Russell on Draft Breakdown. Let's talk about that.
Before we do though, keep something in mind; the tape that's on Draft Breakdown is the broadcast spliced into individual plays with the player highlighted. It's not All-22. What that means is it's limited, especially when it comes to corners, safeties, and wide receivers. I can't track coverage wins and losses on the vast majority of plays, and I end up with a much smaller sample size of plays I can review from beginning to end. So this is not a perfect process.
However, we can at least get a look at a small sample size of coverage plays, observe players at the line of scrimmage and about 5-7 yards beyond it (which is nice to see a player's ability to transition into trailing), and take a look at ball and tackling skills. So it's not worthless by any means. Just limited. Keep that in mind.
There's a lot to like about Russell, with some questions marks that exist as well. I generally start with strengths when I think there's more good than bad, so let's begin with Russell's aggressiveness.
I like a CB who is willing to try and knock a TE on his back to blow up a play. pic.twitter.com/hXcQZL7SiP— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) May 2, 2016
On plays near the line of scrimmage, Russell consistently demonstrates the ability to quickly shift to moving up the field and toward the play. In the above play we've got one of your fairly typical quick WR screens with a couple blockers in front (in particular, a big TE between Russell and the ball). Russell defeats the blocker by reacting quickly and attacking immediately. He doesn't wait for the play to come to him and, because of this, makes a nice play.
Russell is a pretty capable tackler. He occasionally tries to lay a hit instead of wrapping up, but that's pretty rare. With a lot of corners you wince when they're left in a one-on-one situation with WRs, because they'll flail about before letting their guy run right past them. Not so with Russell. He's comfortable taking on ball carriers, whether receivers or running backs, and nearly always brings them to the ground.
This is a crucial skill (yes, tackling is important. As always, happy to bring the hot takes), but it's especially important when you play for Bob Sutton. You are going to be in man coverage a LOT if you're on the field for Sutton, which means you're going to need to be able to tackle guys on your own. You can't do that, you can't play on the Chiefs defense. Russell definitely brings that to the table.
Russell (top) is a willing and able tackler, does a good job with these types of plays to close and finish. pic.twitter.com/6JX6jYiYnR— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) May 2, 2016
You see in this play how important tackling is in those one-on-one situations. Lots of NFL offenses use quick sideline throws like this to get WRs alone in space against CBs. Against a lot of CBs it's a guaranteed five yards or so because they'll wait for the WR to come to them (or wait for help from the rest of the defense). One thing Marcus Peters does exceptionally well is make immediate tackles on these quick throws. Russell is similarly aggressive on those types of plays.
Russell brings a similar attitude to run support. Now, I think his instincts and angles need a bit of work here, but he's willing to get in there and make hits. That's about as much as you can ask for from a corner in most cases. Too many corners (like Eli Apple in this particular draft) play like they're going to dissolve if they let a running back or a blocker touch them. Russell will take on offensive linemen in order to let other defenders make a play, and he goes after runners instead of shying away.
With regards to his coverage, from what I can see Russell has pretty smooth hips and good quickness. He looks particularly comfortable pressing at the line and transitions well from that into running with receivers down the field. He's very hands-on in coverage, almost too much so. He may have to get a little better at hiding his contact if he wants the whistle-happy NFL refs to look the other way. But you can definitely see why Dorsey and Sutton would like his potential in the style of defense the Chiefs play. He's clearly much more comfortable in press man than any other situation.
As far as ball skills go, in three games I was able to observe Russell end up in contested situations multiple times. He shows good timing for when to get his hands up and knock the ball out of the receiver's hands, a trait that I love in a corner. I can't really attest for his ball skills, as he wasn't put in a position to go for a pick too often. He seems more likely to knock it down than go for the pick from what I've seen, but he's certainly capable of making nice plays on the ball.
Nice instincts to not bite on the fake, stays w/ WR, fantastic play on the ball. pic.twitter.com/hzRyyUeE3M— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) April 30, 2016
Here, Russell maintains discipline on a double move and runs with the WR on a post route. He does a nice job staying in the receiver's pocket down the field, and because of that the QB would have to deliver a perfect throw to get a completion (which is all you can ask for from a CB in most situations, especially on deep throws). Of course, the QB does NOT deliver a perfect throw, and Russell is in better position to make a play than the receiver due to his coverage.
Even better is how he gets the pick. Rather than just reaching out and trying to let the ball fall into his arms (which may have allowed the receiver to play defense on him), Russell attacks the ball in the air. Again, I didn't see enough opportunities to say Russell has good ball skills, but this play shows he's at least CAPABLE of making good plays in that situation. Time will tell with the rest.
In short, Russell has a fair number of solid traits that lead me to believe he can contribute as a corner for the Chiefs. He presses well, can turn and run, shows good mirroring in most situations, has decent hips / quickness, and is a capable tackler. There's a lot to like about him as a player.
It's not all sunshine and rainbows, though. I'm not sure about Russell's top end speed. In the three games I watch he let a WR get behind him twice for long receptions, unable to make up the separation once he lost a step. While quick, he's not a guy who can burn down the field the way a Phillip Gaines can. Of course, neither can Marcus Peters, so it's not like you need great long speed in order to be a good corner. It just gives you less margin for error when it comes to deep routes.
I'm also not sure about Russell's zone coverage ability. While the Chiefs don't play a ton of zone, it happens more than a lot of fans seem to believe. When Russell plays in a zone he looks a lot less natural than he does in man coverage. He seems a bit more hesitant to my eyes, whereas when he plays man he's quick to read and react. I wouldn't play him too much in zone, at least at this point in his career.
Overall, Russell looks like an intriguing addition to the defense who will, at the very least, add some competition to a position that was in desperate need of it. His film doesn't pop off the screen the way Marcus Peters' film did a year ago, but he's got some definite strengths that could fit in well with what the Chiefs do on defense. On the flip side of things, he's got some refining to do on his overall game, particularly in zone coverage, and will need to be able to compensate for his deep speed if he doesn't want to give up big plays at the NFL level.
As with any corner, it will be a waiting game to see how he translates to the NFL. Hopefully he does so quickly, because the Chiefs definitely need guys who can step up in the secondary early.