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2016 NFL Draft: Potential Panther? KeiVarae Russell

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With stud corner Josh Norman now a free agent, the Panthers are likely to draft a corner even if he is extended or franchised. The question remains: How high? How high is also the question about Russell, whose suspension for the 2014 season and late season broken leg in 2015 could cause him to fall in the draft.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame

Listed at 5'11, 190, Russell tallied 109 tackles in his first two seasons, adding 10 breakups and 13 pass deflections. Going into his junior season, I felt Russell was a potential top-50 draft pick if he declared.

Then, Russell's career took a turn. He missed the entire 2014 season due to an honor code violation. Russell is one of the five Irish players that was suspended last season for academic fraud. Prior to that, he had started all 26 games since coming to South Bend. Recruited as a skill player and expected to be either a WR or RB, Russell moved to CB and started as a freshman (fresh AA).

Russell frequently tweeted about his desire to return to South Bend. In his year away from Notre Dame, Russell focused on training and during combine-type testing, it has been reported he ran a sub 4.4 sec 40-yard dash, posted a 40-inch vertical, and had a broad jump of 11 feet, three inches. If true, all outstanding numbers.

Upon his return, Russell had an up and down 2015 (60 tackles, two interceptions, six pass reflections).

I listed Russell in my weekly "sliders" after a poor showing against Clemson, when he was outplayed by Tigers' corner MacKensie Alexander. Against Clemson, Russell missed too many tackles, and did not make any big plays. Time and time again, lesser athletes seems to get the better of him.

Against Pittsburgh, sideline reporter/draft analysts Todd McShay said of Russell "I know he's the big name, people know about him, and he has some big interceptions, but I think he is the more vulnerable of the two (Irish) corners".

Of coarse, in this game he was frequently matched up against WR Tyler Boyd, and Russell survived an end-zone fade early, but was part of a blown coverage, as he was closest (but appeared to be expecting safety help) to Boyd on his 51 yard touchdown.

Against USC, Russell gave-up a long touchdown to super-soph wideout Juju Smith, but later in the game, on a nearly identical play, Russell made a perfect over the shoulder interception, looking every bit like the highly-recruited WR prospect he was out of high school.

Finally, Russell suffered a broken right tibia against Boston College, missing Notre Dame's final home game and the bowl game vs Ohio State.  The bowl game certainly was a missed opportunity, as he would go against two potential top-50 receivers in Braxton Miller and Michael Thomas.

Another missed opportunity could be at the NFL Combine. When Russell declared for the NFL Draft, SI wrote the broken leg would keep him out of the combine.

Then, he posted a video clip claiming a 51-inch box jump.

NFL.com even listed Russell as one of eleven potential combine "freaks".

Russell typically excels in man-to-man, where he is athletic enough to stick in the receiver's back pocket. Listed at 5'11, 196, he has the build of an NFL corner, but may not be as long as some teams prefer. He is still learning the position, as he never played defense until 2012, and missed the 2014 season.

If Russell can't fully participate at the NFL Combine, his pro day workout will be critical to his draft stock. With a great workout, he could be back in the top-50 conversation. A poor workout could sink his already damaged stock into the fourth round. On my big board, I have Russell as a third-rounder, and feel he would be a huge steal if he feel to the end of the third round.