The Cincinnati Bengals are adding to their cornerback depth.
On Thursday, the team announced it claimed cornerback KeiVarae Russell off of waivers. The rookie third round draft pick out of Notre Dame was released by the Kansas City Chiefs yesterday. In a corresponding move, the team waived offensive lineman Trey Hopkins.
This is the latest chapter in what has been a surprising fall for Russell, the 74th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. The former Fighting Irish star was viewed as one of the top cornerback prospects this year. NFL.com went as far as to call him a second or third-round prospect prior to the draft:
SOURCES TELL US: "He has second day talent as a cover corner, but he's not as big as you want and now the broken legs might complicate things." -- AFC regional scout
NFL COMPARISON: Aaron Colvin
BOTTOM LINE: Smart, experienced cornerback has strapped it on against some of the best receivers in the nation during his time with the Irish. Russell has the athleticism and cover talent to play press coverage and make a living there, but he may never produce as many pass breakups or interceptions as a team would like. Played outside and from the slot and offers that versatility to an NFL team as a future starter or third corner.
However, Russell had a poor showing in training camp and the preseason, enough that the Chiefs felt he was not worth keeping on the final roster. The 22-year-old previously explained to the Kansas City Star that he had trouble getting comfortable with the team's defensive scheme
That’s normal for an NFL rookie, and it’s why most teams keep third-round draft picks on their final roster, even if they have no intention of playing them during their rookie season. It’s just too high of an investment to waive a Day 2 draft pick and risk another team claiming him, which is what the Bengals did in this case.
Kansas City was undoubtedly hoping Russell would make it to their practice squad, but you can’t blame any NFL team for claiming a third-round pick off of waivers. As far as we’re concerned, the Bengals just scored an extra third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, even if Russell does not play for them this year.
We already know how strict the Bengals are with rookies, often treating their first NFL season as a redshirt year in which they rarely, if ever, see the field. It sounds like that is what Russell needs, so good on the Bengals for being willing to give him a chance, at least for the time being.
Prior to the NFL, Russell was enjoying a standout career with Notre Dame before an academic scandal in August of 2014 led to him being suspended for the entire season. He returned in 2015 and went on to record 60 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and four pass deflections in 11 games.
That was enough to get Russell a Round 2-3 grade in most services heading into the 2016 draft, and Kansas City picking him where they did was not a reach. That’s why seeing him cut was such a surprising move to see, even though they’re already deep at cornerback.
Kansas City even landed Georgia Tech corner DJ White in the same draft as Russell. Both had Round 3 grades, but White fell all the way to Round 6 before having a good showing in camp and the preseason. Maybe, this was simply a case of the Chiefs having five good corners and feeling like Russell was not necessary, even if he was a high pick.
Whatever the case is, the Bengals just landed a third-round prospect from this year’s draft and those over at Cincy Jungle sister site, Arrowhead Pride, don’t seem too happy about Russell being released.
Instead of giving Russell time to learn the system, instead of allowing the coaching staff to really learn his strengths and weaknesses, instead of seeing their investment through, they made a decision that seems anything but a football decision.
Tell me there were personal issues you cannot discuss. Tell me that it's up to Russell to talk about it if he wants. Tell me in vague terms about character or chemistry or behavior issues. But the moment the team tries to sell it as a football decision is the moment I know it doesn't pass the smell test.
As for Hopkins, he will likely be signed to the practice squad if he makes it through waivers. He was not active in Week 1 vs the New York Jets after being signed to the 53-man roster two days after final cuts were made.
It’s odd the Bengals didn’t just cut cornerback Chykie Brown. Now, the Bengals have seven corners and just eight offensive lineman. Hopkins has to clear waivers, whereas Brown is a vested veteran and could be cut without being subject to the waiver wire.