KeiVarae Russell may have only played in one defensive snap as a rookie, but the former Notre Dame star made the most of it.
It came in Week 17 when Russell picked off Ravens backup quarterback Ryan Mallett to help seal a 27-10 win for the Cincinnati Bengals. Was that a fluke, or was it a sign of great things to come for Russell in Cincinnati?
Weight: 196 pounds
College: Notre Dame
Hometown: Everett, WA
Experience: Second-year player
Russell is entering Year 2 of his four-year, $3,363,128 rookie deal. He will have a $595,000 cap hit this year. There will be no dead cap if Russell is waived, according to Spotrac.
After being shockingly cut by the Kansas City Chiefs right at the start of the regular season, Cincinnati claimed Russell off of waivers in an also-surprising move. Even with the Bengals seemingly set at cornerback, they saw something in Russell they did not want to let get away. The team was reportedly interested in drafting him, but moved away from that plan after grabbing William Jackson III in Round 1.
Going into the 2016 NFL Draft, Russell was projected to be selected somewhere in the Round 2-3 range and was viewed as a nice corner prospect with good upside. The Chiefs wound up spending a third-round pick on him, so it seemed that was where his NFL career would take place for at least a few years.
However, Russell had a poor showing in training camp and the preseason while competing in a crowded Chiefs secondary. Also hurting Russell’s cause was he was still recovering from a broken leg, suffered toward the end of his final college season, which led to him being limited during offseason workouts before training camp began.
That put Russell behind, which helped lead to Kansas City waiving him before Cincinnati scooped him up.
The Bengals would keep Russell on their 53-man roster for all of 2016, though he was only active for five games and relegated to special teams for the most part. However, Russell made an interception in Week 17 against the Ravens, which ended up being his first and only defensive snap of the year.
Cornerback is a very murky position for guys like Russell who are challenging for one of the final roster spots. There’s no question Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard, Joshua Shaw and William Jackson III are making the roster. There’s also rookie Brandon Wilson, who is being listed as a safety, though he played primarily at corner in college.
Shaw has also played safety and corner, so if both guys work primarily there in 2017, that greatly increases the chances of Russell making the final roster. He should end up challenging Tony McRae and Bene Benwikere for one of the final corner spots.
The Bengals should keep the younger and more talented Russell if it’s a close battle, especially since he’s under contract for three more years, as opposed to Benwikere, who’s signed to a one-year deal, and McRae, who is more practice squad material.
As long as Russell continues to show progress and potential, there’s good reason to believe Cincinnati will keep him on the 53-man roster.
Roster Odds: 60 percent.