After a redshirt year in 2010, Ryan Russell started eleven games in 2011, posting 44 tackles (4.5 for loss), a sack, three forced fumbles and three recovered fumbles. The following season, he started all thirteen of the Boilermakers' games, finishing with 37 stops (including a career-best 8.5 TFLs) and four sacks. In 2013, as a junior, he started eleven games and recorded 35 tackles (5.5 for loss) and two more sacks. Last season, Russell started all twelve of Purdue's games, recording 44 tackles (6.5 TFLs) with three sacks and a forced fumble.
Russell has a lot of the raw physical traits that teams covet in 4-3 defensive ends: length, a good first step, strong hands. He's also experienced, with 48 Big 10 starts under his belt. But, in part because he bounced around a couple of defensive schemes as a collegian, he never realized his potential, collecting just 8.5 sacks over the last three seasons. The question for the Cowboys, then, is whether or not Dallas' defensive line coaches have the mojo to unlock his potential.
Want to know more about Rod Marinelli's newest pupil? Let's start by looking at his measurables:
|6' 4"||269||33⅜"||10¼"||4.75||1.64||25||32½"||119"||7.25||4.47||125 (66.0)|
And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:
How about his tape? Over at Draft Breakdown, they have one of his games, from 2012 (which scouts say was when he was at his most dynamic) against Notre Dame. You can also see him from a 2014 face off against Western Michigan.
Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about the Cowboys' new defensive end:
Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 17th-ranked DE; 197th overall:
Pass Rush Skills: Active hands and makes it tough to lock on. Above average get off and closes well for size. Transitions speed to power when he rushes from wide alignment. Quick inside move and rips upfield when shoots B-gap. Flashes ability to vary approach and work half man but doesn't mix it up enough and relies on average power rush too much. Doesn't counter well enough when doesn't win with first move. Lacks lower body flexibility to bend the edge. Top-heavy and occasionally ends up on ground. Doesn't protect legs well. Levels quarterbacks with punishing hits but below average body control and he has problems finishing off mobile quarterbacks. Adequate getting hands up in passing lanes.
Versus the run: Strong enough to set edge when technique is sound. Flashes ability to extend arms and post up offensive tackles. Squeezes and takes away cutback lanes as a backside run defender. Doesn't have closing burst to chase backs down from behind but makes some plays outside tackle box. On downside doesn't always keep pads down and intermittently gives too much ground especially when gets double teamed. Takes too long to shed. Hands aren't explosive enough. Plays with narrow base and gets washed down the line too much.
Versatility: Prototypical LDE. Long enough to play 3-4DE but on the lighter side and upfield player that wouldn't fit well in a scheme that asks him to do a lot of two-gapping. Athletic and rangy enough to spot drop but not an ideal 3-4 OLB conversion candidate. Experience reducing inside to rush the passer but doesn't stand out in that role and not built like a fulltime DT.
Instincts/Motor: Plays with emotion and gets fired up at times but doesn't play with enough anger and would like to see more of an edge. Doesn't have an elite motor and appears to wear down late in games but effort wasn't an issue when fresh and makes some second effort plays. Turns and chases downfield.
Intangibles: Team captain. May have turned corner but underachiever who has shown inconsistent work ethic in the past. Majoring in sociology. Born January 17, 1992.
Nolan Nawrocki (NFL Draft 2015 Preview) 10th-ranked DE; 129th overall:
Strengths: Looks the part. Good size. Outstanding arm length. Flashes strength and power. Squats 600-plus pounds and has a very strong base. Is quick off spots and athletic enough to bend and take the edge. Four-year starter on the Big Ten. Very durable. Comes from a program with a strong track record of producing NFL pass rushers.
Weaknesses: Has some tightness in his hips and plays too out of control, missing tackle sin the open field. Could stand to play with more discipline. Eyes, anticipation and instincts are not as fine-tuned as would expect from a 48-game starter. Motor runs hot and cold. Marginal sack production. Does not respond well to hard coaching and did not respond well to coaching turnover.
Future: A big, strong power rusher with the physical talent to step into a starting job in the pros as a base end. Could also warrant interest as a developmental rush linebacker. Inconsistencies in effort and with mental toughness have affected his performance. Would be best in a simple scheme where he could be turned loose.
Draft projection: Fourth- to fifth-round pick
Scout's take: Russell "has more potential than production. His best football is ahead of him."
Strengths: Looks the part. Long-armed with angular body. Takes wide, quick steps and can be difficult for tackles to handle when stunting. Quick feet with long steps to close on quarterback quickly in "T/E" twists. Flexible upper body. Very good change of direction to harass boot-action pass plays. Flashes a quick first step. Has adequate power at the point of attack. Still very raw with traits to potentially mold.
Weaknesses: Plays with a narrow base and loses balance. Has traits to get into linemen first, but doesn't bring anything in his hands to jar them. Raw pass rusher. Doesn't seem to have a plan and loses interest when stymied. Completely dominated by Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein. Evaluators have expressed concern about competitive toughness. Content to stay blocked and doesn't fight to improve position. Out of position to finish tackles and misses more than he should.
Draft Projection: Round 6 or 7
NFL Comparison: Cornelius Washington
Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 20th-ranked DE:
Strengths: Prototypical NFL measureables for the position with ideal size, strength and speed...physical hands and adequate length to work off blocks with balance to continue his path to the pocket...smooth body type to sink and redirect while in pursuit...stays low off the snap, using leverage and hustle...disciplined vs. the run when he locates, playing contain...effort isn't a question, working through the whistle...active on stunts, rushing from different angles...strong upper body to wrap and finish tackles, playing with a consistent temperament...experienced in multiple fronts and is well-versed with various front-seven responsibilities...four-year starter (47 career starts).
Weaknesses: Allows his pads to rise and plays too upright off the snap...not a twitchy athlete and doesn't play with burst of change of direction skills...runs around the pocket and too often can't figure out how to penetrate the backfield - struggles to control his momentum on the move and needs to improve his movement discipline...not overly fluid when asked to drop and slow-footed reacting to the action...will crash inside and be washed out of plays, abandoning his responsibilities on the edges...playmaking instincts have improved, but still not where they need to be for a four-year starter...appeared constantly dinged up with numerous nagging lower body injuries to his knee and ankles...unimpressive production, averaging with only 25.0 tackles for loss and 10.0 sacks over 47 career starts...streaky off-the-field effort and had a tough time with the coaching change after the 2012 season, which affected his attitude, according to several within the program.
Although our scouts are not particularly enamored of Russell, I think the key is that he suffered due to Purdue's coaching change two years ago, when he was thrust into a 3-4 base scheme that had him lining up all over the front-seven in a hybrid role. Before that, scouts watching tape on Boilermaker defensive line prospects like Kawaan Short, Ryan Kerrigan and Bruce Gaston found that it was Russell who often grabbed their attention. If the Cowboys can get him to return to his 2012 form this can be a pretty darned good pick.