- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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KeiVarae Russell received the Sheldon Day treatment this week from Mel Kiper Jr., with the ESPN NFL draft guru pegging Russell as his No. "5C" cornerback on his list of the top underclassmen at the position.
Russell had some more love this week from another list that projects big things for him in 2014, as SportsOnEarth's Matt Brown named him to college football breakout team for this fall.
Both writers laud Russell's impact from the get-go with the Irish, as he was thrust into a starting role from Day 1 following Lo Wood's camp Achilles' tear. Russell had arrived at Notre Dame that summer as a running back. Kiper likes Russell's tackling, while Brown sees a bigger spotlight — along with a new defensive coordinator who favors press coverage, as Brian VanGorder does — resulting in an opportunity for Russell to emerge as a star. Brown cites an underrated secondary from last season that returns most of its key bodies, as the Irish ranked 16th in the nation in yards per pass attempt allowed (6.3) last year.
If Notre Dame's defense is going to be strong in VanGorder's first season, the secondary will likely be a big reason why. That could mean more big things for Russell, a player who does not shy away from the spotlight.
14dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf