For me personally, this was an incredible experience, as I got to travel to Nashville and see the draft in-person for the first time. Now that the festivities are over, it’s time for Big Cat Country’s annual post-draft Q&A pieces with the folks who have covered the players throughout their college careers.
We start off our seven-part series by discussing Auburn defensive tackle, and Jacksonville’s seventh-round pick, Dontavius Russell. In an effort to learn more about Russell, I reached out to Jack Condon, managing editor of the quintessential Auburn Tigers website, College and Magnolia.
1. Russell was a four-year stater for Auburn. What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Jack: He turned out to be one of the surprises on a defensive line that’s had big-time recruits for years now. Russell wasn’t the most highly-rated guy coming out of high school, and he was overshadowed by guys like Montravius Adams and Derrick Brown (who’s projected to be a top ten pick in 2020). That said, he had offers from Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia, but chose to go to Auburn instead. Once on the Plains, he showed off a propensity to do the dirty work and let everyone else gain the glory on the front seven. Russell’s game is to clog things up, submarine blockers, and let the pass-rushers and linebackers eat. He finished with 153 tackles and six sacks in 50 career games, but he’s not going to be your primary pass rusher. He’s not even going to make that many tackles. He may not show up at all until you look back at the film and see him occupying two blockers at once, or getting a guy on the ground and causing a back to have to try to bounce things outside. He’s very strong, but he’ll need a little technique work to get him playing lower more consistently. He was one of the best and most dependable players on a defensive line that boasted some special talent over the past few seasons.
2. Where did you expect Russell to get drafted at (if at all), and do you think a seventh-round grade was a fair assessment on him?
Jack: There were some that thought he might be Auburn’s first draft pick due to his play inside. However, most believed that he would end up getting drafted in the late rounds, and that’s exactly where he went. That was pretty consistent with the beliefs of most at College and Magnolia, but we would’ve thought he would go higher if he’d been having the kind of performances that Derrick Brown had last year. Of course, it’s thanks in large part to Russell’s play in the other tackle spot that Brown was able to do so much last year.
3. Seventh-rounders aren’t guaranteed a roster spot and will have to make an impression in training camp to stick around. What do you think Russell will show in camp to earn a spot on the 53-man roster? Do you expect him to make the team or practice squad when all is said and done?
Jack: Looking at the Jags’ defensive line group, I think that there’s definitely going to be a challenge to make the 53-man roster, but Russell’s not the kind of guy to get discouraged and wilt in the face of a daunting task. Judging by what he did in college, the coaches should be impressed with him quietly doing his job and letting the stars make the big plays while he cleans up the messes. If I had to make a prediction, I think he’ll make the team in the end and see some playing time this year. His strength and calm demeanor will help him adjust to the NFL speed fairly quickly, and I think that’s what’ll ultimately help him the most when he gets to camp.
4. Russell gets a chance to compete with an absolute loaded defensive line, featuring players such as Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus. Do you think getting the chance to play with players of this caliber will elevate his game, or do you believe he will get lost in the shuffle? How is his competitiveness level?
Jack: It’s only going to elevate his game, and I think his value will increase when people see how much everyone else’s game improves as a result. Like I’ve said a couple times, he’s not going to be the one making most of the tackles, but he’s going to occupy multiple blockers more often than not, and he’s going to let those pass rushers and run-stuffers make the tackles. When guys are free to do that, it’s going to help his profile. As a freshman and sophomore, he started along the line with two current NFL players (Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams), and as a junior and senior he played along with guys who will become NFL linemen. He wasn’t the big fish in a small pond, so he’s not going to be surprised by his environment. If the last four years are any indication, he’s held his own with some absolute stars, so his competitiveness should be just fine as he works to improve.
5. Malik Jackson was released by Jacksonville during the offseason, leaving a bit of a hole at the three-technique defensive tackle position. The Jaguars have players like Taven Bryan and Abry Jones to help fill the void, and Russell probably projects as more of a nose tackle, but do you think he has what it takes to work his way into the rotation and get on the field in 2019?
Jack Condon: Absolutely. With his frame, he’s got the ability to morph into a couple different positions. There’s still room to add some weight and maybe morph into a nose tackle, so I’m interested to see what the coaches do with him. If he could move around wherever there’s a need in Jacksonville, then I think he’ll work hard to make the roster any way he can.
6. Anything else we should know about Russell?
Jack: His nickname is Plugger (self-given), and he’s made the most starts by a defensive lineman in Auburn history.
A big thank you to Jack for taking the time to give us some more information on Jacksonville’s newest interior defensive lineman. You can find Jack on Twitter, and to keep up with all things going on with Auburn athletics, be sure to follow College and Magnolia as well.