I’ve been doing comprehensive scouting reports on each of the Jacksonville Jaguars draft selections from now up until training camp. Today, the series ends.
To date, I’ve spotlighted:
In this installment, I break down the final piece of the puzzle — interior defensive lineman Dontavius Russell.
Background and character
Russell earned first-team All_State honors playing for Carrollton High School in Georgia where he helped win a 2013 Class 4A state championship and also participated in track and field. Russell’s production in high school earned him an invite to the Under Armour All-America game and a top 200 ranking from Rivals, ESPN, Scout, and 247Sports as a four-star prospect. Russell chose Auburn where his uncle, Dennis Wallace, also played football over staying home in Georgia, who he originally committed to in April of 2013.
Labeled as a “model of consistency” Russell redshirted the 2014 season and then went on to start 49 of 52 games in four seasons at Auburn. In fact, Russell owns the school record for most starts by an Auburn defensive lineman. When you think back at some of the prospects Auburn has churned out on that defensive line, that’s no small feat. When you think presently to guys like Montravius Adams, Derrick Brown, Jeff Holland, Marlon Davidson, and Nick Coe, the fact that Russell kept his starting gig is even more impressive.
Russell was a star student during his time at Auburn, where he earned CoSIDA Academic All-America, SEC Academic Honor Roll, and Academic Top Tiger honors. Russell received his bachelor’s degree from Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts and purusing a second degree in interdepartmental studies.
He also has a great sense of humor:
There’s Bo Jackson, and then there’s Dontavius Russell pic.twitter.com/tegfwtHDrj— Dontavius Russell (@russ_dont95) September 3, 2018
For more details on Dontavius Russell as both a player and a person, I would encourage you to have a listen to a recent Locked On Jaguars podcast interview with Sports Call AU and Cover One’s Christian Page, who spent extensive time covering Russell (and teammate Andrew Williams, an undrafted free agent for the Jaguars) during his time at Auburn.
Physical traits and production
Physically, Russell boasts very good height and weight with broad shoulders and thick base that stems from his lower body up to his chest.
Russell essentially has the athleticism of a protein-packed waffle, with sub-20 percentile explosiveness and speed grades. His two redeeming qualities physically are his strength (24 bench reps) and his girth to anchor at the one-technique position and not be moved by more powerful offensive linemen.
In regards to the Mockdraftable player comparisons, Russell is in excellent company. The least impressive player on the list is Kahlil McKenzie, who switched positions to the offensive line for the Kansas City Chiefs since entering the NFL, and he has players like Da’Ron Payne, Christian Wilkins, Larry Ogunjobi and Mo Hurst on the list.
For a run-stuffing nose tackle, Dontavius Russell actually has solid production in his four years at Auburn, totaling 153 tackles (17 for loss) and 6 sacks. The stats don’t tell the story for Russell though, as his occupation of blocks allowed linebackers Deshaun Davis, Tre Williams and Darryl Williams to rack up tackles in droves behind him.
Russell also flashed several times in the Senior Bowl and I was left constantly writing his name down as he blew up plays in the backfield with his penetration and ability to hold the point of attack and dictate the run of play while in Mobile.
Russell started 49 of 52 games moving up and down the defensive line at one-technique, three-technique, or even strong side defensive end depending on situations and personnel packages.
Before I get into technique, my favorite trait about Dontavius Russell is how hot his motor runs. Russell never gives up on a play and despite his limited athleticism, efforts his way into so many more tackles than he should be getting.
This is simply something that can’t be coached. Below is another example of Russell’s tenacity and hustle, and I’ve seen more than my fair share of 320-plus pound defensive tackles not try on plays like this, but Russell sticks with it until the end.
Another aspect of Russell’s game that I like is how smart of a player he is. In this play (where he’s actually standing up), he diagnoses the zone read immediately and has the awareness to stop his pursuit and mirror the runner and force him to make a decision.
Russell ends up missing the play in the backfield, but on a third and 12 situation, forces the runner outside to limited real estate and ends up pushed out of bounds by his teammates well before the first down marker.
For me, the above clip is another great example of Russell “doing his job” and setting the edge from the interior against the left guard to force the runner back inside. Russell gets rewarded with a half tackle by launching and wrapping the runner after he is left no option.
In terms of athleticism, having Derrick Brown line up next to Russell on the interior did him no favors. Brown has the potential of being a top-10 pick in next year’s draft and is a freak — but there were snaps where Russell did well to time the cadence and marry it with an explosive first step to get in the backfield with urgency.
One more example:
Another thing I like about Russell’s game is his ability to keep his periphery in the backfield while fighting through blocks.
He’s difficult to move when engaged, but his vision allows him to time his pursuit or launch angle when attempting a tackle
Russell also shows ample functional strength and blockers have little chance if they don’t approach him head on and anchor their legs against the bull rush. Russell knifes in through the gap and arrives at the ball like a tidal wave.
Russell also shows good power and heavy hands when fighting to shed blocks in one on one situations.
He is also a violent hitter and relishes contact on every play, happily hopping in one piles and scrums and leaves a mark on arrival.
The main knocks for me on Russell is he will get paralyzed with his technique when taking on double teams, but to his credit exhibits a strong enough lower body where he at least maintains his positioning against the run. He will also keep a little upright on some plays and has trouble getting underneath blocks, but this can be worked on at the NFL level.
While Russell is not a special athlete, his football intelligence, play recognition, enthusiasm, motor, and consistency certainly gives him a chance of being a rotational NFL one-technique with upside to turn into an eventual starter.
For a Jaguars team that is slated to have $54 million-plus in their defensive line for 2020 (and that’s before a potential Yannick Ngaokoue extension), that is a welcome assessment as Russell can give them flexibility to knock down that 29.22% positional cap allocation next year.
In full transparency, I had a late fourth/early fifth round grade on Russell heading into the draft, so for the Jaguars to snag him in the seventh round is good business in my opinion.
It remains to be seen whether Russell makes the 53 man roster after final cuts, but if he shows any semblance of a pulse in the preseason I’d wager he likely makes it over a guy like Eli Ankou, who the team seems to really like but just hasn’t been able to consistently stay healthy and available. It’s possible the Jaguars could try and “hide” Russell on the practice squad for the 2019 season, but then they would be exposing him to perhaps another AFC South team scooping him and adding some much needed depth to the interior defensive line.
In the meantime, Russell should get plenty of run in the preseason and I’ll be studying to see how well he can take on double teams and occupy blockers to open up space for the linebackers behind him to make plays. His ability to flash pass rushing upside is also a plus, but that’s not the reason the Jaguars are bringing him in here, so don’t knock him if he doesn’t blow up the box score against other third and fourth-stringers.
Ultimately, I see Russell as a guy who may not be active on game days this year, but takes a “redshirt” year learning from guys like Abry Jones and Marcell Dareus to perhaps take over as the backup one-tech nose tackle behind Dareus (or Abry, if Dareus doesn’t re-structure and gets released).
Long story short, whichever one of those guys isn’t wearing teal and black in 2020, Russell is likely being groomed to step in at that point.