Given the Bucs depth at linebacker in Lavonte David, Devin White, Kevin Minter, Jack Cichy and roster-hopeful Noah Dawkins, some were surprised to see a seventh-round selection being used to select Temple linebacker Chapelle Russell. The position is one of the few on the Bucs roster where the depth is more clearly visible, while other groups like edge defender, defensive tackle and cornerback are more thin.
Nevertheless, Russell does possess size and athletic traits that are ideal for the linebacker position. At 6-2, 236 pounds with 32 3/8-inch arms, Russell not only looks the part on tape, but he moves really well, too. A 4.69 40-yard dash and a 35-inch vertical were both well-above average marks for the position at the NFL Scouting Combine, although Russell’s 7.38 3-cone and 4.41 short shuttle won’t move the needle much in the agility drills.
The former Temple linebacker hails from a Navy family and lost his father to cancer in 2015. He played over the slot and off-the-ball at Temple, starting 26 straight games after back-to-back torn ACLs in his right knee ended his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons prematurely.
Russell’s straight line speed is one of his better traits on tape. There are flashes of explosiveness when he finds the ball that are intriguing, but unfortunately his mental processing is usually so many beats behind that plays like the one below don’t happen often. Regardless, it’s nice to know that it’s in Russell’s wheelhouse to make plays like this when he does key and diagnose.
Some linebackers in college have a difficult time getting from point A to point B with any speed, but that isn’t Russell’s problem. While he does need to process and react quicker a lot of the time, his range and huge tackle radius – thanks to his long arms – is a big box checked when projecting him to the NFL.
Unfortunately Russell misses far too many tackles despite his ideal traits to be a strong finisher. It’s hard to even break down what happens on some of these misses, as he just straight up doesn’t commit to tackles consistently despite being in good positioning. Really puzzling.
New #Bucs LB Chapelle Russell has the size, length and speed you want at the position, but he’s gotta become a better finisher/tackler in all areas of the field. pic.twitter.com/USaAMsTHWs
Some of those misses are real head-scratchers. Russell is a perfect prototype of an ace special teams linebacker with his speed, competitive drive and tackle radius, but the tackling issues have to be fixed or he won’t make the team.
It’s not a hot take; Russell can’t tackle that poorly and still make an NFL team.
The clip above is from just two games, and that isn’t even all of them. Can’t have physicality lapses as a fringe roster player in the NFL.
Some would assume because Russell is a solid athlete that he is probably an asset in coverage, but while there may be some potential there, he struggled in the few games I watched. Coverage in college for a linebacker mostly occurs in zone, where instincts and awareness come in more handy than anything. That’s where Russell just doesn’t seem to bring the necessary goods to the table, in man or zone.
Giving up a catch here in man coverage can’t happen. This isn’t even a real route, and Russell is all over it, yet never even challenges the catch point. His reactions are just a beat slow way too often.
You can see the labored movements as Russell drops into coverage and is forced to flip his hips and change directions several times. There is nothing explosive or fluid about those movements. As good an athlete as Russell is move forward, ask him to drop back, move laterally and flip his hips and the result is going to look a lot more lethargic. That’s the poor agility results from the Combine showing up on tape. He gives up the catch because his body and his eyes can’t stay connected to the UCF tight end.
The last area of Russell’s game to break down is block deconstruction. He has high points and low points in this area, but the ability is there for him to improve at least, where in coverage and as a tackler the lapses may always exist. Russell has the length and intensity when taking on blocks most of the time, but he’s rarely able to beat opponents to spots and put himself in a tough position to be blocked. Too often he’s sitting at the second level still trying to find the football when blockers crash down on him.
When blockers do engage him, Russell is inconsistent with his hand technique in getting off contact. Examples like this rep below are too frequent. Sure, it may be a hold, but you have the length and strength to get off this block! Do it and go make the play. Don’t leave it to the refs to bail you out.
When Russell makes himself a tough target for blockers, it makes you sit up in your chair. I watched the play below when studying his tape and wondered where more of these types of plays were on his tape. This is an awesome stop in space while working underneath and around a blocker.
In the end, Russell’s tape is about what you’d expect from a seventh-rounder. He’s a good enough athlete to stick in the NFL on special teams, but asking him to cover may be a long work in progress. Russell has the size and tackling ability to be a solid run-thumper on early downs, but his lack of instincts and weird lapses in tackling may limit his ceiling there too. The hope is that Russell can be a try-hard special teams ace for this team alongside Minter, but he may have to beat out Jack Cichy to do it, and the third-year player will have a year’s head start on him in Todd Bowles’ scheme in the meantime.
Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft