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Notre Dame's KeiVarae Russell Believes He's The Draft's Best Cornerback

By Chris Emma--

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CBS) -- Confidence must consume an NFL cornerback. When tasked with standing between a receiver and the end zone, that inner belief is required.

From Richard Sherman's antics to Darrelle's "Revis Island," the NFL has its share of confident corners. That serves as showmanship in front of the cameras and microphones, but it must be backed on the field. Revis must keep his opponents on his island all game long.

Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell talks the talk and seems to be walking the walk, too. A rising NFL draft prospect, Russell's catching scouts' attention.

Asked where he ranks in this class of corners, Russell didn't hold back.

"When I'm at my best, I'm at the top," Russell said. "There's not many out here like me."

Russell has swagger in his personality and brings a good game. He's a pest as a cover corner and makes life difficult for a receiver.

Thursday at Notre Dame's pro day, Russell put on a display for the 72 NFL representatives from 31 teams. He ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and showed that his quickness ranks among the best cornerbacks in the draft.

To make matters more impressive, Russell's still recovering from a broken tibia suffered late November in Notre Dame's win over Boston College at Fenway Park. He still performed to a strong level while not quite at peak form.

"My 90 (percent health) is better than damn near everybody's 100 in this country," Russell said.

Russell's story at Notre Dame is a unique one. He was suspended for the entire 2014 season and from the entire university due to academic dishonesty. Russell spent that time training, specifically focused on his speed and quickness, and preparing for a return to the Fighting Irish.

Rather than leaving Notre Dame, Russell was committed to a comeback. He regained the trust of coach Brian Kelly and reclaimed his position as a starter. Russell tallied 60 tackles and two interceptions in the Fighting Irish's 10-3 campaign, doing so with a stress fracture in his foot in the second half of the season. He managed with a walking boot and treatment during the week, preparing it for action on Saturdays.

Following his junior season, Russell declared for the NFL Draft, believing he was ready to take on the professional level. His stock started in the middle-to-late rounds but has since been rising. Now, he could go as high as the second or third round.

The Bears are among teams that have met with Russell, and they brought four representatives to the Notre Dame pro day, including running backs coach Stan Drayton and receivers coach Curtis Johnson.

By timing within the top-five cornerback rankings of every workout, Russell says, he's moving up the charts. Multiple scouts in South Bend backed Russell's claims to a fair degree, believing his NFL future is bright.

Russell stands by the claim that he's the best cornerback in the draft, which would exceed even Florida State standout Jalen Ramsey and his comparisons of Charles Woodson. No pressure, Keivarae.

"I honestly believe I'm at the top," Russell said.

"You evaluate my senior year, and it's inconsistent, but I was playing with a stress fracture. Let's just be real, I'm playing with a stress fracture."

The Bears are expected to be among teams considering Russell's upside when the NFL Draft arrives at the end of April. Sure, his film is an incomplete product, but there's more than enough to like. Factor in the strong workouts, and Russell's stock deserves its rise.

Of course, that confidence never wavered. Russell believes he's the best corner available, and he's out to prove it true.

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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