DENVER (CBS4) – The NFL Draft kicks off April 28 and by that time Matt Russell will have viewed enough film of players to make anyone’s head spin.
Russell played football at the University of Colorado and in 1996 he won the Collegiate Butkus award for being the nations’ top college linebacker. And he’s one of the lucky ones because he is still doing something he loves; he’s the Denver Broncos director of college scouting.
“I knew that this was the route that I wanted to go when I got done playing,” Russell told CBS4′s Gary Miller. “When I was a kid I dug into Texas Football. It was a magazine way back when. It was high school kids and I always followed that stuff as a kid. And I’ve always been interested in this side of the game. I like the evaluation side and I enjoy looking at football players.”
“I get paid to watch tape and evaluate guys and try to make good decisions, and I couldn’t be happier.”Russell oversees a department full of scouts and then reports to the Broncos three-headed brain trust: Vice President of Football Operations John Elway, Head Coach John Fox and General Manager Brian Xanders.
One thing he knows for certain is that the Broncos are finally committed to rebuilding through the draft.
“I’ve always believed that the draft is the way to go to build a team. You’re getting young players that don’t have a lot of wear and tear on their bodies yet. Certainly free agency on the pro side is extremely important but when you look back to the history of the draft in the NFL you really want to make the best decisions you can make on draft day because that’s ultimately how you build a football team.”
Despite all the work he and the scouts do, Russell says he understands that the draft remains an inexact science.
“Why is it so hit or miss with guys? You watch them, you study the tape. You have all the measurables. Why is it so hit and miss?” CBS4′s Gary Miller asked.
“I think there’s a number of unknowns,” Russell said. “The passion for football — that plays a role. There’s always guys who are paper champions that just didn’t turn out to be good football players. And I think you take all that into consideration.”
“I personally feel, and the feeling around the organization is, is that you really want good football players.”
With the Broncos owning the second pick in the draft, Russell has got about as much information as anyone on the draft’s top prospects. He says he thinks the players most experts think the Broncos could take — defensive linemen Marcell Dareus Nick Fairley and Da’Quan Bowers, linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Patrick Peterson — all appear to be surefire pros.
He also believes that Nate Solder, a 6-foot-8 offensive lineman from CU, is a can’t miss prospect. In addition to seeing demonstrations of great strength and control of his body on tape, Russell got a taste first hand of how special Solder is as a player at CU’s pro timing day in early March.
“We got ready to work him out and myself and our offensive line coach Dave Magazu went down together and they needed someone to hold the bag so I thought I would help out,” Russell said.
That turned out to be a bit of a bad choice. Butkus award winner or not, Russell was clearly not a good match for Solder, who is a potential first round pick. A CBS4 crew was there shooting video when Solder leveled Russell and sent the blocking bag flying. The hit drew a lot of oohs and ahs from onlookers, and it left Russell with a large bruise on his face.
This video of the hit also has gotten more than 93,000 views on YouTube:
“The first thing that hit — which is kind of tough to tell on the tape — was his forehead which hit right into my cheekbone because I had the bag down low,” Russell said. “I’m in midair and on the way to the ground I’m thinking ‘Did my face just get crushed?’”
Russell’s got the photo of the hit taped up in his office as a reminder never to volunteer for that duty again.