With the NFL Scouting Combine in the books, the focus can return to scouting the players. With the excellent quarterbacks and offenses NFL, team will need to find as many talented defensive backs as possible to slow opposing offenses down. Dave Archibald examines cornerback Mackensie Alexander in our latest scouting profile.
“I’m gonna say it and a lot of you guys will say that I’m the best cornerback in this draft class,” Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander said at March’s Combine. The redshirt sophomore has his devotees, who love his technique, intelligence, and attitude, but he also has detractors – critics who point to the corner’s lack of size, zero career interceptions, and off-man coverage struggles. The truth is that Alexander possesses a rare collection of strengths and weaknesses, and this unusual blend of skills makes him one of the most difficult prospects to evaluate in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Tale of the Tape
The chart below shows Alexander’s measurement and performance in Combine drills, as well as the percentile rank of how these figures stack up to other cornerbacks since 1999:
|5’10”||190||31 3/8″||9 1/8″||4.49*||11||37 1/2″*||10’1″*||4.21*||7.18*|
Data from NFLCombineResults.com and NFL.com
*Pro Day results from nfldraftscout.com
Alexander is smaller than average. He participated in few events at the Combine because of a hamstring injury, and his Pro Day results were unremarkable. Few cornerbacks with his size and athleticism profile have gone on to successful careers, with Captain Munnerlyn and Eugene Wilson being the best examples. Munnerlyn has played primarily slot corner at the NFL level, while Wilson moved to safety in order to find playing time in the NFL. However, since Clemson’s Pro Day was less than two weeks after the Combine, perhaps Alexander was not fully ready after his injury and his results should be taken with a grain of salt.
Despite less-than-ideal size and wingspan, Alexander excels at press coverage. He rarely jams the receiver solidly at the line of scrimmage, but he mirrors well and bails into a shuffle step with precision, allowing him to turn and run and take away vertical routes.
At times Alexander will overplay the outside and allow an inside release, allowing offenses to complete slants or posts against him. Alexander shows fluid hip rotation to stay with receivers through breaks, even with difficult patterns such as wheel routes. Very quick receivers can beat him with sharp cuts or pivot routes.
Clemson runs a variety of coverages, and Alexander has experience outside and in the slot. He shows good awareness of route concepts, avoiding pick and rub routes and anticipating passing attacks:
Alexander lacks the elite-level movement abilities of Vernon Hargreaves III and many of the more successful precedents for players his size. When beaten, he tends to get grabby and will commit holding penalties. He can also lose receivers when looking to the quarterback in zone coverage. One of his best attributes is his ability to disguise – he flummoxed Notre Dame’s passing attack by lining up in press and dropping into a deep Cover 3 zone at the snap. Alexander was rarely challenged but his zero career interceptions are a negative.
Tackling and Run Defense
Alexander often fails to wrap up, particularly in the open field and when charging from a deep defensive zone. He lacks the reactive athleticism to bring down ballcarriers when they juke or cut.
Alexander understands his run responsibilities and keeps the edge against outside runs. He will pursue ballcarriers downfield. Overall, he needs to improve his open-field tackling.
Alexander suffered a hamstring injury in the National Championship Game against Alabama, but has otherwise been healthy the last two seasons. He redshirted his freshman year with a groin injury that required surgery.
PFF College’s charters are high on Alexander’s play:
.@MackAlexander02 allowed just 33% of passes into his coverage to be caught in 2015—best in the 2016 draft class. https://t.co/iC8zYWksyB
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 23, 2016
SI’s Doug Farrar reviewed tape with Alexander and came away impressed:
I've watched tape with a bunch of NFL players, and Mackensie Alexander is as together with his football knowledge as any of them.
— Doug Farrar (@NFL_DougFarrar) March 18, 2016
Not everyone is so high on the cornerback, however:
— Social Distancer (@diabsoule) March 31, 2016
Jayson Braddock’s take is probably closest to mine – Alexander shows a lot to like on tape, but it’s uncertain how those skills will translate to the next level:
There's players in every draft that when you watch them, you love them, but when you study them, you see so many flaws.
— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) March 27, 2016
A betting man probably wouldn’t buy Alexander’s draft stock. There are few examples of players with his size and athleticism profile achieving NFL success, and even fewer cornerbacks with no college interceptions thriving at the next level. But Alexander’s smarts and nifty footwork give him a chance to succeed, and his ability to defend the deep ball gives him a defined floor. Clemson used him both inside and outside and in a variety of coverage schemes, and his best NFL fit is with a team that will use him in a similar fashion. That diversity will make best use of his football intelligence and ability to disguise his technique.
Follow @davearchie on Twitter. Check out his other work here, or his scouting profile of DeAndre Houston-Carson and the hidden game of Super Bowl 50.
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