SI 50, No. 9: CB Mackensie Alexander
Get all of Doug Farrar’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
With the 2016 NFL draft just a couple of weeks away, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to finish the process of getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar has assembled his own Big Board, with his top 50 players.
The SI 50 uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they’re slotted as such. As we dive into the top 10, the scouting reports get deeper. Next up is the Clemson player who has already declared he's the best cornerback in this draft class—and is likely correct.
9. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Height: 5' 10" Weight: 190
Bio: At the combine, Mackensie Alexander said that he’s the best cornerback in this draft class—a bold statement from a guy who never had an interception in his collegiate career. But here’s the thing, he might just be right.
According to Pro Football Focus, Alexander allowed just 19 receptions on 58 targets for 258 yards, 95 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, and a passer rating of 48.7 in 2015. Jalen Ramsey didn’t match those stats, nor did Vernon Hargreaves III, nor did Eli Apple, nor did William Jackson III. When it comes to the top shutdown cornerbacks in this class, Alexander does stand alone statistically. He limited Notre Dame’s Will Fuller to one catch in Clemson’s 24–22 win over Notre Dame, which was the most high-profile example in a season where he negated the efforts of a lot of quality receivers. Alexander got a warning from the officials in the Notre Dame game for taunting Fuller, and his smack about Fuller at the combine was certainly a highlight of the week.
“You have to have ego to play this game,” he told me in March, when we reviewed tape of multiple plays from his 2015 season. “If you’re a man with no ego out there, you’re probably not going to win. You have to have a chip out there on that corner to win. You’ve got to have something. You’re not just going to go out there and play like you’re going to win—it doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to have a nasty attitude when you’re out there. You’ve got to understand and be able to think at the same time.”
Alexander has consistently backed this up, and his brashness becomes even more understandable when you know his background. The son of Haitian immigrants who worked in the tomato fields of Florida to put food on the table, he always understood that he had to make the most of every opportunity. Alexander committed to the Tigers as the fourth-ranked high-school player in the nation, and set a school record for on-field snaps for a freshman in 2014. He amassed 33 solo tackles and 111 passes defensed over his two college seasons, but, as mentioned above, no interceptions. That has some people wondering how he can possibly be a starting cornerback in the NFL, but when you turn on the tape, it’s easy to see that Alexander has everything he needs for the next level.
Strengths: Alexander has the best mirroring and transition speed of any cornerback in this class. Takes his receiver seamlessly from the first step throughout the route, and turns and flips on a dime to stay with them through quick-breaking and option routes. Has the chase and recovery speed to close in and deflect passes with good timing. Understands his movement in the deep routes, and gets his hand on the receiver and tracks the ball well throughout the throw. Great with angles and will use his body to cut routes to the quick. Transitions between man and bail coverage seamlessly, which is a process that many NFL cornerbacks find tough to handle. Excellent economy of motion allows him to play the entire field well.
Very contentious, competitive player who keeps the fight going all the way through—his battle against Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard last season is a must-watch. Plays wide and tall coverage as an outside corner out of necessity; Clemson’s schemes left him without help in curl/flat routes and over the top at times. Good musculature for the position and will throw his body around against the run. Takes it upon himself to bring his game to a different level.
Weaknesses: In Alexander’s case, height is an issue—he was especially flummoxed by North Carolina’s bigger receivers on intermediate angle routes, and he’ll be tested on this non-stop in the NFL. Will need to develop his off-coverage skills if he’s drafted by a team that requires them; at this point, he’s better when he’s following the receiver from the first step. Needs to be more of a wrap tackler and less of a shoulder-shiver player. Needs to make sure he keeps his emotions in check, as he could be taken out of his game emotionally by craftier NFL receivers.
Conclusion: Is Mackensie Alexander the ideal prototype for the modern NFL outside cornerback? No, and there are times when his height can be a real issue. But the attributes he brings to the table are very hard to find. He’s turned himself into a legitimate island and boundary cornerback, proven to be better against the most challenging wide receivers, and has been able to back up everything he says about himself. He has the talent to be a starting slot and number-two corner from Day 1 and the potential to be a lot more than that. When he says that he’s the best cornerback in this draft class, Alexander speaks the truth.
Pro Comparison: Chris Harris, Broncos (Undrafted, Kansas)