INDIANAPOLIS — Mackensie Alexander may not be the first cornerback off the board on draft day. He would like everyone to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what a mistake he thinks it would be if that's the case.
“I'm gonna say it and a lot of you guys will say that I'm the best cornerback in this draft class,” the Clemson product said during a fiery press conference Saturday that shot a charge into what has been a relatively quiet combine. “You look at stats, my numbers, who I am as a person, who I'm competing against—I went against the best wide receivers in the country, I went against more of the top wide receivers than anybody in this draft class, and I'm going step for step. I'm moving outside, I'm going inside, I'm playing zone, I'm able to blitz, I'm able to show my versatility ... everything.”
Alexander will take the field for drills Monday, alongside the 2016 class's top defensive backs: Jalen Ramsey, Vernon Hargreaves, William Jackson, Eli Apple, etc.
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The former Tiger has the least experience of the group, having played just two seasons after taking a redshirt in 2013. He also finished his college career without an interception, a note that has been the most prominent knock against him thus far.
“I had some opportunities to come up with picks in my career,” Alexander said. “I didn't come up with them at the end of the day. I'm taking it like a man. In a lot of my situations I wasn't challenged very much. A lot of quarterbacks and teams stayed away from me. That was their game plan.”
The lack of looks his way plus the absence of interceptions can make it a little more difficult to decipher Alexander's skill set. Teams did indeed shy away from the 5’10” corner, although he managed to break up 11 passes over his two seasons. NFL.com also has him allowing just a 29.5% completion rate on throws his direction.
In other words, the ability to eliminate an opponent's top receiving option was well within Alexander's capabilities at Clemson. Will that still be the case at the next level?
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Alexander certainly believes so, in large part because of the work he puts in off the field.
“I'm definitely going to have some things I don't know in the league, but my defensive coordinator has put a lot of emphasis on learning the game, understanding football, understanding offenses—personnel, their tendencies,” Alexander said. “Then I take it upon myself to learn more, because I'm super competitive and I want to be the best, not just on game day, at everything. ... I want to be the guy every day, every play.”
As if wanting to show off his ability to win on the mental side, Alexander later launched into rather in-depth scouting reports on a pair of receivers here at the combine: Ole Miss's Laquon Treadwell and Notre Dame's Will Fuller.
On Treadwell, Alexander said: “If I'm going against Treadwell, which I've studied, I know who he is, I haven't played against him. My game plan is, OK, he's a big guy he knows how to use his body real well. Another guy we have at Clemson, Mike Williams, same personnel. They're not very fast but you know they're going to give you what they got. They've very aggressive, they're very physical, they snatch the ball in the air.
“I'm taking what they do best, taking those jump balls away, making them catch shorter balls. Their yards come from YAC (yards after catch), big-time plays. They're averaging 18 to 17 yards a catch, my job is to take those balls away and make their offensive coordinator change their route plan and go somewhere else with it. That's how you win.”
Alexander was far less complimentary of Fuller's game, even as the NFL Network aired Fuller's blazing 40-yard dash on a TV within Alexander's eyesight.
“If I'm covering Will Fuller, I know he's a deep, vertical guy. He just ran a 4.3. I'm proud of him. You know, he's a fast guy and I'm fast, too. ... If I take his vertical game away, I wouldn't say he sucks but he's not that good. You force [Notre Dame coach Brian] Kelly to go into the screen game, which they did a lot against us, just to get him touches.”
Clemson knocked off Notre Dame in early October, 24–22. Fuller caught two passes for 37 yards in the game, which was played during a persistent downpour.
It's safe to say that Alexander believes he could have held Fuller in check no matter the weather conditions. He definitely expects to have that sort of impact on a weekly basis, once he reaches the NFL. And Alexander would recommend to all the teams scouting him that they draft him as early as possible.
“I'm 22 but I'm ready,” Alexander said. “And I'm ready to compete with anybody, there's nobody more dedicated than me, who's put more time, who's more of a competitor than me. ... I'm here prepared and I'm telling you I'm the best corner in this draft class.”