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A Look at MacKensie Alexander

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Alexander was considered by most analysts the best pick by the Vikings in this year's draft, considering both the quality of the player and position drafted.

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MacKensie Alexander was touted as a first-round talent prior to the draft, as a sticky man coverage CB who gave up no TDs his last year at Clemson, and only gave up completions on about 30% of the targets to his man.  But he didn't have any INTs at Clemson, and is only 5'10" and change, so those two factors may have led to his falling to the Vikings at #54 overall in the 2nd round.

It's easy to see how Mike Zimmer would pick Alexander, despite his lack of interceptions, as he's said numerous times he doesn't value that statistic nearly as much as, "not letting your man catch the ball."  Zimmer has remarked that interceptions can often come from a tipped ball or a poorly thrown ball that has nothing to do with the CB, other than being at the right place at the right time, or from jumping a route- a practice he discourages as it can result in a boom or bust situation and leads to inconsistency that can screw up a game plan when it doesn't work.  And he's right.

With Alexander's height, he's just about at Zimmer's prototype CB height he said- 5'10.5" - so that wasn't a big negative for him.  Perhaps even less so if he ends up playing nickel/slot corner, which seems likely at some point.

Alexander's Background

Like first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, Alexander was highly recruited out of high school as one of the top prospects in the country.  While Alexander could have started at Clemson as a freshman, he red-shirted that year (2013) due to a groin injury.

But since he got on the field in 2014, Alexander's stats at Clemson suggest he was a very stingy CB.

In 2014, there were 374 pass attempts with Alexander in coverage.  Only 57 targeted Alexander's man.  That's only 15%.   Of those 57 targets, Alexander allowed 20 completions (35% of targets) for 280 yards and 2 TDs.   One of those completions came because Alexander slipped on poor turf- allowing a 74 yard TD.  If you take that play out, he allowed only 19 completions for 206 yards and a TD over 13 games.

In 8 of the 13 games he played in 2014, he allowed 13 yards or less, and no TDs.  He allowed only one 100 yard receiving game against Florida St.-that was the 74 yd TD to Rashad Greene.  That catch was the only one over 20 yards Alexander allowed all season.

In 2015, his man was targeted 57 times.  Of those, Alexander gave up 19 receptions (33% of targets) for 252 yards and no TDs over 14 games.  That's only 18 receiving yards per game.

Overall, Alexander allowed 39 receptions among 114 targets- just 34%- the lowest in this year's draft class.

Alexander's Measurables

Alexander is a little over 5'10" tall, 190lbs, with 31.3/8" arms, runs a 4.47" 40, with a 37.5" vertical, and a 4.21" short shuttle, and a 7.18" 3-cone drill.

Overall while a little on the smaller side, his speed and agility measures are all prototype and no cause for concern.

Alexander's Tape

Below are video clips of every time Alexander was targeted in 2014 & 2015

After looking at the tape, which again includes only targets and not the vast majority of times his man was not targeted,  I think you can't help but come to the conclusion that Alexander's stats hide some not-so-tight coverage on many occasions, particularly when playing off-coverage.   There were also 3 PI penalties against Alexander, and at least a few other times where there was a fair amount of contact that may or may not have been called in the NFL.  You can also see that Alexander can be in-your-face trash talking quite a bit on the field, which to some degree is a good thing in a CB, but too much and it's a penalty.

In any case, of the 111 targets Alexander's man drew during his career at Clemson, Alexander broke up 11 of them.  The other 100 were either off-target passes or drops.  But you could see on many of the incompletions, Alexander did not have especially tight coverage, and either a better thrown ball or catch and it would have been a completion.  You can expect better accuracy and fewer drops at the NFL level.   The other thing I would mention is that while Alexander allowed only 2 TDs in two seasons at Clemson, of the receptions he did allow, most of them(26/36) went for first downs.

In Alexander's defense, I think Clemson had him in press-bail coverage- where he lines up showing press coverage only to drop back just prior to the snap- too often and it didn't suit him well.  As a result, of the completions he gave up, most were underneath routes where he gave too much cushion after bailing.  The other point I'd make about Alexander's tape is that he played mostly outside at Clemson, and in a few games he gave up receptions (and one of his TDs) to a receiver that probably had 4-6" of length on him.

The good news is that is correctable with coaching and better scheme fit.  There are also some footwork issues at times and technique issues in run defense that he can work on.   And, although he shows some aggressiveness and good tackling at times in run defense (he did have 4 TFLs), at other times he seems more passive and unwilling to sacrifice his body to make a play.  So, being more consistent in run defense and improving his positioning at times is another area where Alexander can make some improvements.

Overall, while his stats make him look better than he is, it doesn't appear that his problems are major issues and seem correctable within his first year or so.

Alexander's Character and Personality

While some said that Alexander's drop into the 2nd round was due to his size and lack of interceptions in college, Tony Pauline reported that, "numerous" sources say Mackensie Alexander is "a very difficult person to deal with off the field."

"He was difficult at Clemson, and some of his coaches are giving Alexander less than rave reviews to NFL teams - and I'm being kind," Pauline wrote. "This is something originally brought to my attention during Clemson's pro day on March 10, and something I took with a grain of salt. But since last Friday, I've spoken with multiple sources, and it seems Alexander's off-the-field personality has been spoken about at length in war rooms around the league." In Pauline's estimation, Alexander possesses the very best ball skills in this entire class. So where does this leave Alexander's draft stock? That much is unknown, but this is how Pauline sees the situation: "If he starts to drop deep into Round 1, or even out of the first frame altogether, it'll be due to his off-the-field persona."

While I have no idea what in particular the issue being reported is, I've read from other sources that say Alexander is both cocky on the field, but pretty quiet off the field.   From his first interview since becoming a Viking, and from his story growing up working in the orange groves, the son of Haitian immigrants, and his giving back to his community, there seems a lot more good than worrisome as far as I can tell.  Perhaps Pauline could have simply been offered some misinformation by a team in hopes he'd slide to them- who knows.   

Add to that a very strong work ethic, passion for the game, willingness to spend a lot of time in the film room, and a demonstrated toughness and physicality on the field, and Alexander looks pretty well acclimated for success in the NFL.  GM Rick Spielman doesn't seem to have any character concerns either:

"Just love the kid, not only as a high character kid but for the way the kid competes. He competed at a very high level. The skill set that he has to play man coverage especially, and his feet and his quickness and the way he can mirror routes, fits what we try to do from a scheme [stand]point."





Summary and Projection

While there has been a wide variety of opinion about Alexander and his NFL prospects- with some saying he's a draft pick that will make an instant impact, while others say he's one of the biggest boom or bust candidatesPFF rates him pretty high, and his nfl.com draft profile and cbssports.com draft profile were generally pretty favorable too, comparing him to a smaller version of Josh Norman or Desmond Trufant- both very good CBs.

But I can see where some of the questions come from looking at his tape, and how his statistics overstate his effectiveness.  One can look at his tape and point to coverage he wouldn't get away with at the NFL level.  However, I tend to think his height and lack of interception concerns are overstated as well.  He does play a little taller, so to speak, and "not letting your man catch the ball" is a lot more important over the course of a game than the occasional interception that can sometimes be a gift rather than a testament to talent and ability.   Breaking up a pass on third down can be just as good as an interception sometimes.

But also through better coaching, Alexander will be able to improve his deficiencies with off-man coverage and other minor technique issues to tighten his coverage and better his game.  Alexander will also be better served playing more press-man coverage- which is his strong suit- under Mike Zimmer's scheme.  While Alexander's best position may be slot CB, he could play outside too.

Ultimately I could see Zimmer developing Alexander similar to what he did with Trae Waynes last year, only as primarily a slot CB behind Munnerlyn.  It's not out of the question he could give Waynes and Newman a run for their money outside as well.  But most likely I expect Alexander to get some reps working mainly in the slot this year- similar to Waynes last year- and be ready to assume a starting role next year, or perhaps be the main backup CB both in the slot and outside if Munnerlyn is extended.

The competition will be interesting to watch, as I wouldn't be surprised if Alexander emerges as the Vikings' best CB in the next few years.  He has that upside.