Outside of the physical and athletic traits, NFL cornerbacks shouldn’t lack for confidence if they hope to succeed.
Clemson cornerback and potential first-round NFL pick Mackensie Alexander has confidence in spades.
“I was made for it,” Alexander said Thursday. “I came out of the womb running.”
Alexander doesn’t have ideal height for an NFL cornerback at 5-foot-10, but there’s nothing he can do about that. At Clemson’s pro day on Thursday, when NFL personnel came to watch him during drills, Alexander showed he has the hands to intercept passes he was unable to last season, and the speed he was unable to showcase at last month’s NFL scouting combine.
Primarily a press-man cornerback who didn’t see the ball thrown his way much during his final season with the Tigers, Alexander enjoyed the pro-day performance he’d hoped for, he said.
He said he was clocked with a 4.45 and 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash after not running at the combine because of a hamstring injury suffered in the national championship game against Alabama in January. He also registered a 37 1/2-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch.
“My hands were a question and my speed was a question and I checked both of them off today,” Alexander said. “I ran really well. I’ve got good speed, got good hands and I showcased that today. I looked really good in drills.
“It was an impressing day and definitely a big day for me and I did well. They definitely left with smiling faces.”
Alexander looked smooth in defensive back drills, showing quick change of direction while dropping but one pass thrown his way.
He had 11 pass breakups but no interceptions in his final two seasons with Clemson, so he made it a point Thursday to leap for and catch balls in front of scouts and coaches from nearly every NFL team.
Panthers sources have indicated some interest in Alexander, but he’s not a perfect fit for their scheme. The Panthers prefer taller, lengthy cornerbacks who can defend bigger receivers and fit their zone scheme.
That’s not to say Alexander won’t be chosen in the first round, though some draft projections have him going anywhere from the first round to falling into the third round. There’s a consensus among draftniks that he’s behind the likes of Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves and Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller.
Alexander made his name in college by eliminating one his opponent’s top targets, essentially wiping away one side of the field. His coaches say that’s why he didn’t register an interception last season.
“I think it’s good game-planning that they’re not making themselves vulnerable, because when they watch the tape they see that he’s always in great position,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “That was a big part of it because he had a very limited amount of opportunities. It’s not like you watch the tape and he had a bunch in his hands.
“When we played with him, we reduced the field because he took a guy out of it. That was a big part of his job, to lock a guy up and take him out of it.”
Of course, NFL receivers are bigger and more talented than the college receivers he shut down.
How would Alexander, at 5-10 and 190 pounds, go about locking down a 6-5, 245-pound receiver like the Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin?
“You’ve got to understand a guy’s strengths and weaknesses – what he likes to do, what is he good at – and take his best stuff away,” said Alexander, who was known at Clemson for putting in extra time in the film room learning his opponents’ tendencies.
“Is he a fade guy? Take that away. If it’s a guy that is big and run routes, you want to make him beat you short. You’ve got to understand what game plan your coordinator has for that week to eliminate a guy like that. That’s a big guy.”
Venables and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said – when asked about Alexander’s size holding him back – to just “turn on the tape” and your questions will be answered.
Swinney saw Alexander face some of Clemson’s top receivers in practice – from Sammy Watkins to Martavis Bryant to Mike Williams – and hold his own. He’s confident that will continue in the NFL.
“He plays 6-foot-5,” Swinney said of Alexander. “It’s the same reason it (height) didn’t hold (Seattle 5-11 quarterback) Russell Wilson back. He’s just a great player.
“I’ve seen it day in and day out here. I’ve seen it on game day. Hardly anybody throws at him. And he’s just a strong, physical guy. Maybe he’s not 6 feet tall, but he plays it. At the end of the day he plays it. That’s what it’s about, not how you look.”