Every year there seems to always be a prospect overlooked in the pre-draft process who later becomes a very good contributor for his NFL team. This year, I feel like that player could be Jaire Alexander. A 5’11” junior cornerback from the University of Louisville, Alexander was a three-star recruit coming out of Rock River High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a freshman, Alexander logged only one start while contributing mainly on special teams. In his sophomore season, he earned second team all-ACC honors, intercepting a team-leading five passes to go along with returning a punt 67 yards for a touchdown versus Florida State. His final season at Louisville was one that was marred by injuries. Alexander hurt his knee in the opener and would go on to miss the next four games. In the six games that he played, Alexander registered 19 tackles and one interception. Leading up into this season Alexander was a projected first round pick but the combination of his injuries and the rise of other corners have caused his draft stock to slip a bit. He is now thought of by most as a second-round pick behind guys like Josh Jackson, Denzel Ward, Isaiah Oliver, and to some, Carlton Davis. While he can be overlooked because of the fact he doesn’t have the height-speed combination with elite ball skills like Josh Jackson or the elite man-to-man ability of Ward. I believe that Alexander can offer all of that a highly discounted price at his current projected draft position in the second-round.
When I watched film of Alexander at Louisville, one of the first things that stood out to me was tenacity and confidence that he plays with. In Alexander’s own words, he called himself a savage on the field and a ruthless competitor. Like Jalen Ramsey, Alexander exudes confidence in his abilities at all times. He’s not afraid to make a play and then get up and talk trash to the opponent. This is often an undervalued skill as scouts often fall in love with a player’s speed and height. This mix of passion, tenacity, and confidence are part of the reasons Jalen Ramsey is so great and these same qualities make Alexander’s presence known on the field. His mentality also shows up in the run game and tackling where Alexander explodes to the ball to make tackles.
Speed, Instincts, Agility Combo
Despite not having elite technique, Alexander still managed to be one of the best cover corners this year. This can be attributed to the fact that he possesses natural instincts along with good speed and agility that let him make plays without elite technique. Speed and instincts are things that can’t be taught. Just because a guy runs a 4.3 40-time doesn’t mean that he will play like it on the field. Alexander’s speed definitely shows up on film. He flies around the field effortlessly, reacting quickly and then flying to ball and making a play. In zone coverage, Alexander frequently reads developing routes quickly before driving on them and finishing the play. This combination of instincts coupled with speed and quickness are an example of traits that can translate to the next level.
When it comes down to it, playing corner is about making plays. You can’t make plays without ball skills and the NFL scouts and coaches realizes this also. Scouts and coaches are in love with guys who have the natural ability to take the ball away and cause turnovers. A former receiver, Alexander has excellent hands and has a knack of getting them on the ball almost every game. Alexander showed that he could track down passes and intercept them when the opportunity was there, also knocking out the ball when finishing tackles to cause incompletions or fumbles.
At Louisville, Alexander was asked to play in a multitude of different positions and schemes. He operated from both the outside and the slot in both zone and man concepts. This again is a prized ability in the NFL as you can no longer be a one trick pony. Alexander also showcased a multitude of techniques along with counter moves in coverage. From a straight up jam at the line to a shuffle technique from press, he showed a wide knowledge of advanced techniques that take some people years to learn.
The fact that Alexander was one of the top shutdown corners in the country this past year is by itself impressive. But couple that with the fact that Alexander still can improve a ton with more attention to detail on the nuances of coverage, and that’s flat out amazing. Not every guy out there can be a shutdown corner, but I believe Jaire Alexander can develop into oneat the professional level. He is always one of the fiercest competitors on the field and possess excellent instincts, versatility, and athleticism. Once he homes in on technique, he could function in a way similar to Chris Harris Jr., effectively shutting guys down from both the slot and outside.
Right now, one of the only problems I see with Alexander’s game is his technique in coverage, especially his footwork. Having proper technique is a big part of being a great corner. You can only win for so long solely relying on athleticism and instincts. In press coverage, he often jump-splits, not staying square for as long as possible. Press coverage is about disrupting timing between the receiver and quarterback; this is accomplished by staying square, having good footwork, and coming to the line with a plan of attack. Alexander still needs to improve his footwork, which will allow him to stay square longer, allowing him to cover top receivers. He goes into each play with a clear idea of what technique he is going to employ. A key part of being successful is being decisive, and Alexander shows decisiveness. Although these issues seem minor, having good technique is the difference between being a good NFL corner and falling out of the NFL completely.
My overall take on Alexander is positive. He’s an aggressive, physical, athletic corner with excellent ball skills and instincts. If you draft based on potential, he could arguably be the top corner in the class, but if you grade based on the film and technique, he falls behind. He lacks the overall polish in his technique and footwork to rank above Denzel Ward and Josh Jackson right now. He also is shorter than what NFL teams are looking for in the ideal corner. I do think Alexander can be a success. He possesses a winning attitude with great instincts, ball skills, and speed. As I said before, even if he never fully develops technique, his instincts and competitiveness will keep him in the NFL. If he can make technique refinements, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alexander tearing up the NFL.