When we first witnessed Mackensie Alexander in the #2 Clemson uniform, a few things went through our heads. The first had to be: who is this guy replacing the great Sammy Watkins in the #2 jersey; the second was can he play? Well if you didn’t know who he was when he arrived as a freshman to Death Valley it didn’t take long to find out what he was all about.
Considered the 4th best overall prospect out of high school, it is no surprise Mackensie Alexander rose to be the "lock-down" corner we have come to know. Alexander gave Brent Venables and the rest of the Tiger’s defensive unit an exceptional (red-shirt) two-year collegiate career and promises nothing but greatness moving forward.
As his career with Clemson is coming to an early end and his future in the NFL will be determined in this week's draft, Alexander looks to be one of the more interesting prospects in this year’s class. We have seen Mack's draft stock drop since his announcement after the National Championship game; Mel Kiper currently has Mack headed to Baltimore in the 2nd round (36th overall). There are obviously some questions most NFL scouts will have in relation to his size, statistics, and skill set before they decide to select him on Draft Day; the real question is how can he respond to the adversity his doubters may throw his way?
Mack is in many ways an undersized player heading to the league. But when comparing Mack to the rest of the league’s height at the CB position, he is really not far off from the average. There are no corners starting in the league over 6’1. So while Mack may be two or three inches shorter; where he lacks in size, he makes up for with his football IQ, instinctual on ball skills, and domineering athleticism.
Standing at a solid 5’10, 190 he should be a fine sized cornerback for the NFL. Considering the rules regarding 5-yard contact and pretty much not being able to touch receivers at all, most teams will want someone with extreme cover skills and athleticism. That is Mack described in a nut-shell; skilled, smart, and athletic.
From a statistical view point, Alexander is as much of a toss-up as you can get. In his two season with the Tigers he simply just doesn’t have the statistics you would imagine someone of his caliber would have. Not securing a single interception is a major (yet overblown) red flag to teams as well. Last season he made 21 tackles, no interceptions, and no sacks.
However, it isn’t necessarily his stats teams should focus on. If you go back and watch film on Mack it is easy to see why he doesn’t have the interceptions on his stat sheet; teams avoid him at all costs. Against one of the nation’s best receivers, Will Fuller (Notre Dame) he gave up 2 receptions (1 of which was on a tunnel screen) the entire game. In arguably the biggest win of the 2015 season, the BYOG game, Mackensie shined as he completely shut down what was supposed to be a "game deciding threat" in Fuller.
Consider the 2014 Russel Athletic Bowl, where Clemson completely wrecked Oklahoma 40-6. In the game we saw a match-up that was full of pre-game smack talk and in-game results. Mack shut down Sterling Shepard, allowing a mere catch for 13 yards the entire game. Alexander has proven his ability to actually shut down a receiver completely and render him meaningless.
Mack has a fiery athleticism that helps make up for his lack of size. His cockiness also helps give him a self-confidence that tends to negatively affect his opponents and fuel his competitive fire. In his collegiate career, Alexander allowed only 29.6% completion rate.
Alexander's work-ethic and football IQ became the stuff of legend while at Clemson. He can easily read and disrupt plays before they ever develop as well. His knowledge of the game mixed with his sheer athleticism and instinctual play-making abilities allow him to be a threat no matter where he is on the field, Here we see Mack tear apart a screen pass against NC State last season:
Pro Day Results:
40-yard dash: 4.47 seconds
Vertical: 37 1/2 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet, 1 inch
Short shuttle: 4.21 seconds
3-cone: 7.18 seconds
The upside of drafting a player like Mack is his sheer instinct for the game. His ability to track the ball and make the play has proven to be the best in the nation, despite his lack of takeaways. His presence on the field has caused teams to go towards the other side of the field, and avoid throwing towards him at all costs. Along with his ball-tracking abilities, Mack can also be of great help in the run game. Lined up in the nickel position for much of the last half of 2015, Mackensie has been able to get a quick jump on many run plays and disrupt the offensive flow before it ever gets going. Here we see him stopping a Georgia Tech outside pitch in the backfield:
Alexander’s quickness and recovery skills may be the thing that set him apart from other DB’s in the draft. Countless times we have found him losing a step off the line of scrimmage but making up for it when the ball is in the air. Several times against Boston College and Florida State, the opposition attempted deep balls assuming their outside receiver could beat Mack in a leg race; they were wrong. Every one of those deep balls was knocked away, or he caused the receiver to get off his route. Getting beat off the line hasn’t proven to be an issue for Alexander; he tends to thrive off of the contact he makes within the first few yards, then turn with speed to stay in front of his opponents.
Along with covering the slot receiver from the nickel position, Mack is also great at blitzing. We have seen countless times, either a TFL (tackle for loss) or a rushed pass; leading to either an interception or incomplete pass. A great example is the bull-rush he showed several times last season against South Carolina:
His attitude is a mixture of Richard Sherman with some Josh Norman mixed in. Mack isn't going to be pushed around when he gets to the league, no matter how much smaller he is than his teammates. His aggressive and fiery to the game is perfect for getting in the hear of opponents as well as fueling himself up to do great things. Some have compared his playing style with Chris Harris Jr. (Denver Broncos) as well in relation to mechanics and technique.
Mirror Speed- He possess the ability, partially due to his size, to keep up with the fastest receivers the NFL has to offer, while simultaneously making a play on the ball. His ability to match receivers stride-for-stride has been well documented and is one of the reasons he is so feared by opposing offensive coordinators.
Quick Hip Movement- Mack has the ability to turn his hips at a very high rate, meaning he can face guard a receiver for a few yards, instead of bailing on every play. His quick movements make him tough to get around and can cause problems for inexperienced or unfocused quarterbacks.
Competitiveness- Possibly his biggest strength is the desire to compete at the highest level. He has proven time and time again that when the lights are brightest, he is ready to shine. Mack has shown he can be the most emotionally invested man on the field, displaying his feelings after every swatted ball or made tackle.
Why is he a wildcard?
Long story short, he isn’t statistically comparable with others in the class such as Jalen Ramsey and Vernon Hargreaves III. When taking a first or early second round pick, the scouts need to be certain whoever they choose is going to be "the guy" for them. However, anyone with the ability to watch game film can see how impactful this guy truly is to his team. But have no fear, if Mackensie Alexander shows the same work ethic and hunger to succeed in the NFL as he did when he arrived in Death Valley three years ago, some NFL team is going to be extremely pleased to have him.