With the vast network of team-specific sites on SB Nation, we decided to reach out to some of the teams that former Clemson players will be playing for in the NFL. Today we had a chance to talk with Daily Norseman, the SB Nation site for the Minnesota Vikings. They were kind enough to answer a few questions about Alexander and Kearse for us.
STS: What was your reaction when hearing the Vikings first picked Alexander and then Jayron Kearse?
DN: I've got to be honest. . .the Alexander pick was a bit of a surprise. The Vikings were expected to address the secondary at this year's draft, but it was widely thought their need at the safety position was much greater than their need at cornerback. But, when someone like Alexander falls into your lap in the second round, it's really too good to pass up. He projects as more of a slot corner in the NFL, and the Vikings have a very good player at that spot already in Captain Munnerlyn, but he's in the final year of his deal. It's very possible that the Vikings would groom Alexander as Munnerlyn's replacement. Kearse also experienced a bit of a drop from where he was projected to be picked, but he seems to be more of a raw prospect than Alexander is at this point. There's a void in the Minnesota defense next to Harrison Smith at safety, but Kearse is probably going to have a bit of an uphill battle on his hands if he wants to be the one to fill it.
STS: What has been the reaction of the fanbase to both selections?
DN: The response to the Alexander selection has been overwhelmingly positive. I think a lot of people were surprised that he fell the way he did, and he's exuded a confidence in his interviews that I think a lot of fans like. The segment that featured him on SportsCenter the day after the draft has really gotten a lot of folks behind the pick. It showed a lot of folks that might not have been familiar with him just how far he's come over the course of his life and makes fans want to see him succeed even more. As far as the Kearse pick, he was a pretty big name for that spot in the draft, but it's a lot harder to get fired up about a guy that gets selected at the end of the seventh round than it is for a second round pick.
STS: How does Alexander fit into the Vikings plans for 2015 and beyond?
DN: Like I mentioned earlier, Alexander's best position would appear to be as an inside slot cornerback in the NFL, where he can use his quickness to keep up with the smaller, quicker receivers that generally line up there. The Vikings' current slot corner, Captain Munnerlyn, had a very good 2015 season after a down year in 2014, and is in the final year of a three-year contract. It seems quite likely to me that Alexander was brought on board to be Munnerlyn's replacement, and to form a very good trio with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes that the team can build the secondary around going forward.
STS: One of the big reasons we think Kearse slipped so far in the draft is because of a lack of effort (likely trying to protect his draft stock, ironically) in 2015. Does Minnesota have a coaching staff that can get Kearse to buy in and perform to his ability?
DN: If there's anyone that can get the maximum out of a tall, rangy safety type like Kearse, it's Mike Zimmer and company. When the Vikings hired Zimmer in 2014, he brought in a very good veteran secondary coach in Jerry Gray, and he's done a pretty good job with the defensive backs during his time in Minnesota so far. Kearse is going to take a lot of molding, and he might wind up on the practice squad for the 2016 season, but if these coaches get an opportunity to work with him, they have as good a chance as anyone to turn him into a contributor at the safety position.
STS: What do you see as some of the negative parts of Alexander's game that he will need to work on to have success in the NFL?
DN: The big one is probably going to be his ball skills, from what I've seen of him so far. We've heard ad nauseum since he was picked that he hasn't had an interception in two years, and while the ability to cover is the most important thing for a cornerback, the ability to occasionally take one away is nice to have, too. Fortunately, if Alexander continues to cover players the way he's shown he's able to so far, I'm guessing the interceptions will start coming sooner or later. Still, if he has something he needs to work on, that's probably the biggest one.
STS: If Kearse can actually be motivated to play, what do you see his biggest strength being for Minnesota?
DN: If the Vikings can get Kearse motivated, he looks to be a player that can do a lot of things. At 6'4", he can hang with a lot of the tight ends at the NFL level in coverage if he's asked to play man coverage, and he could also do well with his range as a single-high safety. The Vikings have one of the NFL's best safeties in Harrison Smith, and Kearse would do well to soak up as much as he can from the Hitman. With his size, he could even become one of those "swing" type of players that have come en vogue in the NFL today, where guys have the ability to flex between safety and linebacker like Deone Buchanon in Arizona or Mark Barron with Los Angeles. But, as you said, it's all about getting him motivated.
STS: Do you think Jayron Kearse makes the final 53-man roster for Minnesota or is he going to be doomed by not having enough talent?
DN: Well, the competition for the safety spot next to Smith is going to be wide open this year in camp for the Vikings. They signed Michael Griffin in free agency and Andrew Sendejo is the incumbent, but neither of them are terribly attractive options. Depending on how quickly the coaching staff could get Kearse coached up, with his athletic ability he has as good a chance as anyone to emerge with a spot. Also, like many late-round picks, a lot is going to be made of his ability to contribute on special teams. That's going to go back to the motivation factor that we've mentioned several times. If Kearse realizes that he might have to start out as a special teamer and work his way into getting snaps on defense, then he could probably fight his way up the depth chart fairly quickly.