I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It's no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
The first place to start when discussing cornerbacks in the 2016 NFL draft is that it doesn't appear the deepest class at this position we have seen, nor does it seem to have the top-shelf quality we always desire. There sure doesn't look to be a prospect at corner who checks all the boxes that you seek without any of the concerns. They all get knocked for something, but the top tier in most opinions consists of Florida State's Jalen Ramsey (a player who seems to be a better safety), Florida's Vernon Hargeaves (an undersized corner who may have some deep route issues), and Mackensie Alexander from Clemson.
Alexander is a player who started his only two seasons at Clemson as a corner who would follow some of the best receivers in the nation, and he often showed very well against them. This season alone, he played man-up against Notre Dame's Will Fuller, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard and Alabama's Calvin Ridley. While none of those players would be considered giant receivers at all, they all appear to have the movement skills of top NFL prospects and a be handful for any corner at the college level. Well, Alexander did not struggle at all. In fact, he handled Sterling Shepard two years in a row and was more than happy to tell him all about it. Fuller was as quiet as he was all year. So, when it comes to not providing footage of him being burned, he is a very strong prospect.
But, does he make any explosive plays in the other direction? Well, in 27 games for Clemson -- behind a defensive front that was dominant -- he had zero interceptions, zero sacks and four tackles for loss. He also tested for rather small hands, leading some to believe that perhaps he doesn't have the tools to reel in too many passes at the next level, either. So, if you believe that the principle job of any defensive back is to stop offenses, he might be your guy. But, if you want a game-breaking ball hawk, this may not fit that description.
What I liked: He does not lack for confidence, that is for sure. He talks and gets in the face and head of his opponent with constant communication to verify that they are in a battle. He is a very aggressive corner who is most comfortable in man coverage where he can press up and maintain contact throughout the entire route. He will run hip to hip and not give a QB much to throw at. In fact, it becomes obvious rather quickly that you are dealing with a guy who chases away activity from the opponent and in many games he is on the wrong side of the field from the ball. This, of course, is a good thing and a reasonable explanation for not corralling interceptions. That stat is certainly overvalued by many football fans. He is physical for his size and willing to get involved in run support. He seems quite fast and quick, and capable against plenty of receivers who I think are top prospects themselves. There is a lot to like.
What I did not like: Well, he is 5-10, 190, and does not have the frame to indicate he will ever get on the other side of 200. So, he may not ever be a very good size matchup with the "X" receivers around the league. You may have to leave him in the slot which limits his utility and also his value. I assume most teams would not target a corner at the top of the draft unless they knew he could roll with Dez Bryant's physicality and size for 60 plays on a Sunday, and to be honest, you would have to question that if he is giving up 30 pounds to a very physical receiver. So, would he be a great cover for Will Fuller or Sterling Shepard? Yes. But, the value for that over 16 games is limited. He also is very "grabby," which means he is a candidate to be a referee's target at the next level.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: He is a really fine player and there is a lot to like. I just wonder where the value should fall for one of the better corners in the 2016 class, but that might be more because there just aren't many 6-1 options who can also cover all the corners. Some years, there are just "good" corners and not great ones.
That said, he will likely go in Round 1 because he does possess attributes that are very desirable and, for the overall top reason: The NFL always needs more corners and there isn't a team that could not upgrade there. With 11 personnel now the base, every team needs three top quality starters at this spot and we all know that isn't a situation many teams can boast about.
Alexander has the right skill set and disposition. He is just a bit small and maybe not a guy who will go get the ball. But, if somehow he falls a bit, the Cowboys would probably be quite interested in a guy like this to assist their upcoming corner needs after 2016 (or perhaps even before that if this falls in their laps). Solid, yet undersized prospect.