Confidence is key to playing cornerback.
Key to any position in the NFL, but by virtue of the position’s nature, the best cornerbacks are often overflowing with confidence, spilling over into cocky territory. Players like Deion Sanders, Richard Sherman and Josh Norman have never lacked for self-assurance.
Mackensie Alexander has the personality to match. A lot of players at the NFL combine told reporters they have to approach the draft believing they’re the best at their position; the brash Clemson cornerback sees no alternative.
“I’m a competitor, and they’re all competitors, but at the end of the day I’m going to say it — and a lot of you guys will say it,” Alexander said. “I’m the best corner in this draft class.”
Alexander, at the moment, fits in somewhere in the top five cornerbacks, according to most draft analysts. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is the clear leader, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III is considered the second-best, and Alexander fits in somewhere among Houston’s William Jackson II, Ohio State’s Eli Apple and Virginia Tech corner Kendall Fuller.
But Alexander doesn’t see it that way.
“If you look at stats, my numbers, who I am as a person, who I’m competing against, I went against more top receivers than anybody in this draft class,” Alexander said. “I’m not just moving outside, I’m going inside, I’m playing zone, I’m able to blitz, I’m able to show my versatility, everything.”
Alexander’s numbers at Clemson were impressive. Brought in as one of the most highly sought after recruits in the country, Alexander allowed opponents to complete just 29.6 percent of their passes against him and didn’t give up a touchdown.
And when he injured a hamstring early in the national title game against Alabama, Clemson’s ability to slow down the Crimson Tide passing attack disintegrated.
Alexander credits his success to hard work in the film room.
“I’m definitely going to have some things I don’t know in the league, but my (defensive) coordinator (Brent Venables) put a lot of emphasis on learning the game, understanding offenses, formations, personnel, the tendencies,” Alexander said. “Then I take it upon myself to learn more, because I’m super competitive and I want to be the best.”
Alexander also has his drawbacks.
At 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, Alexander is a little smaller than the current trend in the NFL toward long, lengthy cornerbacks.
Alexander also hasn’t made the most of the few chances opposing teams gave him to get his hands on the ball. Despite starting for three seasons, Alexander never made an interception at Clemson, and he broke up just 11 passes combined over the past two seasons.
“I had some opportunities to come up with some picks in my career, I didn’t come up with them,” Alexander said. “But in a lot of situations, I wasn’t challenged very much. A lot of quarterbacks and teams stayed away from me. That was their game plan.”
Alexander’s brash personality has also reportedly been a problem for some teams in the interview process, according to Draft Insiders’ Tony Pauline.
But the same personality that rubs some people wrong off the field is one of the things that makes Alexander great between the lines. A lot of the great cornerbacks in NFL history are also first-ballot Hall of Fame trash talkers; Alexander brings the same sort of verbal intimidation to the game.
“I get the memo that I talk a lot of trash,” Alexander said. “I don’t really talk trash. I speak facts. I just tell you what it is, and what you’re not going to do.”
Alexander’s personality might not be for everybody.
But it sure fits his position.
“This is me,” Alexander said. “Imagine me on game day.”