Rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander came into this season with the high hopes and high expectations of Packers fans heaped upon him instantly. Green Bay hasn’t had anything like a shutdown cornerback in several years, even with a lot of draft capital spent on the position.
Alexander has shown through the first several games of the season, though, that he’s one of the cornerstones of the next era of the Packers defense.
Of course, you can only glean so much from small sample sizes. The data set is too small to accurately predict what the future will hold for a player. But it can still tell you just how good a player has been in that brief period.
Alexander has been one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in his debut season.
Pro Football Focus has lauded his performance, and the numbers back up the praise. That’s specifically the case after the Packers’ Week 8 game versus the Los Angeles Rams, which was No. 23’s coming-out party.
After his big game against the Rams on Sunday, Jaire Alexander is now our highest graded rookie cornerback in 2018. pic.twitter.com/RZeGz7ZvHx
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 31, 2018
According to the official Packers’ Twitter account, his five pass breakups were a team high since 2005. And he didn’t luck into the gaudy numbers, either; he shut down one of the game’s fastest receivers, Brandin Cooks.
The rookie corner’s speed was well-known (and excitement-inducing) heading into the draft, with the former Louisville standout posting a 4.38 40-yard dash at the NFL draft combine. That’s not where the impressive measurables end, as he finished fifth among cornerbacks in the three-cone drill (6.71 seconds) at the combine. It’s the combination of elite speed and elite agility that makes him such a threat in coverage.
Cooks, again, is a burner. As seen in the following clip, Alexander is able to stay on Cooks throughout this route, then makes a play on the ball to break up the pass.
That’s an impressive play for any cornerback in the NFL, and one that the best in the game can make regularly. Going back to small sample sizes, it’s unfair to make comparisons between a rookie and some of the league’s best after just seven games, but the flashes and signs are already there for Alexander.
The Rams game hasn’t been the only strong 60 minutes for him this year, but they do have arguably the best offense in the NFL (only rivaled by the Kansas City Chiefs), so to play your best game against such a potent unit is unquestionably impressive.
There’s something to like for every Packers fan going back through Alexander’s tape. If for some reason you aren’t impressed just by his natural athletic gifts, you can appreciate his recovery ability, as shown in the following play when he breaks up a pass intended for Robert Woods.
One of the more encouraging things about Alexander is that he’s earned more than just fan hype. His teammates have taken notice, too. When you have some of the best players on your team openly supporting you and making it a point to encourage you one-on-one, you’re doing something right.
Interesting nugget from locker room, Davante Adams made it a point to talk to Jaire Alexander this week to "let him know how much of a player he is."
"Because I know what that did for me as a young guy hearing it from Aaron and him letting me know that 'nobody can guard you'"
— Wes Hodkiewicz (@WesHod) October 31, 2018
Even the best coach in the league today, New England’s Bill Belichick (who the Packers face in Week 9), praised the young corner, saying everything about his game stands out. There’s a coachspeak element to the compliment, especially when you consider the source, but the point remains that Alexander is turning heads.
It can’t be said enough how badly Green Bay has needed a player with Alexander’s potential. Fellow rookie Josh Jackson has also inspired hope in the Packers faithful, and second-year cornerback Kevin King is still expected to produce at a high level as well. But for a defense that is effectively rebuilding, or at least restructuring, getting a No. 1 cornerback is vital. Ideally, the others will be longtime contributors in Green Bay. But for now, Alexander has already claimed the throne for the top cornerback spot.
The 18th-overall pick in the NFL draft will always be showered with expectations. While his career has just taken off, Jaire Alexander is in the process of living up to those lofty prospects. In their last eight first and second-round picks (dating back to 2015), the Packers have drafted five cornerbacks. Obviously, it’s been a position of need. Though it’s early in his first season, there’s good reason for Packers fans to feel like they’ve finally addressed that dire need successfully.