Rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander has provided the Green Bay Packers with strong play in his first season. The rookie out of Louisville is already considered one of the team’s best defensive backs and the consensus is that he has the potential to become a standout at the position for years to come.
Although he has missed two games due to some nagging injuries, Alexander leads all Packers DBs with 46 tackles and nine passes defended. He also has half a sack and one official interception with another one called back by a controversial penalty call in Week 2 against the Vikings.
Along the way, Alexander has caught the eye of teammates and foes alike. No less of a defensive authority than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was quick to praise the Packers first-round pick in the week leading up to the meeting between the teams. “He’s a great kid. He’s got great energy,” Belichick said. “He loves football and has great football skills — fast, athletic, good hands, good ball skills, can tackle, can play inside in the slot, can play outside on the perimeter, good zone vision, breaks on the ball, good man to man coverage, has good quickness, can match up with fast receivers, can match up with quick receivers. The guy’s a really good football player and I think he’s got a great future in this league. I think he’ll be one of the top corners in the game for a quite a while here.”
Alexander appreciated the praise from Belichick. “It’s a pretty cool feeling. Especially coming from a coach as accomplished as Belichick, one of the greatest coaches,” Alexander said. “It’s pretty cool getting that recognition and praise, but I take it with a grain of salt because I am my biggest critic.”
Alexander may be his own biggest critic, but he also knows he needs to play with confidence to be effective. “If I can’t get the ball, the receiver definitely isn’t getting the ball, that’s my mentality,” Alexander told Packers.com. “At corner, you’re on an island all the time. I play with swagger because when somebody on defense sees that swagger, they’re going to play with swagger, too.”
How good can Alexander be? Defensive pass-game coordinator Joe Whitt thinks this year’s first-round pick can be a shutdown corner, the kind of guy who shadows the opposition’s top receiver no matter where he lines up on the field. “Jaire has that kind of mentality,” Whitt said at a recent press conference. “He wants it. He’s going to get plenty of opportunities. He has a chance to be as good as any in the league.”
Alexander welcomes the prospect of trying to shut down the league’s elite wideouts. “Just being able to shadow the best receivers. that’s a challenge I always wanted,” Alexander said. “I did it in college. To be able to do it now is always fun, especially when the quarterback is throwing nine targets a game.”
Unlike some NFL corners, Alexander isn’t afraid of making a physical play. He is a willing tackler despite his 5’10”, 196-pound frame. Against Minnesota in Week 12, Alexander made an outstanding play in the first quarter to set the tone for the defense. The Packers rookie hit wideout Adam Thielen who was attempting to throw a block for Stefon Diggs. The contact knocked Thielen back into Diggs and disrupted the play. Alexander later got up and made the tackle for a 10-yard loss. For that he was named the NFL’s “Way to Play” winner for the week.
Veteran DB Tramon Williams has seen it all in his 12 years in this league. He described Alexander by calling him “one of the young guys who has an intangible about his self that you can’t really coach. He has an impact on the team just with his energy. It was great to see him healthy, so he can come out and show what he can do.”
The future looks bright for Jaire Alexander. In a tough year so far for the Packers, their first-round draft pick has been one of the team’s most promising players. Even if the Pack fails to reach the playoffs this year, Alexander is a player who should be a leader in the secondary for years to come.