Before the season, reporters asked Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander if he considered himself an elite cornerback. The confident former first-round pick out of Louisville didn’t hesitate to say he was.
While some people thought Alexander wasn’t quite there yet, his play this season makes it clear that Alexander has taken his game to the elite level.
For the third straight game, Alexander has shut down a highly-ragarded receiver on the other team. Will Fuller did not catch a pass against Alexander despite lining up against the Packers number one corner on 28 plays on Sunday in Houston. He was targeted only once when Alexander, who goes by the nickname, “Ja’Money” was covering him.
A week earlier, Alexander covered Mike Evans for 19 plays and similarly he did not catch a pass and was only targeted once. Against Atlanta in Week 4, Alexander was matched up on Calvin Ridley for 23 plays. Ridley was targeted five times but did not catch a pass.
Alexander was also a big play machine in the season opener in Minnesota when he came up with a crucial interception and a safety that helped turn the game in the Packers favor late in the first half. The Packers never looked back en route to a convincing road victory.
According to pro-football-reference.com, Alexander has improved in each of his three seasons in the NFL. In his first two seasons, opponents were averaging 13.9 and 14.1-yards per completion when throwing to receivers covered by Jaire. This season, that number is down to 8.9 yards. Opposing quarterbacks had a 100.0 rating throwing at Alexander during his rookie campaign. Last season that number dropped to 85.8 while this season, it’s improved to 72.2.
One player who has a lot of confidence in Alexander is his quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. “I think he’s a great player,” Rodgers told reporters earlier this month. “I really do. He’s got a great disposition.”
When asked what makes Alexander so great, Rodgers added, “He’s not afraid of going up against number one receivers, which can’t be said really of every corner we’ve had around here…There’s no fear of failure. He just believes that going out and competing and putting his best out on the field is true success. That’s a trait of every great competitor.”
Then Rodgers added, “He’s a really curious, fascinating human. He’s got a lot of interests outside the game. We’ve had a lot of really interesting conversations. He’s very smart, just a fascinating guy. I enjoy our conversations talking about the books he’s reading or his own mental process.”
The Packers coaching staff has been impressed with Alexander’s improvement. “I just think that probably everybody else is seeing what we’ve seen for the last year, for the last year-and-a-half,” head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters last week. “And it’s just like anything, a lot of times guys fly under the radar, and once the media gets wind of how good they are, then they recognize.”
One thing Alexander has never lacked is confidence. “I’m feeling confident and the sky’s the limit,” Alexander said. “Or the stars are the limit, or the galaxy or anything beyond that.”
In addition to his confidence, the Packers top corner has another personality trait all great cornerbacks must have: a short memory. If he gets beat on a play, he refuses to get upset, forgets about it and gets ready for the next play. One big play against him never seems to shake his confidence.
“There’s no fear in Ja,” Rodgers said. “One of the beautiful things about him as a competitor is he doesn’t have that crippling fear of failure. He just believes that going out and competing and putting his best out on the field is true success. That’s a trait of every great competitor.”
Alexander also has 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash which allows him to stay with elite receivers and then catch up to them if they get a step or two on him. He is also a student of the game and works hard to prepare, watching film to study the tendencies of the players and offenses he’s about to face.
He was asked on “Good Morning Football” after the Falcons game about his performance against Ridley. “It just started with my preparation,” Alexander said. “All week I’ve been waiting for that matchup. He’s a really good receiver. I know my opponent and I just know what I’ve got to do to defend it. That’s working on myself and I continue to do that. Play fierce and just shut down the best.”
Alexander has taken his game to a new level this season. He is playing like a shutdown corner and has kept some of the game’s top receivers in check. The only thing missing from his resume that perennial Pro Bowl cornerbacks have is a lot of interceptions. He’s now in his third NFL season and has a career total of four picks. He had one interception as a rookie, two last season and has one so far this season through the first six games.
But the numbers don’t lie and right now, Alexander is ranked as the top-graded cornerback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
If he continues to play like he has through the first six games, Alexander should earn Pro Bowl recognition for the first time in his career. The fact is, Alexander and the Packers already know how good he already is and how good he can be. The rest of the league is just starting to catch up.
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