- The Washington Times - Monday, February 29, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS — Just like the dozens of NFL combine participants in the days before him, Mackensie Alexander made the routine walk into the media workroom at Lucas Oil Stadium and took the podium for his 15-minute interview.

By the time the Clemson cornerback finished, there was hardly anything ordinary about it. He gushed with confidence in every answer, was insightful about how he attacks different types of wide receivers and was wildly entertaining.

Brash? Maybe, but Alexander’s confidence fueled his competitive fire when he matched up with some of the best wide receivers in college football, such as Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, and he plans on carrying that over to the NFL.

“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 — I’m the best corner in this draft class,” Alexander said on Saturday. “If you look at stats, my numbers, who I am as a person, who I’m competing against — I went against the best receivers in the country. I went against more of the top receivers than anybody in this draft class, and I’m going step for step. 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 was unable to showcase his skills at the combine on Monday with the rest of the defensive backs because of a hamstring injury he’s been dealing with since the Tigers’ 37-17 win against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff semifinal. The next opportunity for Alexander to do so will be at Clemson’s pro day on March 10, assuming he is healthy enough to participate.

This year’s draft class is loaded with talented defensive backs such as Alexander, Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III and Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, among others. Alexander is slightly undersized at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but he hardly backs down from a challenge — when he’s even challenged at all.

Opposing quarterbacks were careful not to throw the ball in Alexander’s direction, and when they did, they had little success. In his final 23 games at Clemson, he did not allow a touchdown pass, regardless of the type of wide receiver he was matched up against.

A big part of Alexander’s success is the time he devotes to film study and tracking the tendencies of opposing wide receivers, even the ones he doesn’t face.

“You’ve just got to know who they are,” Alexander said. “You’ve got to know their skill set. If I’m going against [Ole Miss’] Laquon Treadwell — which I’ve studied, I know who he is, I haven’t played against him — my game plan, OK, he’s a big guy. He knows how to use his body real well. Another guy we have at Clemson, Mike Williams, same personnel. Not very fast, but you know they’re going to give you what they’ve got. They’re very aggressive, they’re very physical, they snatch the ball in the air. I’m taking what they do best. I’m taking those jump balls away. I’m doing stuff like that. I’m making them catch shorter balls.

“It’s the same thing if I’m covering [Notre Dame’s] Will Fuller. I know he’s the deep, vertical guy. He just ran 4.3. I’m proud of him. You know he’s a fast guy, I’m fast, too. If I take his vertical game away, I wouldn’t say he sucks, but he’s not that good. Then you force [Brian] Kelly to make him go in the screen game, which they did against us a lot just to get him touches. Feed him some kind of way. You want your playmakers getting the ball some kind of way.

“A guy like me who can understand the game and can break it down to you guys in front of you like this, it shows you my preparation and who I am as a man. This means a lot to me. This ain’t just me coming out here and speaking to you guys. I’m 22, but I’m ready, and I’m ready to compete with anybody. There’s nobody more dedicated than me, who’s put more time and who’s more of a competitor than me. I don’t care, you can line up a safety. We can break down film, we can break down anything. I’m here prepared, and I’m telling you I’m the best corner in this draft class.”

By the end of his dissertation, the fact that Alexander had the energy to do anything else during the remainder of the combine was impressive in itself. Then again, Alexander warned that this was just a warmup.

“I mean, this is me,” Alexander said. “This is me. Imagine me on game day.”


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