The Bills front office has been at work trimming the roster down in order to make room to sign some of their unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents. One of the players that was released was veteran cornerback Leodis Mckelvin. That move by Doug Whaley has created a need at the cornerback position.
The Bills have the following corners under contract: Stephon Gilmore, Ron Darby, Nickell Robey, Mario Butler, Sammy Seamster and Bud Noel. The team has been linked to Antonio Cromartie for obvious reasons, but I don’t think that erases the need to upgrade the position. I still think there’s a good chance Bills draft a corner in the first round. That corner may just be Mackensie Alexander from the Clemson Tigers and here’s why:
First of all, Rex Ryan with his defense, you can never have enough cornerbacks.” -Bill Polian on Bills draft needs
In 2014, the Bills selected Ron Darby in the second round. It was sort of a surprise pick in the eyes of most fans seeing as how Buffalo had Gilmore, Mckelvin, Graham and Robey all on the roster.
Now flash back even further to the 2010 draft when Rex Ryan was with the Jets. With the 29th pick in the 1st round the Jets selected Cornerback Kyle Wilson out of Boise state. Which was a head scratcher because they had Revis and Cromartie. So taking a corner even though the Bills have two starters isn’t that far fetched.
Besides being a position of need, Alexander has some of the measureables that Whaley and Rex love.
So lets look at the metrics for Alexander, Darby and Kyle Wilson.
As you can see, many of the measureables are quite close. All of them are around 5’10”-5’11” and between 190-195 pounds. Darby and Wilson blazed their forty times registering at or near 4.4 seconds. Alexander didn’t run his forty yard dash at the combine because he was still dealing with a hamstring injury. Do I think Alexander will run a 4.4? No, probably not but he shouldn’t be that far off when he runs on Clemson’s pro day on March 10th.
At the combine Mack was very limited, but he did complete his bench press workout. He bench pressed the standard 225 pounds 11 times, which was one less rep than Darby. Wilson was in a league of his own, he benched 25 reps. So yes, Alexander does need to gain some strength but that was also a knock on Darby coming out last year.
“Scouts question his toughness. Will get muscled by bigger receivers.” Report on Ronald Darby-NFL.com
Although his height isn’t ideal, I could see the Bills putting him in the slot. The slot was an area of concern last season. Nickell Robey was targeted 59 times and allowed 41 catches, the 6th most in the NFL in each category per Pro Football Focus. Robey’s 482 yards surrendered were the 4th most from the slot in the NFL. So finding a corner that can play the slot well would drastically help the Bills defense get off the field.
Although he is short in stature and doesn’t have the ideal strength many scouts believe that he actually plays bigger and stronger than you would expect.
He finished the 2015 season with 23 tackles, which is low considering how often their defense was on the field. But when you put on the film of his career, he definitely isn’t afraid to stick his head in there to bring the offensive player down. In two years Alexander compiled 44 total tackles and 11 passes defensed according to Sports-reference.com. Darby with three years under his belt at Florida State finished with 78 total tackles, 2 interceptions and 16 passes defensed. Numbers that would have been even more similar if Alexander hadn’t red-shirted his freshman year due to a groin injury.
Another reason why I think that the Bills are looking long and hard at this cover corner is his attitude. Mackenzie showed his “bravado” a la Rex Ryan at the combine in Indy.
He plays with an attitude that certainly fits the Jets’ philosophy. -Scout on Kyle Wilson in 2010 draft
At the combine, Alexander did very little but when interviewed he was as confident as they come. According to Mackensie he is “the best corner” in the 2016 class. He is a player that likes to talk a lot on and off the field, and when you look at his shutdown statistics you can see why.
“I like to dominate everything I do, win every match-up, grade myself harder than anyone, I go hard every day.”-Mackensie Alexander
In 2015, Alexander was targeted only 50 times and only allowed 15 receptions (burns) according to the Real Football Network (RFN). That means he was burned on only 30% of his targets (3rd best in the nation). For a little perspective, the top rated DB in this draft Jalen Ramsey allowed 38% of his targets to be caught, Vernon Hargreaves III who is rated higher than Alexander by some scouts allowed 51% of his targets to be caught. Quarterbacks only threw his way on 7 percent of the plays Alexander was on the field. So Mack has shown the ability to shut down WRs at the collegiate level.
But his production in terms of interceptions and passes defensed were so so. In 2015 he did not record an interception and only got his hands on 5 passes. That is surprising considering the amount of pressure the Clemson defensive line created. The Tigers’ defense recorded 48 sacks according to CFBstats.com, so the lack of production for Alexander could be a product of teams not testing him and the defensive players getting sacks. Either way Alexander played very well against some of the best competition in in the nation.
Alexander is considered to not only be a gamer, but also a hardworking intelligent cornerback. Look at him communicate the coverage to the other DBs, I don’t think they understood.He has been labeled a film junkie and a guy who studies his opponents. When he was asked about some of the top WRs in the college game, he had a breakdown on each of them. He knew Laquan Treadwell and Will Fuller’s strengths and said that “My job is to take those balls away and make their offensive coordinator change their route plan and go somewhere else with it.” So you can tell he his in the film room studying the opponents best WR.
“The coaches always know where to find me (in the film room), I have the same routine every day, and it doesn’t change for nobody.” Mackensie
Mack is a heady player and is known for his ability to read routes. Something that Darby was also known for in college. The ability to read and diagnose route combinations is an area that not many college football players possess. It is important in Rex Ryan’s scheme because like defensive coordinator Brett Venables does at Clemson, the Bills employ a lot of zone with pattern read techniques.
He is reading the #2 WR. The #2 releases deep so he has to carry the route into the deep third of the field. This type of field vision is key in the Bills’ secondary and another reason why the Bills drafted Darby in the second round last year.
The Bills’ scouts will be tasked with studying this talented defender to see if he is worthy of being drafted with the 19th overall pick. He is projected to go somewhere in the mid to late 1st round. Ramsey is the clear cut #1 defensive back but many scouts have Alexander as the #2, so there is a good chance the Bills have a shot at landing him or Hargreaves. In my opinion Hargreaves is the better player but landing Alexander isn’t a consolation prize.
General Manager Doug Whaley appeared on WGR 550 this week and stated that the Bills were going to play more of a 3-4 type of defense in 2016. Why would he say that? I think it is all smoke and mirrors. He said it to get teams to think that the Bills are looking for a linebacker or defensive lineman early in this draft. But in reality, I could see the Bills addressing their secondary needs early because of the depth in this years draft at those aforementioned positions.
I don’t think that Alexander is a shutdown corner by any means. I actually think that he really lacks the ideal long distance speed. Where he will be drafted (mid to late 1st versus 2nd round) in my opinion hinges on what kind of speed he shows on his pro day. But where he does excel is in short space. He has quick feet and he can accelerate quickly which helps him recover well when he does get beat at the line of scrimmage. I think he is a better man cover corner than zone player because of his physical abilities. When you combine those physical skills with his intelligence and ability to read WRs I think he can be a solid starter in the NFL. Alexander is a defensive back that reads route combinations well. At Clemson he was asked to pattern read a lot and that is why I think he translates well into the Bills’ defense. Should the Bills pick him at 19? Might be a few picks too early, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they do. He is a Clemson player, has the swagger that Rex loves, he possesses the measureables that Darby and Wilson had. It would definitely be a controversial pick considering the lack of production, but the same things were said about Darby in 2014. In the end, Whaley and company trusted their ACC scout and took him in the second round. Whaley has drafted 12 players from the ACC since 2013. Is Alexander that next pick??
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