The third-year cornerback out of Louisville displayed signs of greatness during his first two seasons. In 2020, Alexander has finally taken the league by storm.
To Jaire Alexander, defending the pass is easy, both in theory and in practice.
It’s not complicated, really – if you take him at his word – just stay on your guy. If you’re defending an All-Pro receiver and his all-time great quarterback? Just stay on your guy. If you’re defending a speedy slot wideout and his mobile play-caller? Just stay on your guy. If you’re defending a prep-to-pro wunderkind and his former All-Conference batterymate? Just. Stay. On. Your. Guy.
Luckily for the Green Bay Packers, Alexander – whom Pro Football Focus rates as the number one cornerback in the league – is perhaps the best in the NFL at doing just that.
Determining the extent of Alexander’s stickiness is somewhat challenging as publicly available data and analysis is limited; however, digging into what is available sheds some light on his ability to shadow opposing receivers.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, at least three of Alexander’s primary coverage matchups this season – Adam Thielen (1.49 yards), Calvin Ridley (1.86), and Will Fuller IV (1.80) – were held well below the league average for yards of separation (2.85) while running their routes.
Scouring the play-by-play data reveals that 19 pass plays have resulted in a solo or group tackle by Alexander; they have gone for a total of 145 yards – or 7.6 yards per completion – and only three have gone for at least 10 yards.
“Great corners always help a defense,” said safety Adrian Amos to reporters after the Packers’ 35-20 victory over the Houston Texans Sunday afternoon. “You can mix up coverages a lot, you don’t have to be so intimidated to run certain things. He’s been playing great, he’s been great so far. He helps the defense out a lot.”
Alexander’s stats aren’t remarkably gaudy on paper; he only has one interception – against the Minnesota Vikings’ Kirk Cousins during the season opener – and three passes defended. However, it’s difficult to accumulate eye-popping stats and highlight plays when opposing quarterbacks literally refuse to throw the ball your way.
His last three matchups – the Falcons’ Ridley, Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, and Texans’ Fuller IV – were targeted a grand total of seven times. They did not produce even a single catch.
On the outside, the Packers’ cornerback is quiet and unassuming, but once he emerges from the tunnel on game day and takes the field, he transforms into the embodiment of swagger and confidence. That confidence has helped Alexander evolve past some of the inconsistencies and growing pains he experienced during his first two NFL seasons to become one of the greatest shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL.
Green Bay’s pass defense overall has been middle of the pack so far in 2020 thanks to an inconsistent pass rush and injuries – particularly to cornerback Kevin King – in the secondary. But Alexander’s presence has forced opponents to shy away from relying on their star wideouts and turn to their less dynamic options.
It would be difficult to imagine Alexander’s season ending with anything other than an All-Pro nomination should his strong play continue. If named to the First-Team, he’d be the first member of the Packers’ secondary to earn the award since Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson did so in 2011.
Green Bay needed a big year from their 2018 first-round pick if they wanted to stay on top of the NFC North division. Through six games, it appears as if he has officially turned the corner and sits atop the NFL’s secondary power rankings.