Rookies, even those drafted in the first round, are expected to have a pretty steep learning curve. There’s adjusting to life outside of college, the expanded playbook, the longer season; it can be daunting. Jaire Alexander apparently thinks curves is just a place where only women work out. The 21 year old Green Bay rookie, taken 18th overall, has acclimated himself quickly to the professional level and had a coming-out party of sorts against the Los Angeles Rams. While Alexander had a magnificent game against LA, this game was merely a showcase game of his already existing talents. Let’s take a brief look at his 2018 season so far.
The first things you notice when watching Alexander play are his close area quickness and his closing speed. (bottom of screen)
The last Green Bay defensive back to have this kind of closing speed was Sam Shields (miss you Sam). As soon as Bills QBJosh Allen locked on to his receiver, Alexander makes his break not only quickly but accurately; he knows where the ball is going and makes his break on the right spot. He might not always get there to break it up, but he’s forcing the receiver to make tough contested catches. See one against Adam Thielen and another against Vernon Davis.
The speed also shows up when he attacks a ball carrier on the open field, particularly on dump-offs or screen passes. (top of screen)
He attacks the ball like I attack 1 am pizza on a Saturday night. Just watch him track down Stefon Diggs through some traffic:
Acceleration and straight line speed are pretty crucial for any defensive back but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. Kevin King, Jaire’s running mate, also possesses tremendous athleticism. The problem, though, has been King’s ability to harness that athleticism. We’ve repeatedly seen King burned on comeback routes where he has great initial coverage as the receiver presses vertical, but when the break is made, King seems as coordinated as a toddler with a full diaper. It’s not pretty. (top of screen)
Playing in single man coverage means he turns his hips to the outside and keeps his eye on the back of the receiver. The problem is, when the receiver makes his cut to the outside, King whips his head - and therefore the rest of his 6’2” frame - 270 degrees back to the inside. His eyes are off the receiver, and it takes a split second to figure out where the receiver ended up. In another instance, he cheated and looked back to the quarterback while running in front of the receiver, which meant his man was out of his peripheral vision. (top of screen)
I only show those clips of King to compare them to a clip of Alexander. Watch the direction of Jaire’s head and hips once the receiver makes their break:
Outside, toward the receiver. Alexander never has to find the receiver again because he never loses sight by turning his head the wrong way. Jaire spends more time in his man’s back pocket than that gross couple in high school who were always making out in the hallway. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, it’s probably because you were that person. You creep. Anyway, watch him blanket Brandin Cooks:
This ain’t it son. Jaire should invest in Levi’s, he spends so much time in back pockets (last pocket joke, I swear). Not only does Alexander stay right with Cooks across the field, he’s also able to find the ball and time his jump properly without any separation from Cooks. That’s a veteran play.
He can also get a little grabby in coverage. A penalty was called against Bashaud Breeland here, but could’ve just as easily been called against Jaire:
And again against the Rams, Alexander grabbed the hips of Nick Williams on a pass over the middle:
It looked nice because, due to the hold, he was able to react to Williams’ break quickly and make a play on the ball, but he easily could have gotten flagged.
The strength of the Packers’ defense heading into the 2018 season was their defensive line, but Alexander has given the secondary a much needed boost. It doesn’t matter if your defensive line is good if quarterbacks have open receivers to throw to, and the inverse is true as well. One man can’t change the overall trajectory of a defense, but Alexander is certainly trying. Mike Pettine is putting him up against #1 wide receivers already in his young professional career, and the results are beginning to pay dividends.