Throughout my time learning more about the DB position, and watching tape on certain NFL players, I came across one player that I found very intriguing. He’s not a household name, and there are several reasons for this. For one, he struggles to stay healthy and play all 16 games. This doesn’t mean he has a lot of big injuries, rather he has had very few of those, but it appears he is prone to nagging injuries that may or may not affect his play over the course of a season. Another reason I feel he may not get some of the recognition he deserves is that he just earned a full-time starting job this past season for the first time in his career. This player I’m talking about is nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander of the Vikings.
Alexander, 5’10” and 192 lbs, has played 5 seasons in the NFL as a nickel cornerback. 4 seasons with Minnesota, and a lone season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Over these 5 seasons, he only started 20 games, half of which came this past season with the Bengals. Almost all of his snaps come from the Nickel Corner position, however, he will play a little bit out wide and in the box if motion warrants that. He re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings on March 29, 2021.
One thing that had immediately caught my eye is Alexander’s physicality as a nickel cornerback. He’s nothing above average in size, and not too impressive of an athlete either, however, his aggressiveness, strength, and physicality make up for that limited size. He’s so talented at the LOS, which is such a unique trait for a nickel cornerback, as you rarely see nickel cornerbacks with the ability to line up against Big Slots and TEs face for face at the LOS, or at the top of a break, and jam them, disrupting their entire route.
Nickel cornerback is a very athletically demanding position, and while he may not be overly impressive with his athleticism, he surely has good athletic ability, specifically his explosiveness, change of direction, acceleration, and foot quickness are where he stands out athletically.
From a more technical standpoint, as I mentioned earlier, Alexander is impressive at the LOS, specifically with his jamming ability and overall ability in press coverage. He also impressed me with his mental processing, overall mental speed. He has great instincts to recognize where players are, even if he can’t directly see them. His ability to see routes develop before they actually happen is also impressive, there were plays where he seemingly broke on routes before receivers even did.
I have said all these great things without even mentioning the most important part of a nickel cornerback’s game, the coverage ability. His ability to play man coverage against players of all different sizes and athleticism is impressive. The value of having a player where you don’t have to worry about matchups is enormous. Whether he’s lined up against a TE, or a smaller slot WR, you’re gonna feel comfortable with the matchup. He is able to mirror all of these receivers throughout the route, and track the ball, and make plays on the football when needed. In Zone coverage, he has the mental processing to quickly diagnose plays in short zones, to cut off passing angles, and pass off/take on any routes that go through his zone.
While run defense for CBs has become much more of a luxury than a requirement, it still serves a fair amount of value in a nickel cornerback’s game. He plays aggressively and has a great ability to fill his run lanes, acting as a force player. Certainly an added bonus to his game being able to defend the run at a good level.
There aren’t many notable weaknesses to Alexander’s game. He’s a well-rounded nickel cornerback who can do everything at a solid to a good level. However, he still has some concerns about his game.
From an athletic standpoint, his balance is a bit concerning, especially upon contact. Despite managing contact well, the first moment of contact is far from ideal. His other concern about his athletic ability is his ability to open up on a 180, his hip fluidity seems to slow down a bit in those scenarios.
He’s a reliable nickel cornerback in man coverage, especially when he plays physical in coverage, however, he tends to lose leverage at breakpoints of routes, and on double moves. Similarly at the LOS, he tends to lose on finesse releases that take longer to develop, forcing him to struggle to match the release with his lower body.
Finally, the last big concern for me is his tackling ability, his form needs improvement, and ultimately had plenty of missed tackles because of it.
Nickel CB in a scheme that likes to press their Nickel CBs, and uses a healthy mix of man and zone coverage.
Good, veteran starting nickel CB that is a good athlete, who shows solid man coverage, good ball skills, a solid ability at the LOS, and good mental processing to be a well-rounded man/zone DB. Displays good aggressiveness and physicality to fill in the run game, read his keys, and fulfill his assignments. Struggles with on-field discipline, too much trash-talking and taunting, as well as struggles to tackle in the open field due to adequate pursuit angles, his inability to break down in open space, along with his tackling technique.
4 of my Favorite Plays by Mackensie Alexander
Mackensie Alexander jumps an out route, breaking up the throw.
Mackenzie Alexander shows off mental speed and breaking ability, getting a great PBU
Mackensie Alexander makes a great read, shed and tackle on a bubble screen
Mackenzie Alexander peels off blitz to make a tackle at LOS
Alexander is a good NC who I have the utmost confidence to contribute positively to a team each week he is on the field. The only issue is he can’t fully be trusted to stay on the field for 16 games each season.