As we said in our last draft profile, the Steelers were horrific in the secondary for much of 2015.
They surrendered the most passing yards of any team in the AFC. Games that the Steelers dominated offensively would turn into shootouts thanks to the Steelers pass coverage.
Picking at number 25 in this year’s draft, many draft pundits have voiced the Steelers should trade down. But with the secondary in shambles, cornerback is a high priority on the Steelers’ list.
One of the top cornerbacks in this class is Mackensie Alexander from Clemson. This redshirt sophomore blasted onto the national stage this season. Alexander was one of the stars on a Brent Venables defense that is known for its aggressive, pissed off style.
This former five star recruit has been a starter in Death Valley since 2014. That season he earned Freshmen All-American and honorable mention All-ACC. With more exposure to the national media this season, Alexander was first team All-ACC and named a third team All-American.
What stands out about this young cornerback is the brashness that he plays with. Alexander is not afraid to challenge opposing receivers and has been known to trash talk. Though some may mistake this for cockiness, he has backed up this swagger by repeatedly shutting down some of the best wide outs in the nation.
When Clemson played Alabama in the National Championship, the Crimson Tide tight end OJ Howard became their main pass weapon and racked up a career-high 208 yards. Howard can thank Alexander for the game of his life. Freshmen All-American Calvin Ridley was blanketed by Alexander and was held to only 14 yards on 6 catches. Ridley was coming off a memorable performance against Michigan State, but he could not escape the swift Clemson corner.
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Unlike some of the top prospects in the secondary, Alexander does not have the statistics that you would expect from a top flight corner in college. Over his two years at Clemson, he broke up only 11 passes and failed to record an interception.
However, the one stat that matters is this. Alexander allowed just 29.6 percent of completions thrown this way and no touchdowns. College quarterbacks were just plain scared to throw his way. He is able to react and read on receivers very quickly and plays a lot bigger than his 5-11 195 lb frame.
In terms of instant impact from Alexander, it may take a season or two for him to fully adjust to playing corner in the NFL. He is set from a man-to-man coverage standpoint, but will face a learning curve when it comes to zone coverage. Alexander will have to improve his mechanics in these new, complex schemes.
For the Steelers, having Alexander drop to them would be a huge upgrade in their secondary. Though he is projected as a mid-first round pick, there is always the outside chance that the Steelers could trade up for the Clemson star.
In reality, the only real way the Steelers acquire Alexander is if he falls to them at 25. It seems like a longshot, but the Black & Gold have had stud prospects fall to them in the past.