It seems like I fall in love with a top cornerback every year and go all in. Two years ago, it was putting William Jackson III eighth overall as my CB1. Last year, it was putting Marshon Lattimore second overall as my CB1. This year, I am doing the same with Louisville star Jaire Alexander, who I have seventh overall and as my CB1 right now.
There is a certain sort of arrogance he plays with on the outside, and I gravitate towards it when watching him. He knows he’s better than his opponent and plays with a chip on his shoulder each and every snap, letting the receiver know about it too.
When you watch his feet and reactionary quickness in man coverage, you can see the elite change of direction and skill set that Alexander possesses. At the catch point, he is as good as anybody in this class at attacking at the high point and dislodging the ball between the receiver’s hands. He did this in press man coverage, off man coverage, two-man, Cover 2, and Cover 3.
This type of scheme versatility, ability to play inside and out, and traits in man coverage bring flashes of Chris Harris Jr., who is still one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks pound for pound. Harris is a lockdown cornerback who can simply take receivers out of games, whether it is in the slot or on the outside. Like Alexander, he’ll let them know about it too.
The biggest hurdle for Alexander will be to prove that he can stay durable in the NFL at his current frame, but with his traits as the most natural playmaker and man coverage cornerback in this class, I think he is one of the surest bets I’ve seen since scouting the position.
From USA Today:
JM: A lot of people think you’re the best corner in this class. Why should they continue to feel that way?
JA: That’s an easy one. First and foremost, I’m a physical corner. I don’t think there’s another corner in this class who can match my physicality. I play the game fast. I have excellent speed. I have excellent ball-skills, I once played wide receiver. My ball-skills are top-notch. I bring that swagger and attitude to the field. I play with a bunch of aggression. I’m just a flat out competitor.
JM: You started out as a receiver. When did the switch happen?
JA: It was about two weeks after I arrived at Louisville. I was a freshmen running routes with the receivers and they had a need for a defensive back. They pushed me over to practice with the defensive backs group and I never looked back.
JM: Who is the best wide receiver you’ve ever had to cover?
JA: The best wide receiver I’ve ever had to cover? Probably Mike Williams from Clemson. He’s a big, physical receiver. He was a first round talent but I was able to showcase my skill against him. I held him to zero catches (and had two interceptions of Deshaun Watson). He was the best wide receiver I’ve ever faced.
JM: When a team invests a first-round pick in Jaire Alexander come April 26th, what kind of guy are they getting?
JA: They’re gonna get a leader. I’m a savage on the field. I love to compete. I’m a pure competitor. I see myself as a person that makes those around him better. I believe that my competitiveness is contagious. That’s who they’re getting.
CB JOSH JACKSON, Iowa
4.32 40-yard dash at combine
A.J. Bouye is the most common comparisons to Josh Jackson.
The Bears have re-tooling to do at cornerback and Jackson is one of the best outside playmakers in the draft. He led the nation with 18 pass breakups and eight interceptions while allowing a passer rating of only 31.3 into his coverage, fifth-best among corners with at least 50 targets. Jackson has the size to play press coverage, but he’s at his best in “off” coverage, making plays on the ball.
Good size, speed, athleticism for the position. Appears to have adequate length for the position and kept pace with just about all his opposition this season. Very athletic and can make circus catches and breakups. Very fluid and smooth in his movements.
Elite ball skills. Those INT and PD numbers aren’t flukes. Jackson competes for the ball consistently and aggressively.
Some of the best patience, focus, anticipation, discipline, and poise I have seen in a long time out of the position. Doesn’t take the bait, doesn’t panic when the ball is in the air.
Physical in run support and will lay a hit on the offense.
Sticky in man coverage and mirrors very well. Keeps things in front of him in zone coverage and can close quickly.
Jackson became a national name in 2017 by finishing as the nation's leader with eight interceptions and 26 passes defended. He earned first-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors as a 13-game starter with 48 tackles, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick. He redshirted in 2014, and then moved from receiver to cornerback in the spring of 2015 and served in a reserve role on defense for two seasons behind a talented set of Hawkeyes cornerbacks. Jackson played in all 14 games in 2015, making eight tackles and breaking up two passes. He played in 12 games as a sophomore, starting the team's bowl game and finishing with 10 stops, one for loss, and four pass breakups.
Had mind-blowing ball-hawking season with 27 passes defensed including eight interceptions. Tall with long arms. Allowed 41.3 percent completion rate. Made a play on 25.7 percent of his targets. Makes his own fortune. Instincts are top-notch. Plays the ball and not the man. Flashed supreme ball skills. High-point winner with ability to pull down the one-hand grab. Put together monster performances in big games. Finished with three interceptions in upset win over Ohio State and two pick-sixes against Wisconsin. Anticipates routes. Allowed no touchdowns after Week 4. Spotlight player. Lauded for positive attitude and strong work ethic.
WEAKNESSES One-year wonder. Has just 14 career starts. Early opener from press. Needs more experience and more patience. Too easily influenced by release fakes at the line of scrimmage. Can be turned by quality routes. Doesn't flash a big chase burst when he gets behind on the routes (crossers). Needs to tighten up tackling. Questions are being raised about his long speed. Buys into route breaks a little too hard from trail and can be double-moved.
Jaire Alexander has the ability, size, and attitude to give the Packers a stud at CB. His upside reminds me of Deion Sanders, as Mel Kiper has repeatedly alluded to. My fear is he might end up more like Terrell Buckley, the Florida State product the Packers took two years after Deion was drafted.
Josh Jackson is a different type of CB, and has a little bit of bust potential that worries me a bit. But he knows how to get the ball when it' in the air. He didn't play against great WR competition in the Big Ten, however. When the ball is in the air, he shows his wide receiver background, abilities, and plays the ball very well. The Richard Sherman comparisons have merit. But so does Josh Norman, minus the attitude and arrogance.
We know the Packers are going to be good on offense next year, right? (Spoiler: they are.) Now they're going to be good on defense too, thanks to getting Mike Pettine some weapons in the draft.
Gutekunst, the Packers first-year GM, went defense-heavy early in the draft, picking up Louisville corner Jaire Alexander in the first round and Iowa corner Josh Jackson in the second round. Green Bay then added linebacker Oren Burks in the third round.
The real power move by Gutekunst in all of this was him somehow managing to walk out of Thursday with an extra first-round pick next year despite moving down only three spots: he let the Saints come up, took their first next year, then moved back up at a cheaper cost when the Seahawks were looking to trade down.
It was some David Blaine-level trickeration. Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown in the sixth round might have been one of the biggest steals in the whole draft.
For a fanbase that got tired of the team not spending in free agency and standing pat in the draft and taking what came down the pipe, Packers fans should be thrilled at the way Gutekunst spent this offseason being active and this draft whipping up some serious defensive improvements.
Green Bay Packers were the big winners, value-wise, of NFL draft's first round
North score: Cover your ears, Minnesota — the Packers made some smart moves, and still drafted a player that fits their needs.
Vikings fans, you may not want to hear this, but the team who might have had the best first round of the NFL draft on Thursday was none other than the Packers.
The Packers and new general manager Brian Gutekunst were among the busiest teams working the trade market, looking to add to an already league-high haul of 12 picks, which included at least two picks from the fourth round onward. Thanks to two trades, the Packers ended up securing even more valuable draft capital while still selecting a player that fit a need: Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander.
The first trade involved the Packers trading down from their No. 14 pick. New Orleans, which has shown an aggressiveness to move up the draft in recent years, was willing to fork over a lot to move up from No. 27. The Packers gained the 27th pick, a fifth-round pick this season (No. 147 overall) and New Orleans’ first-round pick next season.
It’s tough to assign exact value to that 2019 first-rounder New Orleans gave up. The general rule is a second-round pick this year is worth a first-rounder next year, and New Orleans paid that price.
According to the Jimmy Johnson trade chart, which teams have used for decades to gauge the value of draft pick trades, the Packers “won” that deal. Even if you assume the Saints win the Super Bowl next season and end up with the No. 32 pick, the Packers still got 1,303 points of value for giving up 1,100 points. (For reference, the No. 1 pick is worth 3,000 points. No. 10 is worth 1,300 and No. 20 850). If the Saints finish anywhere else from Nos. 1-31, the value of that pick could go up exponentially.
If you use the analytics-based Chase Stuart chart, the Packers also made out great. Stuart’s chart is based on the expected contribution of every draft slot in the first five years of a player’s career using a unique statistic called Approximate Value, which is a catchall metric used to compare players of different positions, similar to wins above replacement (WAR) in baseball. According to Stuart’s draft calculator on footballperspective.com, even if you assume that Saints first-rounder is No. 32 next season, the Packers got 1.62 times the value of the No. 14 pick in the deal.
But the Packers weren’t done. They then struck a deal with the Seahawks to move back up, surrendering a third-round pick (No. 76) and a sixth-round pick (No. 186) to move from 27th to 18th in Round 1. Seattle got better value in that trade, but not as much as the Packers did on the first trade. Seattle got 1.35 times the value of the No. 18 pick according to the Stuart chart and got 907 Johnson points in exchange for 900.
At the end of the trade flurry, Green Bay flipped the 14th, 76th and 186th pick for Nos. 18, 147 and a first-round pick next season — and drafted the talented Alexander.
On the Johnson chart (again assuming the Saints first-rounder in 2019 is the lowest pick it could be at No. 32), the Packers traded 1,327 points of value for 1,522.6. On the Stuart chart, they recouped 1.2 times the value of the No. 14 pick in moving back — and those values can only go up depending on where the Saints finish next season. They did this all while selecting a player they appeared to be targeting the entire time.
Three months after the Packers hired Brian Gutekunst as their new GM, he may have already earned a raise.
Green Bay came into the NFL draft needing a top cornerback. Now it has two. And another first-round pick.
After the Packers selected Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander with the 18th overall pick on Thursday, the team used the 45th overall pick to select Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson on Friday.
Alexander was limited by foot and hand injuries in the 2017 season, but he runs a 4.38 40-yard dash, and has excellent press technique to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and plays the ball well.
Meanwhile, Jackson is the best corner in the draft at playing passes in the air. He had eight interceptions last season — including three against Ohio State that sealed an Iowa upset — and was considered by many to be a first-round prospect.
He had only one standout year in college, which may be why he fell to the middle of the second round, but Jackson’s drop is Green Bay’s gain, because it’s rare that he drops anything.
Purely landing Jackson and Alexander in the draft would have been a big statement by Gutekunst, who replaced longtime GM Ted Thompson earlier this year. It’s a helluva haul considering the Packers traded down from their original spot at no. 14 overall by swapping first-round picks with the Saints in exchange for New Orleans’s fifth-rounder and 2019 first-rounder (the Saints used the no. 14 pick on UT–San Antonio defensive end Marcus Davenport). Then Gutekunst sent a third-round pick to the Seahawks to move back up to no. 18 to nab Alexander, meaning the Packers landed two of the top cornerbacks in the draft and picked up a future first-round pick.
This draft maneuvering comes just one month after Gutekunst broke from Thompson’s longtime aversion to splashy free-agency deals and signed tight end Jimmy Graham. With Aaron Rodgers back and Graham in green and yellow, the biggest question for Green Bay this season was defense. Getting two young corners to play alongside Haha Clinton-Dix means the Packers suddenly have one of the youngest and most talented secondaries in the league, plus extra draft capital to boot.
Green Bay general manager Brian Gutekunst ran his first draft, and what a job he did. In the first round, the Packers traded back with the New Orleans Saints to acquire a 2019 first-round pick, then moved back up to land corner Jaire Alexander. Not satisfied, Gutekunst again went with a corner in the second round, getting tremendous value in Josh Jackson.
The Packers know they have a limited window to win a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers getting up there in age, and Gutekunst took full advantage of the draft.
Mike Freeman's NFL Draft Notebook: Aaron Rodgers Is Winning the Draft
1. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers should be all smiles
In many ways, this draft so far has been the Aaron Rodgers draft. No single player may have benefitted from its first three rounds more than he has.
Few quarterbacks in the sport have as little help on the defensive side of the ball as Rodgers. The Packers finished with the NFL's 26-ranked scoring defense last season. This isn't every year, but mostly, during the Rodgers era, he's been woefully underserved. He's only had a top-10 defense twice in his 10 years as starter and in none of the past seven.
Look at other great quarterbacks in the NFL. Tom Brady has had solid defenses around him (fifth in scoring last year). So has Russell Wilson. The Saints and Drew Brees had the 10th-ranked scoring defense last season. Philadelphia the fourth. Ben Roethlisberger had the seventh-ranked defense. Matt Ryan the eighth.
Meanwhile, the Packers (Ted Thompson and/or Dom Capers) have wasted Rodgers' prime with horrible defenses.
It's something Bill Belichick realized long ago with Brady. Brady can win games practically by himself, but you don't want him to.
With this draft, the Packers have shown they're not making that mistake—the way, say, the Seahawks are with their offensive line (Seattle's decision not to use its early picks to get Wilson help there was one of the worst decisions of this draft).
What the Packers have done is totally transform their secondary with two good selections. (Don't forget last year's top pick, CB Kevin King, has Pro Bowl ability)
The first was Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander at 18th overall. One AFC front-office executive told me he believed Alexander was a future star and maybe actually the best corner in the draft. Not only that, but because the Packers traded down before they moved up to select Alexander, they banked a first-round pick in 2019 on top of him.
Then the Packers used the 45th overall pick on Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson.
They then traded into the third round, where they picked one of the most athletic linebackers in the draft in Vanderbilt's Oren Burks, who has nearly a 40-inch vertical and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at 233 pounds.
To me, of all the teams, the Packers have had the best draft so far.
And not even because those are all guaranteed hits. We don't know if some will be misses. But even if some are, I think we'll look back at this draft as one of the more important in recent Packers history. Why?
Because the organization is finally trying to make it easier for Aaron Rodgers to be great.