GREEN BAY – The Packers traded back, traded up and ultimately got the playmaker they coveted all along during the opening night of the 2018 NFL Draft on Thursday.
After swinging deals with New Orleans and Seattle, Brian Gutekunst used his first selection as Green Bay’s general manager to draft Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander with the 18th overall pick.
Heralded for his speed and tenacity, Alexander was considered one of the top cornerbacks in the country going into his junior year with the Cardinals before knee and hand injuries limited him to only six games.
Regardless, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback declared early for this year’s draft and shot up draft boards thanks in part to his seven interceptions in 31 college games, and a blazing 4.38-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Alexander hoped his past production and pro potential would be enough to make him a first-round pick Thursday night, though he admits the phone call from the Packers came as a slight surprise.
“I didn’t have any contact with the Packers,” said Alexander, the second cornerback taken in this year’s draft behind Denzel Ward at No. 4. “I was pretty shocked it rang. I just realized they had traded up. So I was like this might be the one. … It was the one.”
After enrolling early at Louisville in 2015, Alexander flirted with the idea of playing receiver before settling in at cornerback following a mass exodus of defensive backs through the NFL Draft.
View photos of Packers first round draft pick CB Jaire Alexander at the 2018 NFL Draft in Dallas. Photos by NFL, AP and Perry Knotts, NFL.
He was a natural fit in Louisville’s defense, which favored single-high and Cover 3 looks. Alexander estimates he played roughly 70 percent of his snaps outside for the Cardinals, but showed a knack for finding the ball as a nickel cornerback in the slot in intercepting five passes as a sophomore in 2016.
Alexander hoped to build on that performance this past fall before sustaining a bone bruise after recovering a blocked field goal in the second quarter of Louisville’s opener against Purdue.
He missed four games with the injury before returning against N.C. State, finishing the season with 19 tackles, four breakups and an interception.
“2016 was definitely a better year. I was fully healthy the whole season,” Alexander said. “’17 took a little turn, but again, I still had a solid year only giving up five passes. I was getting targeted but not many people were catching passes. ’16 was definitely my solid year, but ’17 I thought was pretty good, as well.”
Despite the radio silence in the lead-up to the draft, the Packers watched Alexander’s workout at the combine closely and saw obvious playmaking potential.
Green Bay believes Alexander’s banged-up junior season is no cause for alarm and feels his versatility can be an important asset to its remade secondary, which already re-signed veterans Tramon Williams and Davon House this offseason.
Alexander also provides Green Bay with another potential playmaker on special teams. He returned 44 punts for 439 yards (9.9 yards per return) with a touchdown in three college seasons.
“Jaire is a guy we targeted all along. We liked him from the outset,” director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan said. “He’s very much a competitor. I think you can see that in his play. He’s twitchy. He has really good ball skills. He can play inside and outside. He’s a very good punt returner. He’s the kind of person we wanted to add to the locker room.”
Listed at 5-11, Alexander won’t challenge 6-foot-3 Kevin King for the distinction of the Packers’ tallest cornerback, but believes his resume speaks for itself when it comes to matching up against the biggest targets the ACC had to offer.
There’s also his speed to consider. While Sullivan was careful not to draw comparisons between Alexander and former Pro Bowler Sam Shields, both can use their exemplary speed to close space on receivers downfield.
Take a look at Packers 18th draft pick CB Jaire Alexander at Louisville. Photos by AP, NFL and College Press Box.
Alexander believes his background as a receiver has only enhanced his playmaking, citing pass-catching as one of his “strong suits.”
“I’m a big believer in heart over height,” Alexander said. “If you look back at the field, I only gave up five passes. I’ve played against bigger receivers who are 6-5. It doesn’t really matter. My mentality is I’m going to beat the man in front of me. That’s just a part of being a student of the game. I don’t pay any attention to size or anything like that.”
Alexander said he doesn’t know much about Green Bay besides the fact it gets a “little chilly” in the winter, but is well-versed in the Packers’ track record with defensive backs such as Charles Woodson and Nick Collins.
Not to mention the two-time MVP quarterback he now calls a teammate.
“I’m very excited about that. He’s a legend," said Alexander when asked about playing with Aaron Rodgers. "I know going against him is only going to make me better and prepare my game, so I’m definitely looking forward to going against him in practice and just being around the type of person that he is, the competitor that he is."