A "big" reason for the turnaround on defense in New Orleans has been the stellar play of rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who rewarded the Saints' faith with the 11th overall selection in the 2017 NFL draft after struggling with various injuries at Ohio State.
Other NFL teams could see Alexander as offering similar potential.
Alexander entered the 2017 season as one of the more intriguing cover corners in the country after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he earned Second Team All-ACC honors with five interceptions.
Unfortunately, rather than build upon his success, Alexander largely limped 2017, suffering a knee injury on a kick return in the season-opener against Purdue, aggravating the knee injury a few weeks later and later breaking his hand. As a result, Alexander played in just six games, recording a total of 19 tackles, including one for loss and defending four passes, one of which he intercepted. Rival conference coaches showed their respect for Alexander's talent, voting him onto the Honorable Mention All-ACC team, regardless.
Despite the injury-plagued season (or perhaps because of it), Alexander opted to forgo his senior season as well as the Tax Slayer Bowl game against Mississippi State and enter the 2018 NFL draft, leaving scouts just 29 games (including 20 starts) to evaluate him.
Alexander played in 12 games and started against Boston College as a true freshman in 2015. He recorded a total of 19 tackles and became the team's primary punt returner, averaging a solid 9.7 yards on 23 attempts with his long 33 yards coming against rival Kentucky. Alexander flashed the skill-set against Texas A&M in a Music City Bowl win that would have fans buzzing a year later, recording a career-high 10 tackles and sparking the Cardinals' offense with a 32-yard punt return.
By any measure Alexander enjoyed a terrific 2016 campaign, earning Second Team All-ACC honors from league coaches and media. He was at his best against key conference foes, returning two punts for 130 yards in a big win over Florida State, including one for a 69 yard touchdown. Alexander was even better against the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers, recording two interceptions of Deshaun Watson and forcing a fumble. He registered another two interception day against Virginia and made a season-high six tackles.
Though Lattimore is the best recent evidence that NFL teams are willing to overlook prior durability issues if the talent is that obvious, general managers do not like looking to the past when evaluating current prospects. By choosing to forgo his final year of eligibility (and doubling-down on the decision by opting not to compete in the Tax Slayer Bowl), Alexander is clearly taking a big risk.
Anyone who has watched him play cornerback, however, knows that Alexander is not afraid of gambles. It is precisely that kind of confidence in himself, in fact, that could entice a team needing a playmaker to roll the dice early, with a top 50 selection quite possible.
Enrolled in school early ... a 3-star prospect by Rivals and Scout.com ... tabbed by Scout.com as the fifth-best player in the state of North Carolina and the 22nd by Rivals ... rated the 69th-best cornerback in the country by ESPN.com ... rated the No. 67 cornerback in the nation by Rivals.com and the No. 24 player overall in his state ... registered 30 tackles, four interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 12 games during his senior season ... also played wide receiver, catching 68 passes for 1,123 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Possesses a compact, athletic frame with good overall muscle distribution. Alexander's best attribute is his light feet and fluid hip turn, which helps shadow receivers all over the field. He varies his drop, alternating between a standard back-pedal and side-step when playing tight, complementing his flashy footwork with a surprisingly powerful punch to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He shows very good route anticipation, cutting as receivers make their breaks and leaving little room for quarterbacks to throw the ball. Alexander shows good instincts and isn't afraid to take chances in coverage, reading the eyes of the quarterback and dropping his primary receiver to undercut others as the ball is thrown. He shows good ball-skills, extending outside of his frame and plucking the ball out of the air and delivering a late rip at the ball as receivers are attempting to secure it. A dynamic athlete, Alexander is a threat to score any time he has the ball in his hands, showing lightning acceleration, elusiveness and vision to set up blocks with punt return experience. While obviously lacking ideal size, Alexander does not lack for aggression against bigger receivers and as a tackler, taking on would-be blockers aggressively and lowering his shoulder into the knees of ball-carriers for very effective and often quite physical take-downs. -- Rob Rang 12/22/2017
Limited to just six games in 2017 after sustaining a knee injury in the season-opener against Purdue and breaking his hand in practice later in the year, injuries which each require a close examination by team doctors at the Combine. Comes with obvious size limitations with bigger receivers simply able to out-leap him because of their height advantage (Florida State, 2016). Too aggressive for his own good, biting on pump fakes and double-moves and leaving himself scrambling to recover. Occasionally misses tackles with his trademark lunges at the knees (see LSU, 2016). -- Rob Rang 12/22/2017
COMPARES TO: Jason Verrett, Chargers. When healthy, Verrett has lived up to his first-round draft selection (No. 24 overall in 2014), earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2015, showing off the quick feet and tenacity to handle coverage duties despite measuring in at just 5-10, 188 pounds. Unfortunately, Verrett has struggled with injuries, missing more games than he's played over his four-year career. With a similar frame and aggressive playing style, durability concerns could limit Alexander's stock despite his coverage skills.
IN OUR VIEW: Alexander may lack ideal size but he is feisty as a rat terrier, winning in coverage because of his elite foot quickness, route anticipation and sticky hands and attacking blocks and ball-carriers in run support, projecting as an immediate nickel and punt return candidate with the potential to handle outside duties.