Somehow, late in the second round, the Vikings landed the best corner in the draft.
Well, at least that is Mackensie Alexander’s opinion.
By drafting the versatile Clemson cornerback with the 54th overall pick in the second round Friday night, the Vikings are getting a confident cover man who declared at the NFL scouting combine that he was the best cornerback in this class. And Alexander did not back down from that boast Friday night even though six of his positional peers were picked before the commissioner called his name.
“That’s where the confidence comes from, just working out every day and grinding and just having a sick work ethic,” Alexander said on a conference call. “That’s what I have. My parents instilled that in me. So there’s where I get my confidence from, and my talent has really molded me to be that guy.”
While General Manager Rick Spielman said Alexander is probably capable of playing on the outside at the pro level, too, the Vikings see Alexander as a slot cornerback.
“Whatever the Vikings want me to do, I’m ready for it,” Alexander said.
Alexander could push slot specialist Captain Munnerlyn for nickel package playing time as a rookie. Munnerlyn, who is in the final year of his contract, said on Twitter immediately after Alexander was drafted that he would welcome that challenge.
Alexander was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school before signing at Clemson. After a redshirt year, the Florida native was voted a freshman All-America in 2014 and then a third-team All-America last season as a redshirt sophomore.
He then gave up his final two years of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
In 27 career games at Clemson, he recorded 52 tackles, 11 of them for a loss, and broke up a dozen passes. But he was unable to record an interception in college.
“He didn’t have a lot of balls completed on him, either,” Spielman said.
Alexander also downplayed any concerns that he might lack ball skills.
“[Interceptions were] not on tape, but everybody was at my pro day,” Alexander said.
“I had a phenomenal pro day. I caught the ball well. I showed that I can catch and have great ball skills and that I can do all the good things DBs do.”
One can assume the word “modesty” was nowhere to be found on Alexander’s scouting report, but self-belief is usually a good thing for those left alone with wide receivers. Clemson often asked him to trail top playmakers all over the field.
Five cornerbacks were picked in Thursday night’s first round, during which the Vikings selected Mississippi wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. And another corner went in the second round before the Vikings grabbed Alexander, who said he expected to go in the first round, where some draft analysts projected him to be picked.
It was the third time in four years that they used one of their top picks on a cornerback. In 2013, they drafted Xavier Rhodes in the first round. Last year, coach Mike Zimmer and the Vikings used their top pick on Trae Waynes.
Moments after drafting the 6-foot Waynes last April, Zimmer quipped, “You can probably write it down that we’re not going to take any 5-foot-9 corners here.” Alexander cleared that threshold, but just barely. He is 5-10.
“I said, ‘Coach Zim, does he meet the minimum criteria for you heightwise?’ ” Spielman said. “And [Zimmer] said, ‘He’s right at it. We’re good with it.’ ”
While he lacks the prototypical size that Zimmer covets, Alexander is feisty in coverage and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at his pro day.
He said he is pumped to work with Zimmer, whose specialty is defensive backs.
“I’m really eager to learn from him,” Alexander said. “I’m willing to learn. I’m very coachable and I’m just excited right now. I’m super excited.”
The Vikings were set to be back on the clock at No. 86 overall in the third round. But they decided to call it a night and traded that pick to the Miami Dolphins for a sixth-rounder this year and picks in the third and fourth in 2017.
Spielman cited the team’s crowded roster and the number of Vikings veterans whose contract expire next season as the main reasons for acquiring future picks.
The draft’s second round was dominated by defenders, with 11 of the night’s first 13 selections coming from that side of the ball. That early run included Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith and UCLA’s Myles Jack, two talented linebackers who both dropped out of the first round beause of concerns about their knee injuries.
Alexander was the 16th defender selected in the second round’s first 23 picks. In all, 21 of the 32 picks in the round were used on defenders.
But “of course” Alexander, who compared himself to four-time All-Pro Darrelle Revis, believes he will end up being the best cornerback of the bunch.
“That’s what I hear,” Spielman said. “I just love the kid’s confidence.”