Packers make deals and then grab Jaire Alexander
Green Bay — With a little shuffle through the first round, Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst opened his tenure selecting Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander.
The Packers drafted Alexander with the 18th pick following their second trade in Thursday night’s opening round.
Initially set to draft No. 14, the Packers swapped with the Saints for their pick at No. 27 and also acquired New Orleans’ fifth-round pick (147) and a 2019 first-rounder.
The Packers then traded up from No. 27 to pick Alexander, also acquiring the No. 248 pick (seventh round) from the Seahawks. Seattle received pick Nos. 27, 76 (third round) and 186 (sixth).
In Alexander, the Packers deviated from a long-held Ron Wolf scouting principle. Since the Packers drafted Terrell Buckley fifth overall in 1992, they have long held a minimum height requirement of 5-101⁄ for cornerbacks. Jon Eric-Sullivan, the Packers college scouting director, said the team decided Alexander’s height of 5-10 wouldn’t be a detriment.
“I’m a big believer in heart over height,” Alexander said. “If you look back at the film, I only gave up five passes, and I played against bigger receivers who were 6-5. It doesn’t really matter.
“My mentality is I’m going to beat the man in front of me, and that’s just part of being a student of the game. I don’t pay attention to size or anything like that.”
What Alexander might lack in height, he compensates with blazing speed. Alexander ran a 4.38-second 40 at the NFL scouting combine, seventh fastest among defensive backs. By the stopwatch, Alexander would be the fastest player on the Packers roster.
Eric-Sullivan said Alexander’s speed reminded him of former Packers corner Sam Shields, the last true No. 1 cover man they’ve had.
“Very few corners, when they play the game when the ball’s in the air, can you feel them close space. He’s one,” Eric-Sullivan said. “When you watch him play, you can feel him close space when the ball’s in the air, both playing forward and backward. The kid can run. On top of that, he’s quick and he can change directions and do those things.
“We’re just excited about the skill set as a whole. We think he has the make up to be a high-caliber player.”
Alexander was recruited to Louisville as a receiver. He quickly crossed over to defense, where he played 12 games as a freshman in 2015.
As a sophomore, Alexander flashed his ball skills with five interceptions. He tied for second in the ACC that season.
“I pretty much can play wherever,” Alexander said. “Wherever best fits. In my opinion, I feel comfortable at corner and in the slot.”
Alexander played only six games last season, missing more than half the season with injuries. He had a bone bruise on a knee in Louisville’s opener against Purdue and missed the next four games. Alexander returned in October but suf- fered a hand injury two weeks later and only played three games after that.
Eric-Sullivan said he doesn’t expect Alexander’s injury history to linger into the NFL.
“He was nicked up,” Eric-Sullivan said. “That happens. ... We feel good about him, durability overall. He did miss some time this year, but we thought that given the process this spring and watched his workout in Indianapolis, the guy was back to 100 percent, and we feel really good about him.”
The Packers no doubt were pleased to get a cornerback they targeted before the draft while picking up a first-round pick for next year, but Gutekunst’s decision will be closely monitored.
Before their initial trade, it appeared the Packers have an unexpected shot at a top-tier defensive prospect. Still available were Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Florida State defensive back Derwin James, a pair of premium prospects.
The Packers had evaluated Edmunds and James extensively through the predraft process. They invited both for private workouts in Green Bay and had formal interviews at the NFL scouting combine. One NFL scout was adamant this week that of all the players in the draft, the 6-41⁄ 2, 253-pound Edmunds would be most ideal for the Packers.
The Buffalo Bills traded up in the first round to select Edmunds with the 16th pick. James was drafted one pick later, No. 17 by the Los Angeles Chargers.
Alexander, the second pure cornerback drafted, wasn’t considered in the top tier of prospects by most draft analysts, but he no doubt has impressive measurables.
“Small but fast,” one source familiar with the 2018 cornerback class said of Alexander. “Great returner.”
That the Packers traded back in the first round wasn’t entirely surprising. One NFL source said the Packers ran through multiple scenarios with the 14th pick in the weeks leading up to the draft, and one was moving down to the late first round.
Four quarterbacks were drafted in the top 10, the first time since the 1970 merger that had happened. When the San Francisco 49ers drafted offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey at No. 9, it was apparent the Packers would get a chance to select one of the six unanimous top defensive prospects in the draft.
Instead, Gutekunst stayed patient, collected resources and drafted a player the Packers desired throughout the predraft process.
“Jaire is a guy that we targeted all along,” Eric-Sullivan said. “We liked him from the outset. He’s a good football player.
“He’s just a guy we thought brought a lot to the table as a player and a person. So we took him.”
The Packers moved down and then back up in the first round to select Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander. Alexander runs a 4.38 40-yard dash, but his height could be an issue in coverage against taller receivers.
Jaire Alexander played only six games last season, missing more than half the season with injuries.