GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers have liked Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander for a long time now, calling him a talent that director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan said his team targeted from the outset.
Among those who were unaware of that was the 5-foot-10¼, 192-pound Alexander, who was drafted Thursday by the Packers with the 18th pick in the first round.
They had traded the No. 14 pick to the New Orleans Saints earlier in the night and moved down to No. 27, only to move back up to grab Alexander.
Alexander was shocked when his phone rang, but he realized the Packers had traded up and wondered if it might be his moment.
“I didn’t have any contact with the Packers,” Alexander said. “This caught me by surprise, honestly.”
2018 NFL DRAFT: Green Bay Packers picks
Aaron Nagler hosts a Facebook Live session with Packers fans following the team's pick at No. 18 in the NFL draft. (April 26, 2018) Aaron Nagler, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Alexander has gotten the opportunity to go up against Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in practice the last few seasons and now gets to face future Pro Football Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers.
“I’m very excited about that,” said Alexander, who was converted to corner at Louisville after arriving as a wide receiver. “He’s a legend. I know going against him is only going to make me better.”
Alexander played in six games as a junior last season because of a broken hand and nagging knee injuries. He said the knee injury occurred when he stumbled and hyperextended it while returning a blocked field goal in a season-opening win against Purdue.
Still, he did well at the NFL combine in February when he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash and was a standout in agility drills.
When healthy, Alexander displayed the playmaking skills he can bring to a Packers secondary that ranked No. 23 last season in pass defense.
He also can impact special teams as a punt returner.
Alexander was considered one of the top cornerbacks in the country as a sophomore in 2016, when he had five interceptions and was a second-team all-conference pick in the ACC.
It included a big day against nationally ranked Clemson and star quarterback Deshaun Watson, whom Alexander intercepted twice.
He also averaged 10.5 yards per punt return that season, including a 69-yard touchdown against Florida State.
Alexander had seven interceptions in 31 career games at Louisville. He started 19 games.
Although he doesn’t have great size – Alexander believes in heart over height – the Packers aren’t concerned. They also aren’t worried about his durability despite the missed time.
“The guy is a really good football player,” Sullivan said. “He’s been nicked up a little bit this year, but he’s a guy that is a team captain and very much a competitor. I think you can see that in his play.
“He’s twitchy. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s a guy who can play inside, outside. He’s a guy who is a very good punt returner when he gets his hands on the ball. … He’s got the right makeup. He’s the kind of person we want to add to the locker room and he’s going to be a guy who can really help us on the field.”
Alexander is the third defensive back selected in the first round by the Packers in the last five years, joining safety Ha Ha Clinton Dix in 2014 and cornerback Damarious Randall in 2015.
He’s also the sixth defensive back drafted by the team in the first or second round during that span. The Packers used their first two picks on the position last year, selecting both cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones in the second round.
“It’s something I worked hard for,” Alexander said about being drafted. “It’s finally here.”
A quick look at the Packers first round selection in the 2018 NFL draft USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin