Mackensie Alexander is heading into his second pro season with a more defined role on the Vikings.
Alexander has been running with the first team at nickel cornerback since Minnesota opened training camp on July 27. He and the Vikings are trying to replace veteran Captain Munnerlyn, who returned to Carolina as a free agent, in the slot, a position that is becoming more and more necessary in the NFL.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Alexander is receiving feedback from coaches and teammates in addition to more reps at practices.
"Alexander has done good; he's done really good, especially in the slot, he's playing a lot more in the slot, he's done really good, so I'd say he's the guy that's jumped up the most," Zimmer told Twin Cities beat writers on Wednesday.
Matthew Coller of 1500ESPN.com recapped Alexander's rookie season when he appeared in 13 games and noted how he is picking up tips in Minnesota, a place that is well-situated to develop a young cornerback:
*The Vikings 2016 second-round pick played just 68 snaps last season. He was targeted 13 times and gave up 9.8 yards per attempt and one touchdown, according to Football Outsiders data and was flagged three times for 28 penalty yards. *
*Zimmer acknowledged earlier this offseason that the team had trouble getting through to Alexander in his rookie year, but said that the former Clemson star changed his tune so much that he spoke to rookies about his experience. *
Young cornerbacks couldn't dream of a better situation than the one they have in Minnesota. Not only has Zimmer coached the likes of Deion Sanders, but veteran Trae Waynes is a coach on the field, Xavier Rhodes has grown into a star corner and DBs coach Jerry Grey was a Pro Bowler in his day.
Alexander made quite the splash in the 2016 preseason, recording an interception, two passes defended and two tackles in 40 snaps at Cincinnati in his NFL debut. He also led the Vikings in tackles (six according to the press box tally) a year ago at Seattle and recorded another interception in his home preseason debut against San Diego.
After starting as an outside cornerback and playing all 71 snaps against the Rams in the preseason finale, Alexander shifted to a reserve role, seeing the most action as Munnerlyn's back up.
Last week at Buffalo, Alexander played 28 defensive snaps and recorded one tackle.
Cook, Diggs make "fantasy football draft target" list
It is estimated that nearly 60 million people will play fantasy football this fall.
Those who aren't tasked with evaluating players in competition battles for roster spots might argue that fantasy football draft season presents a more significant signal to them that football season is coming than four weeks of exhibition games.
NFL.com fantasy football writer/editor Alex Gelhar came up with a list of "15 players to target in fantasy football drafts in 2017."
Gelhar listed one player for each of a draft's 15 rounds based on NFL.com average draft position "who I'm completely comfortable with selecting," and his list included Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook and third-year receiver Stefon Diggs.
Gehlar noted: "this list isn't meant as a round-by-round draft guide. These are just players I like in their respective rounds. Those of you who expect these players to go earlier than their listed round in your league should consider the player's inclusion on the list a seal of approval from me to draft them when you deem appropriate."
He slotted Cook for round number five after leading with Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, Saints receiver Michael Thomas, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin and Redskins WR Terrelle Pryor. Gehlar wrote:
If your roster construction follows a similar path to the one I'm sort of building in this piece (RB-WR-WR-WR), then Dalvin Cook is an excellent high-upside RB2 to target here. While Latavius Murray was on the PUP list briefly, Cook went out and wowed in practice and on the preseason field. He's a multi-talented back who should lead this running back group in touches with ease. He may lose out on a few scoring opportunities to Murray near the goal line, but Cook's upside in a sneakily dangerous Vikings offense is tremendous.
Gehlar then listed the top two active players on the career rushing yards list — Colts RB Frank Gore (13,065) and former Vikings turned Saints RB Adrian Peterson (11,747) — in the sixth and seventh rounds before digging Diggs.
The Stefon Diggs hype train among fantasy analysis is close to careening off the tracks judging by how high he goes in "expert" mocks, but in more casual leagues the Vikings wide out is coming at a huge discount. On the surface, arm chair analysts can poke a lot of holes in the case for Diggs being a dominant fantasy receiver: Kyle Rudolph is his quarterback, he's smallish, he's been hurt a bunch, the Vikings offense isn't that great, etc. However, when you look more closely, Bradford played quite well last season and Diggs just missed 1,000 yards in only 13 games. Now fully healthy with a better offensive line and running game around him, Diggs could truly break out in fantasy this year.