Editor’s note: The Washington Redskins used a supplemental draft pick Wednesday on Virginia Tech defensive back Adonis Alexander.
Adonis Alexander is used to telling this story.
It’s one he guesses he has repeated nearly 60 times to NFL executives over the past month, all in the name of explaining how he went from a freshman All-American and potential early round pick to a part-time player who now finds himself hoping to be taken in the middle rounds of the NFL’s supplemental draft, which starts at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday.
Nevertheless, when he hears the question — how did you end up becoming academically ineligible for what should have been your starring senior season at Virginia Tech — he chuckles, takes a deep breath and pleasantly begins anyway.
“I don’t have a problem explaining it to people,” Alexander tells Yahoo Sports. “I’d much rather have them hear it come from me than read it.”
‘I definitely got a big head’
It begins in 2015, when Alexander, a 6-foot-2 1/4, 194-pound defensive back with plus ball skills and range, showed off the total package as a redshirt freshman for the Hokies, recording 55 tackles, 10 passes defensed and four interceptions.
As someone who had long struggled to focus in school, it only added to his internal belief that since football was his future meal ticket, the other responsibilities that came with being a student-athlete mattered little.
“I wasn’t really humble at the time,” Alexander admits. “I definitely got a big head, I definitely started doing a lot more with my social life instead of my academic life. I really put football and my social life above academics. And that put me in a big hole.”
That year, Alexander got behind in credit hours, and he never caught up. He waffled between academic probation during the course of the year, often doing just enough to pass his classes so he could get his credit hours.
But by the time he became a senior, Alexander couldn’t keep his GPA high enough to remain eligible. All those C’s and D’s caught up with him, so much so that the school informed him he’d flunked out and couldn’t get back in until the summer of 2019.
“So instead of sitting out a whole year,” Alexander said, “I decided to apply for the supplemental draft.”
Explaining the red flags
Had Alexander remained eligible and gone on to post a strong senior campaign, it’s possible he would have been an early round pick in next April’s regular draft, multiple scouts told Yahoo Sports.
Whether teams believe he’s worth investing a draft pick in Wednesday — and remember, when a team selects a player in the supplemental draft, that team loses a pick in the corresponding round of the 2019 draft — will have to do less with his talent, which teams agree is draftable, and more with his football character.
On that front, Alexander makes you want to believe. He has taken total ownership of his failings, which is the first thing NFL teams look for when it comes to digging into a player’s character. He has even praised the coaches and academic support staff at Virginia Tech for getting him as far as they did in school.
“I can’t thank them enough, really — it was like I was their child, their son,” Alexander said. “They were putting so much energy into helping me do good … they got me on the right track because I was definitely heading to destruction. They took the time to help, even when they’re supposed to be on vacation, they were sitting there with me, making sure I’m all good.”
Alexander also has been diligent about proving his two-game suspension for marijuana use last season — another concern that teams have spent the past month digging into — was a fluke, noting that he has passed every drug test he has taken over the nine months.
That includes one conducted Monday and distributed to teams this week, sources tell Yahoo.
“I self-reported the marijuana use to the school before last season because the guys I was hanging with, they were getting drug tested so before they could call me, I already knew so I just went ahead and told them,” Alexander said. “I had never failed a drug test until my junior year.”
Alexander even has a plan for sticking on the straight and narrow, as he has pledged to every team he spoke to — and 26 teams showed up to his pro day at Virginia Tech in mid-June.
“I’ll definitely find a veteran player that does everything right and model myself as a person after him,” Alexander said. “That will be the first thing I do, along with being in the playbook. It’s going to be football, football, football. I’ll always be in the film room.”
Alexander’s on-field flaws and upside
Alexander understands he needs some work on his skills. He’s more comfortable at safety, where he can scan the field more easily and better take advantage of his physicality in run support, but he knows that even there, he needs to have a better understanding of his teammates’ responsibilities, and how that affects the chances he can take.
“I’m an instinctive player, though,” said Alexander, who spent time playing both single-high and in the box as a freshman. “Especially if I’ve been watching film, I can recognize tendencies at safety.”
And while the 4.63 40-yard dash he ran at his pro day doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the corner position, there’s belief among some league types he would have run faster had he had two months that prospects get to train for the regular draft, as opposed to the weeks he had to get ready for the supplemental.
What’s more, Alexander’s marks in the vertical jump (35½ inches) and broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches) would have tested in the top 10 at his position in this year’s NFL scouting combine. Add all that to his youth (he’s 21 years old), size and long 31½-inch arms, and it’s easy to see some defensive back-needy team (like the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, New York Jets, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans, for starters) fall in love with him and see him as a high-upside prospect they get to develop a year early.
One player Alexander has long kept an eye on is Richard Sherman, who helped make the big corner en vogue again during his days in Seattle.
“He’ll take away the deep ball and react to the short pass,” Alexander said. “I feel like I’m great at that. I also have my safety mentality, safety tendencies so I can read route progressions and stuff like that.”
Alexander, however, understands he needs to drill down heavily on his technique at corner, where he started only two games in 2017, recording 27 tackles, four pass breakups and one interception after starting 12 games the previous two years.
“I know I was pretty raw out there, [working] off natural ability,” Alexander said. “So I’ll definitely be working on technique at the next level and being consistent with it.
But while his technique is unrefined enough that he probably won’t be an immediate contributor at corner, he wouldn’t rule out making quick strides there.
“I definitely got tired of school sometimes, but I never get too much football,” said Alexander, who is so competitive he prefers to play corner on the sideline closest to the opponent’s so he can yap with them. “There are some flaws in my film, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed. I feel like my upside is way bigger than my downside.”
And then, he chuckled in that same easy way he did at the start of the conversation — the way that might make a team take a chance on him on Wednesday.
“If you draft me, you’re gonna get a lock-down corner, an entertaining player to watch — a sleeper,” Alexander said. “I’ve got a lot in store for everybody watching.”
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