In the early days of training camp, the Jets signed a few new players and we’ll be breaking them down in detail for you over the next week or so. Today, we break down linebacker Kwon Alexander in detail.
The 28-year old Alexander is listed at 6’1” and 227 pounds and was a fourth round pick out of LSU in 2015. He was a pro bowler in 2017 and briefly became the highest-paid inside linebacker in NFL history in 2019, but injuries have had a significant impact on his career over the past few years.
Alexander was a four star high school recruit and headed to LSU in 2012. He started two of seven games in his freshman year before suffering a season-ending injury, ending up with 12 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass defensed, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
In 2013, he returned and his role increased. He started nine of 13 games and racked up 65 tackles, three passes defensed and 6.5 tackles for loss. He then became a full-time starter in 2014, starting all 12 games and racking up career-highs in tackles (92), sacks (1.5), tackles for loss (7.5) and forced fumbles (two).
At the end of his junior year, Alexander opted to enter the 2015 NFL draft and was a projected day two pick. However, he lasted until the fourth round where he was picked up by the Bucs.
As a rookie, Alexander won the starting middle linebacker role and produced well with 93 tackles and nine passes defensed before being suspended for the last four games. Despite his statistical production, Alexander had an up and down year and made plenty of mistakes.
Over the next two seasons, he improved his consistency, racking up a career high 145 tackles and 12 tackles for loss in 2016 and then earning a pro bowl spot in 2017 as he had a career-best three interceptions to go along with 97 tackles in 12 games.
Over the next few years, Alexander’s career was derailed by injuries. He was limited to six games in 2018, but still signed a four-year, $54 million deal to join the 49ers, only to then be limited to just eight games in his first year with them in 2019.
In 2020, he made his return but was traded to the Saints after a slow start and played for them over the second half of the year before another season-ending injury.
The Saints released Alexander from his big-money deal after the season but he re-signed with them in August. He started eight times, but - for the first time - also came off the bench in four games and played a rotational role. He produced quite well, with 50 tackles and a career-high 3.5 sacks, but couldn’t find a team for 2022 until the Jets signed him to a minimum salary deal last month.
Now let’s take a look at what Alexander brings to the table, divided into categories.
Alexander is undersized, but he has a powerful looking frame and his athletic numbers were good across the board coming into the league. He ran a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash, had solid explosiveness and agility numbers and put up 24 bench press reps.
In high school, Alexander ran track, with impressive personal bests of 11.2 in the 100 meters and sub-23 seconds in the 200. He may have lost a step over the years with all those injuries though.
Alexander originally competed for the strongside linebacker role in his rookie camp, only to then move to middle linebacker and become the starter there. Over the past few years, he’s often been employed on the strongside, playing up at the line in 2021 more often than he ever did in the past.
Within this role, he occasionally would match up in the slot or out wide if a tight end or back motioned out there.
Alexander has been productive in the running game throughout his career and is able to blow up runs with good discipline, quickness and instinctive reads. He’s definitely at his best when he can avoid getting caught up on blocks and does a good job of navigating traffic.
There are times, however, where Alexander can freelance or attack gaps too aggressively and this can prove costly.
In 2021, only 31 percent of his snaps - a career low - were on running plays, which is perhaps a sign that he’s more likely to get reps in coverage situations if employed situationally.
Alexander has a good record in coverage, where his role often involves limiting yardage on short passes. He shows an ability to slow up a receiver, run with them and disrupt at the catch point.
He hasn’t been challenged down the field very often, but when he is, Alexander can be a bit stiff in space, so he is probably too limited to cover top tight ends.
If Alexander can keep the action in front of him, he shows an ability to read and react and make plays on the ball.
His ball skills are solid, as he has made two diving interceptions in his career, including this one on a tipped Josh Allen pass.
However, his playmaking production has reduced dramatically over the past few years as he’s been banged up. He had 16 passes defensed in his first two years but has never had more than four in a season since. Also, six of his eight career interceptions came in his first three seasons.
Over the years, Alexander only has one pass interference penalty against him, but has been called six times for defensive holding.
Tackling efficiency has always been an issue for Alexander. He was among the league leaders in missed tackles in his first three seasons and his missed tackle percentage has remained high even as his playing time has dropped.
He has the ability to stop runners in their tracks or drag them down in space, but he can overrun plays and be susceptible to cutbacks.
One positive has been Alexander’s ability to force fumbles. He’s had at least one in each of his seven seasons and 10 overall in his career.
He shows good hustle in pursuit, but has perhaps lost a step and some burst over the years, which can cause him to take bad angles.
As noted, Alexander set a career-high with 3.5 sacks last season and is effective when blitzing up the middle.
He has 12 sacks and 27 quarterback sacks in his career despite the fact he rarely rushes the passer more than once or twice in any given game. He has been called for roughing the passer once.
Alexander’s special teams contributions have been limited to rushing kicks and punts during his pro career so far. He did play more special teams early on with LSU, but this probably won’t be required of him in view of his durability issues in recent years. He was called for holding on a punt return once during his career.
Alexander has a physical style of play which will see him fighting through traffic, slowing up receivers in coverage or packing a punch when tackling.
However, as alluded to earlier, he’s at his most effective when he can be kept clean. Being paired with Demario Davis in New Orleans was good for him because Davis could take on blocks and Alexander could clean up behind him, but if Alexander has to take on a lead blocker, he can find himself being taken out of plays.
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has already praised Alexander’s instincts since his arrival, implying that was one of the main reasons they picked him up. He often showcases this with quick reads against the run and on short passes.
He’s not flawless in this area though. There are times when Alexander will bite hard on play action or overreact to misdirection from the offense. This can lead to some blown coverages. On this play, he is indecisive and allows the quarterback to run for the first down when he should’ve probably had better situational awareness and played it more conservatively to keep him behind the sticks.
Alexander has been regarded as a good leader with his previous teams, including in Tampa Bay where he was named as a captain and referred to as a high-energy glue guy and the heart and soul of the defense. The Jets hope to benefit from these traits too.
On the field, he is an intense and demonstrative player and can get chippy with his opponents. He’s had four personal fouls in his career, including one for taunting and one which saw him ejected for a late hit:
He was suspended for four games at the end of his rookie season for a substance abuse violation. He was originally going to appeal but ultimately decided not to. This apparently was as a result of consuming an energy drink he had been using for several years.
Predictably, he told the media he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder having gone unsigned for so long in the offseason.
As noted, Alexander has had a variety of serious injury issues, starting with a season-ending ankle injury in his freshman year at LSU.
He didn’t miss any games due to injury in his first few years but then suffered season ending injuries in 2018 (torn ACL), 2019 (torn pectoral) and 2020 (torn Achilles). He also had a stint on injured reserve with an elbow injury in 2021.
Alexander should have excellent familiarity with the defensive system, having played a year and a half in Robert Saleh’s defense with San Francisco.
As for his role, he could theoretically compete for Quincy Williams’ starting role alongside CJ Mosley or even put the headset on and fill in for Mosley if the veteran has to miss any time. However, it seems most likely he will be the third linebacker in base packages, which could mean that he is only on the field 20-30 percent of the time depending on the opponent. Alternatively, perhaps he could get some sub-package reps in a coverage role if Williams falters in those situations.
Alexander is reuniting with several former teammates on the Jets. He played with Sheldon Rankins, Justin Hardee and Derrick Kelly in New Orleans, Jordan Whitehead in Tampa Bay and Laken Tomlinson, Marcell Harris and DJ Reed with the 49ers.
Alexander is not the player he once was, as you can tell by his contract. However, he had some decent production when he played last season and his experience could make him a valuable addition to a position group that is mostly comprised of inexperienced players (apart from Mosley).
The comparison with Williams is an interesting one because they are similar both in terms of playing style and their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully Williams can learn from Alexander, while also giving the Jets someone who will force Williams to try and play with consistency if he wants to keep his job.
For the Jets, Alexander could be a nice fallback, but if everything goes to plan, then he will only contribute in a part-time role. Whether he can be more efficient than he has been in recent years while playing such a role remains to be seen, but this could be a move that pays dividends both on and off the field.