This is the fourth in a series. Click the link for profiles on Utah’s Star Lotulelei, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel and Oregon’s Dion Jordan. Between now and April’s draft, we’ll profile as many prospects as possible.
For the fifth year in a row, Alabama is expected to produce a top-10 pick.
And the prime candidate to keep the streak alive for the two-time defending national champs is cornerback Dee Milliner.
At 6 feet, 201 pounds, he’s got the size. At the Combine, he ran a 4.37 40, answering questions about his speed. And having played three years at Alabama under Nick Saban, he’s got the experience.
Milliner is the consensus top cornerback prospect in April’s draft. He appears to be a sure bet to go in the top 10, and there’s a chance he could be selected in the top five. In the last 10 drafts, only two cornerbacks – Patrick Peterson in 2011 and Terence Newman in 2003 – have gone in the top five. And both had ability as return men, something Milliner does not possess.
But the 21-year-old is considered one of the “cleaner” prospects in the draft. Rated by Scout.com as the top cornerback recruit in the nation coming out of Stanhope Elmore high school in Alabama, Milliner started 11 games as a true freshman. The following season, he was the team’s third corner, behind Dre Kirkpatrick (a first-round pick last year) and DeQuan Menzie (a fifth-round pick).
“When I got into my sophomore year I had the stress fracture in my shin, so I didn’t know if I could play or not,” Milliner said at the Combine. “And then DQ [Menzie] stepped up and did some great things for us, and the coaches felt the need to play him and let me come in in nickel, and slide [him] in the inside and let me play corner.”
Last year, Milliner started 12 games and earned first-team All-American honors from a variety of outlets, including the Associated Press and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA).
According to John Pollard of STATS, Inc, opposing QBs completed just 40.6 percent of their passes when targeting Milliner last year. He was targeted 69 times and yielded two touchdowns. Milliner only had two interceptions, but he was constantly around the ball, coming up with 22 passes defended, tied for tops in the nation.
Milliner suffered a torn labrum (shoulder) Nov. 10 against Texas A&M, but he played in the team’s final four games. Milliner put off surgery so that he could participate in pre-draft activities like the Combine.
“I just waited. I could’ve had it right after the [national championship] game, but I felt the need – I had to come out and do something,” Milliner said. “I didn’t just want to sit out the Combine and Pro Day, and then y’all guys get to wondering, saying this and that. So I just wanted to come out and showcase that I can move around, I can run, and I swing my arm around.”
Milliner expects to be finished with his rehab in mid-to-late May.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Milliner ranked second on his big board:
Has answered speed questions, now just a matter of how high he goes. Even if his backpedal needs work, he can clearly turn and run with anybody, and he has time to fix minor technique flaws. A smart player, he has a sharp learning curve, and his raw football skills are exceptional. His physical prowess is a step above that of other corners. He hits receivers and isn’t shy in run support, but with that, he is fluid and reads the game well.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network has Milliner ranked as his top corner:
What I see on tape is a tough instinctive guy who tackles, which I love; I love a corner that will tackle. When you come out of Nick Saban‟s Alabama program, especially when you’re a defensive back which Nick takes a big interest in as a former defensive back coach, you are well coached. He understands zone concepts, he plays man-to-man, he presses, he tackles.
Josh Norris of Rotoworld has Milliner 12th overall:
Sticks to receivers from the snap all the way downfield with physical play and speed to stay in hip pocket. Well-built for the position and it shows when attacking ball carriers. Uses hands to disengage or keep the edge.
AN EAGLES SLANT
The Eagles added a pair of cornerbacks – Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher – in free agency, but that should have little impact on their draft priorities.
Williams projects as a starter, but Fletcher will have to earn playing time. Remember, he’s only started eight games the past two years, and Fletcher saw two of his first three NFL seasons end because of knee injuries.
Brandon Boykin figures to play the slot, but beyond that, guys like Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes will be competing for roster spots.
If the Eagles view Milliner as the best player available at No. 4, he can come in and start right away, plus you add depth at a critical position.
Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly clearly want to bring toughness to a secondary that lacked it in 2012. Milliner would provide that.
Kiper has Milliner going fourth to the Eagles.
So does ESPN’s Todd McShay.
Tony Pauline of USA Today has the Lions grabbing Milliner with the fifth pick.
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com has him going sixth to the Browns.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com thinks it’ll be the Browns too.
Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com says Cleveland as well.
Norris has him going to Detroit.
The first cut-up from DraftBreakdown.com shows Milliner against Georgia and Notre Dame.
Milliner’s best skill is his ability to make plays on the ball. He never seems to be more than an arm’s length away from the receiver and consistently shows strong, quick hands to force incompletions.
At the 2:00 mark, you’ll see Georgia target him in the end zone, but Milliner makes a play on the ball.
Milliner played a lot of man, but at the 6:38 mark, you’ll see him make an excellent play on the ball while in zone, forcing another incompletion.
In the national title game, Notre Dame went after him all game long (perhaps because of the shoulder injury). Milliner gave up some plays, but he was always around the ball. At the 7:18 mark, he’s targeted down the right sideline, but does a great job of looking back for the ball and forcing the incompletion.
We know that Kelly values versatility, and Milliner showed that against LSU, specifically as a blitzer. At the 2:30 mark, you’ll see him go after the quarterback and pick up the sack.
I thought Milliner was exclusively an outside corner, but against LSU, he played inside too.
At the 3:01 mark, you’ll see him make a great play against the run, dropping the ball-carrier for a loss.
Milliner is an aggressive player, who is not afraid to mix it up. But he did have some issues with missed tackles. For example, at the 3:50 mark, he fails to bring down the wide receiver, who picks up some yards after the catch.
If there’s one play that shows Milliner’s full skill set, it’s at the 2:13 mark here against Michigan. He presses at the line of scrimmage and (legally) shoves wide receiver Roy Roundtree out of bounds. Milliner then turns back to the quarterback, sees the ball is coming his way, makes the interception and takes off for a 35-yard return.