The Alabama Crimson Tide is not only a factory for National Championships in recent years, but also for talent in the NFL Draft. The Tide has had players picked in the first round at every traditional position except for quarterback under Nick Saban. Cornerback has had two first round picks under with Kareem Jackson and Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner is looking to be the next Bama player to join that group, though Milliner is looking to be the earliest selected and the top corner of his year to be picked. Milliner brings a terrific combination of size and athleticism that makes him an imposing, physical player on the field with a championship pedigree and a great deal of potential, but he is not a finished product and as a result warrants a pick in the 11-20 range in the NFL draft.
Milliner is listed at 6í1Ē 199lbs. He looks like a safety on the field with an impressive build especially in his upper body. Then he runs like a corner. He has good feet and can flip his hips well. Milliner should workout well based on how athletic he looks on the field, but fairly or unfairly, his imposing size has some critics wanting him to prove it. He looks like a safety; they want him to perform like top corner. Millinerís athleticism looked on film like it was actually making up for some of the scheme of Alabama, so he appears like he should make everyone feel comfortable in that area of his game.
As a tackler, Milliner is inconsistent. He has the physical skills necessary to tackle just about anyone he comes across, but bad habits and attempts to make highlight plays rather than good tackles. When he uses good form, he can be a great tackler, uses good form, and has some power. When he lands the big hit, he can do some damage but he whiffs a frustrating amount of time regardless of where he is on the field.
Milliner is a willing run support player who is accustomed to attacking downhill and trying to make tackles in the backfield. He is big enough that he rarely stands out as being noticeably smaller than the ball carrier he is attempting to bring down. One of the areas where Milliner excels is his willingness to take on blocks and attack those blocks with power, knocking the blocker towards the ball carrier or allowing him to shed the block and make the tackle. He is also a natural blitz option and does a good job coming off the edge. Because of his ability to tackle, it makes it easy to send him without being worried about running right at him for a big gain and if Milliner gets to the quarterback, he can hit with power.
When it comes to pass coverage, one thing that stands out is the fact Dee Milliner does not backpedal. Not as if it is something he does not do often; he does not backpedal at all in games. There is probably a reason Alabama teaches their corners this way, but it appears to be problematic as it relates to making the move to the NFL and the reasons stand out on tape. Instead of backpedaling, Milliner turns his body and runs with the receiver sideways or will open to the inside of the field and strafe with the receiver. Every other corner does this, but they typically backpedal until they need to flip their hips and go with the receiver. The reason is simple; it is a huge advantage for a defensive back to be able to stay square to the line of scrimmage for as long as possible. If the receiver stops short or the ball is thrown quickly, the defensive back is in a great position to make a play on the ball and possibly intercept the pass. Instead of being able to simply plant and attack forward, he has to turn his entire body, locate the ball, and try to make a play. It is much slower and takes more effort to do well. Millinerís impressive athleticism allows him to make up some ground, but it still ends up being a disadvantage. This may help to explain why Milliner has only had six interceptions in his career in Tuscaloosa.
As a result, Milliner is at his best in zone coverage. He has good range and with his size, he can cover a large amount of the field. Milliner can play man coverage up in a guyís face but does not do much to jam them at the line. He is also effective in off man coverage and excels at breaking toward the line of scrimmage to make plays on the ball or make tackles provided he is square to the line of scrimmage. Milliner tends to look like a safety in man coverage rather than a corner because of the Tideís style of coverage. Milliner has a tremendous knack for getting pass break ups. He is strong enough to be able to rip the ball out of an opposing receiverís hands as well as nimble enough to be able to reach around and knock the ball down. While he is able to get his hands on the ball quite a bit and had twenty pass deflections as a junior, he only had one interception and that was in the first game of the year. While it seems like some of Millinerís lack of interceptions seems to be due to the technique the Crimson Tide have their cornerbacks play, he needs to find a way to cash in on more opportunities. Again, it is difficult to accurately assess why Alabama coaches corners the way they do without knowing and understanding their philosophy for the position.
The combination of technique that Milliner still needs to master and his ability to succeed in spite of not using those techniques suggests that Milliner is not a finished product, but says he has a substantial amount of potential in the NFL. If he is able to learn these techniques and get good at them, his ability in coverage should only improve and considering how effective he already has been, that could be dominant in the NFL and makes him an intriguing prospect. If Milliner participates in the combine, it will be worth keeping an eye on how he performs in drills as much as the tests of athleticism. It stands to reason that he has been working on his backpedal among other things at the performance academy he is training right now and he may alleviate all of these concerns or may highlight why it is something to keep an eye on in the draft process.
In terms of fit, Milliner would make his most immediate impact on a team that likes to have their guys play zone and he should be the strong side corner. He has the skills but needs a little more time to be able to be as effective in a man based system, but he projects as a fantastic press corner or just straight man corner. Milliner is more than capable in being left on an island against the run as long as he gets more consistent with his tackling form. Milliner can also project to free safety with ease and might find himself there as a second act to his career at some point.
Millinerís size and development at this point in his career is similar to former Ohio State Buckeye and longtime Carolina Panther Chris Gamble. Gamble spent the early part of his career having mixed results at wide receiver before making the move to cornerback where he flourished and his size and athletic ability became a huge advantage. Gamble left Ohio State as a tremendous athlete but not a finished cornerback prospect as he entered the NFL. Milliner is a better prospect than Gamble, but has similar size and is not quite finished either. Both prospects went into the draft with a ton of potential for the next level.
Dee Milliner appears to be in the pole position to be the top corner selected in the NFL Draft, pending something crazy happening. While he does have some areas he needs to improve to be a more finished product, his talent shows through and his athleticism appears to be a huge asset. Still, some people are asking questions of Alabama corners in general and their philosophy on how they groom their corners, which is fantastic for their program, but might not be as great for the NFL. Milliner has a chance to erase all of those concerns. If he can tap into what still amounts as a ton of potential in the NFL and masters the techniques he did not learn at Alabama, Milliner has a chance to be one of the top corners in the NFL. His combination of physical ability and play on the field warrants a pick once the draft gets into the double digits and has a shot to go in the top ten due to the value of the position if a team likes the fit with Milliner.
Ole Miss 2012
Auburn & Penn State 2011
Arkansas & Tennessee 2011
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