Summary: Alabama has been a factory for pro talent, and its best prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft is Milliner. Teams in the passing-driven NFL are always looking for cornerbacks who have the ability match up on receivers in man coverage. Finding a cornerback who can execute on an island and limit, or take away, a No. 1 receiver is rare. Milliner could be the only cornerback with that ability in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Even though Milliner was the nickelback as a sophomore in 2011, his three interceptions led the Crimson Tide. That was a real accomplishment considering safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and cornerback DeQuan Menzie were future draft picks; the first two went in the top 10 of the 2012 NFL Draft. Milliner also had 27 tackles and nine passes broken up that season.
With Kirkpatrick and Menzie off to the NFL, Milliner took over as a starting corner and was the Crimson Tide’s No. 1 corner for 2012. He started off his junior season in dominating fashion against Michigan. He returned an interception 35 yards, and recorded five tackles and four passes batted away. Milliner’s one mistake came when he lost his footing and fell down in man coverage. That allowed the receiver to get wide open for a score.
When Alabama played Tennessee, Milliner had the challenge of covering star wide outs Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Milliner was excellent against the Volunteers with five tackles and one pass defensed. Hunter was held to four receptions for 70 yards while Patterson had only one reception for 25 yards. Milliner’s pass batted ended up being intercepted by the Crimson Tide.
Milliner had a great game against Ole Miss with a pick, half a sack and four passes broken up. He picked up two tackles and a pass broken up versus Arkansas. Milliner almost hauled in an interception with a long return, but it was ruled that he had trapped the ball.
It wasn’t all roses in 2012, as Milliner did have a rough stretch. He notched 10 tackles and a pass broken up against Texas A&M, but had some ugly plays, too. One was when Milliner was burned for a 24-yard touchdown on a corner post route. He had a mixed outing the week before versus LSU and didn’t play as well against Mississippi State either. Milliner had a pass interference, special teams penalties, a missed tackle and allowed some catches in the matchup with the Bulldogs. On the other hand, he did block a field goal and record three tackles.
Milliner bounced back at the end of the year. He accounted for four tackles and two passes broken up against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Milliner also came close to a diving interception, but the pick was overturned after replays showed that he had trapped the ball. Notre Dame went after Milliner in the National Championship Game, but he held up well. Milliner had excellent coverage on numerous passes and started an interception with a pass breakup on a deep ball. He also showed that he could be effective against a good receiving tight end in Tyler Eifert, the Fighting Irish’s best receiver.
Milliner totaled 54 tackles, two interceptions, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and 20 passes broken up this year. He tied for first in the nation as well with 22 total passes defensed. There were some questions about how fast Milliner was, but he resoundingly answered the speed questions with a sub-4.4 40 at the Combine. That kind of speed proved him to be a well-rounded cornerback prospect.
For the NFL, Milliner looks like a corner who is capable of holding up in man coverage on an island. He has the height and length to matchup against big wide outs but retains the speed to run down the field with fast receivers.
Milliner is very good in press-man coverage. He can turn and run while also having the strength to reroute receivers off his jam. Milliner does well in zone coverage, too, and is a physical cornerback defending the run. The one area he will need to work on is playing off-man coverage. He didn’t do that as much in college.
The 2013 draft class is weaker at the top of the draft than past years. Milliner isn’t as good of a prospect as LSU’s Morris Claiborne (2012) or Florida’s Joe Haden (2010). However, Milliner should turn into a good starter in the NFL who could be a Pro Bowl caliber cornerback.
Player Comparison: Joe Haden. There are a lot of similarities in the styles of play with Haden and Milliner, but Milliner probably won’t be as solid of a pro as Haden. They both are gritty corners who are physical with receivers. Like Haden, Milliner has the ability to play press-man coverage and run with receivers downfield.
Milliner is a little bigger while Haden (5-11, 190) is more fluid. Haden also has shown more ball-hawk ability, but Milliner has the potential to have good ball skills. The Browns selected Haden with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and Milliner should also be a top-10 pick. He could end up being a similar player to Haden, but not as good as the Cleveland standout.
NFL Matches: Jacksonville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay
There are a few landing spots for Milliner in the top 10 of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Jaguars have the second pick and are in dire need of cornerback talent. The Raiders also are lacking talent at corner. Milliner could come off of the board in the top three, but Jacksonville and Oakland sound more likely to take other players.
The Eagles signed Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in free agency, but they are No. 2 and nickel corners. Philadelphia still needs a No. 1 corner. Milliner should be on the team’s short list.
Detroit could select Milliner to go with Chris Houston. The Lions need to improve their secondary to be more competitive in 2013. However, Detroit selected a lot of corners in the middle rounds last year, so the team could target the offensive line or defensive line instead of Milliner. Martin Mayhew hasn’t shown an inclination to draft cornerbacks in the first round over linemen.
The Browns seem like a good fit for Milliner. Cleveland could pair him with Haden to give them one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL.
WalterFootball.com has learned from sources with the Titans that Tennessee really likes Milliner. If he falls to the 10th pick, the team will be ecstatic and snatch him off the board.
One other potential scenario for Milliner would be the Buccaneers trading up from pick No. 13 into the top 10 to land him. Tampa Bay doesn’t have NFL-caliber starting cornerbacks on its roster and needs two new starters. The Bucs have two fourth-round picks to help in trading up for Milliner. Greg Schiano targeted Alabama product Mark Barron and likes the scheme transition from the Crimson Tide’s defense to what he wants to do with his secondary. Tampa Bay is desperate and could do something bold.
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