Dee Milliner | Cornerback | Alabama | 6'0, 201 pounds
Alabama's defense has taken on the 'next man up' philosophy. After Dre Kirkpatrick got drafted in the first round last year, the Crimson Tide just leaned on Dee Milliner, a former five-star recruit. He didn't disappoint, leading the nation in passes defended and developing into one of the best defensive backs in the country.
In a draft class that is muddled at the top, some see Milliner as a top-five pick in this year's draft. After blowing up in Indianapolis at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, breaking 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Milliner is making an interesting case to climb towards the top of teams' draft boards in the coming months.
A shoulder injury may prevent him from working out for scouts before April's draft, but he looks like a lock to drafted in the first 15 picks of round one.
Milliner has all of the physical tools NFL teams covet at the cornerback position. He showed off his speed at the combine, but it really shows up on the field when Milliner is forced to close on the football. His combination of speed and instincts help him excel in that area, and Milliner is a strong fit in a zone coverage scheme for this reason. He is able to read plays quickly and has the quick-twitch athleticism to break on the ball in a hurry,
Milliner also proved to be a physical corner in his final season at Alabama. Measuring right around six-feet tall, Milliner has the size to excel when playing close to the line of scrimmage in coverage. That versatility is what makes him a potential top-10 pick in this draft. He has the skills to play both zone and man coverage with success. In addition to his size and physicality, he has quick hips to turn and run with wide receivers after he has jammed them off their routes.
With 22 passes defended during his junior season, Milliner showed off his ball skills time and time again. He locates the football well in the air and has the instincts to high-point the football and break-up passes. His closing speed shows up in this area of his game as well.
While he is undoubtedly the top cornerback in this year's draft, Milliner is not without his flaws. The first concern teams will have is with his shoulder injury, which required surgery and could cause him to miss some time in training camp. That shoulder injury was thought to be the reason for Milliner's lack of interceptions. Whatever the reason, Milliner didn't display the best hands and isn't necessarily a playmaker at the position. He has excellent ball skills and breaks up tons of passes, but he had a tough time finishing the job throughout his career at Alabama.
Another issue with Milliner's game is one that is a common theme among Alabama cornerbacks: his technique in his back-pedal is not very smooth. Milliner tends to get too upright when dropping straight back, and he doesn't display the quickness or smoothness he will need at the next level. That causes him to allow a bit too much separation to receivers on underneath routes. Milliner does, however, use a side-shuffle technique that suits him better when dropping back in coverage.
Milliner's closing speed and physicality were often on display for the Crimson Tide, but he left something to be desired in helping the run defense because of his poor tackling technique. He missed too many chances to bring the ball carrier down, but did show the speed to chase guys down in the open field. Plenty of cornerbacks struggle with tackling, so it's not a huge knock on Milliner as a prospect.
Conclusion: Milliner is the top defensive back in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he doesn't grade out as high as Patrick Peterson or Morris Claiborne have in recent seasons. A draft that isn't top heavy in the first round could push him up the board a bit, and it's tough to see the latest Alabama stud fall any farther than No. 12.
Pro Comparison: Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers
Milliner probably has a higher ceiling than Ike Taylor in the NFL, but the Alabama prospect shows some of the same strengths and weaknesses as Taylor. For starters, both players have great quickness and closing speed, while showing the play recognition to play in multiple schemes. Both players have tremendous ball skills in terms of recognizing and breaking up passes, but both haven't racked up interceptions.