When incumbent ex-general manager John Idzik drafted Dee Milliner 9th overall in 2013, Jets fans were expecting the next coming of Darrelle Revis. So far, that has not been the case whatsoever. After two injury plagued seasons, many people have already labeled Milliner as a draft bust and another piece of the abysmal old regime. Now that Revis and his sidekick Antonio Cromartie are back in New York, there is even more question surrounding the former Alabama standout’s future. To make matters worse, new general manager Mike Maccagnan added Buster Skrine this offseason as well. With all of these acquisitions, it may seem as if Milliner is getting buried on the depth chart after only two years in green and white. Although, he still remains a huge part of head coach Todd Bowles’ defense moving forward, and he still has the talent that everyone is forgetting about.
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According to ProFootballFocus.com, in 2013, Milliner ranked 43rd out of 59 corners league-wide that played at least 60% of snaps. That is by no means a good year, but let’s not forget he played the entire first half of the season with a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of 3 games. Two impressive stats regardless of his ranking were his completion percentage allowed (51.5%) and the fact that he did not commit a penalty all season. The completion percentage ranked 11th out of those 59 corners on ProFootballFocus and the penalty stat of course is simply phenomenal.
His three biggest games came against Oakland in Week 14 as well as the final two games of the season against the Browns and Dolphins. In the Week 16 matchup, Milliner held Pro Bowl receiver Josh Gordon to 97 yards on 6 catches while adding the first interception of his career. Most of the time, 97 yards is a job well done by the receiver, but not when he’s targeted 16 times. Against the NFL’s leading receiver in the league at the time in Gordon, Milliner did a tremendous job in coverage compared to any other corner who tried to cover him. That was one of six games Gordon did not score and one of seven he did not eclipse 100 yards or more.
Dec 29, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) is unable to make a catch as New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) defends during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
In the finale against the Dolphins, Milliner held Mike Wallace to 5 catches for just 25 yards. Wallace did score on him early in the game, but he made up for it by picking off quarterback Ryan Tannehill twice to seal the win. Milliner received a Week 17 overall grade of +4.7 on ProFootballFocus as a result of his solid performance and conclusion to his rookie season. He also received his season-high run defense grade in that same week (+1.1). When healthy, he has shown he can without a doubt handle the role as a starting corner in the NFL.
Even with a crowded secondary, this is the year for Milliner to bounce back. In Todd Bowles’ scheme, he relies on his nickel corner to play a lot of snaps, especially on 3rd down. On Arizona’s 2013 Bowles-coached defense, Tyrann Mathieu played 803 snaps behind Patrick Peterson (1103) and Jerraud Powers (1060). Antoine Cason played just 169 snaps as the dime corner. In 2014, Powers played 761 snaps behind Peterson (994) and Cromartie (1012). Justin Bethel played 71 snaps as the dime.
You could definitely say that Skrine will play nickel in New York with Milliner as the dime, but it shouldn’t make or break playing time between the two. There is a big difference between Mathieu and Cason as well as Powers and Bethel. The gap (if there is one) between Skrine and Milliner is obviously not as wide as the ones in Arizona. With that being said, expect Skrine and Milliner to play around 400 snaps each and split time as the nickel for a majority of the season. However, this is not the only way for Milliner to hit the field in his 3rd season with Gang Green.
Aug 17, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets corner back Dee Milliner (27) drops back into coverage against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the first quarter of a preseason game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Revis and Cromartie may both be two of the best corners in football, but they are getting up there in age. Revis turns 30 in less than a month, and Cromartie is 31 as of this past April. So neither of them get overworked in Bowles’ man-to-man approach, Milliner can rotate in to relieve pressure. Milliner has the advantage in this scenario because he is one of the more physical corners on the team who excels in press coverage. When need be, expect him to rotate with Cromartie as the No. 2 corner at times in 2015. On the outside, it’s important to have a corner who can jam the receiver and give the defensive line more time to rush the passer.
The only concern with Milliner is of course his health. A torn Achilles is a very tough injury to recover from, so less snaps may benefit him early on in the year. With three other proven corners on the roster, there is no reason to rush him on the field if he is not feeling healthy and confident. Overall, Milliner is a guy who is primed to bounce back in 2015 if he stays on the field and injury-free.