Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Kansas City Chiefs have a need at cornerback opposite Brandon Flowers. Alabama's Dee Milliner is widely considered the top-rated CB in the upcoming draft so let's take a closer look at the Crimson Tide defensive back.
The 2013 NFL draft is coming up and the Kansas City Chiefs currently hold the No. 1 pick, which has brought on discussion of quarterbacks, left tackles and defensive lineman. Now we're going to switch our focus to another need for this team: cornerback.
It was recently pointed out that there's never been a cornerback taken No. 1 overall in the draft. That's definitely something to consider when discussing the Chiefs options with the No. 1 pick but there's always a chance the Chiefs could trade down a few spots and take a cornerback. Or they could just take him at No. 1 overall.
The top cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft is Alabama's Dee Milliner. He's consistently 'mocked' to the Detroit Lions at No. 5 but that could be changing here over the next few weeks.
A position of need
The Chiefs answered two HUGE questions this off-season by reaching a five-year deal with wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and using the franchise tag on Branden Albert. Not to mention also reaching an agreement with punter Dustin Colquitt.
The Chiefs now desperately need to address the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Brandon Flowers. This is where Dee Milliner fits in with this team. I've long said the Chiefs should address this No. 2 cornerback position in free agency. There are plenty of good options available there. But if the Chiefs haven't addressed the position before the draft in April then Milliner should be getting a good look.
Milliner earned unanimous All-American accolades following Alabama's National Championship season. He was a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski award which goes to the nation's top defensive player, and also for the Jim Thorpe award, which goes to the nation's top defensive back.
The athleticism to do it all
Milliner has an elite blend of size, strength and speed for a NFL cornerback. He stands at 6'1 199 pounds and just recently ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. It's this same size and speed combination that made him one of the most sought after high school recruits in the nation before signing with Nick Saban and Alabama.
Milliner uses that size and strength to his advantage with his ability to play press coverage. Most of his snaps at Alabama last season were in press and he has the lateral quickness and hips to adjust to easily adjust to inward routes. Slants, posts, square-in's aren't much of an issue for Milliner from an athletic standpoint. His change of direction and 'fluidity' are elite.
The GIF below shows an example of this ability on a quick slant route against Michigan.
Once the receiver plants his outside foot to come inside on the slant you can see how quickly and fluid Milliner opens his hips, drops his left foot and accelerates off his back foot to stay right with the receiver and get his hand inside the throwing lane.
Milliner also possesses a willingness to be physical in run defense which isn't always the case with cornerbacks. The ability to run stride for stride with world class athletes without touching them is one specific trait for cornerbacks that makes them so valuable. Not many people can do that and it's why they get those healthy contracts. But then to get physical in run defense ... that's something else. He's not a big time thumper but as you can see from this play below he's not afraid of contact either.
You can see Milliner at the top of the screen going at it with the wide receiver before he gets in to help clean up the play on the Michigan running back. Flying to the ball, not giving in and having a definitive interest in run defense is displayed on this play from Milliner.
He displays very good read and reaction skills from route combinations to reading play-action and run defense in the six games that I watched from him last season. You could say that he possesses a high 'football IQ'. He rarely is caught out of position and is always around the ball.
The question marks
It's common knowledge among NFL draft experts that Milliner will need to learn to back pedal when he's up in coverage. It's not something he's asked to do at Alabama and is a cause for concern for some.
Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) shares his thoughts on Milliner's weaknesses.
Currently he struggles to turn and run with WRs. That's something the Alabama system doesn't teach. Poor backpedal masked by strong press coverage skills. He's not as physical of a tackler as many might assume, either.
The back pedal issue is something that each NFL team will have to determine on their own and how likely they think it is that Milliner could develop these skills within their specific defensive scheme. It's not as if he doesn't have the athletic ability to do whatever is asked of a cornerback in the NFL. But considering a player with a very high pick in the first round that has questions regarding something he was never asked to do in college is tricky.
Another issue that I noticed while watching his tape is that he has a tendency to lunge at ball-carriers at times. At least three times in these games I saw him try and 'arm tackle' a ball-carrier in the open field. Most of the times they were bigger backs and he just left his feet as opposed to driving through the offensive player.
This GIF below is part bad-angle and part bad-form.
Something I noticed in the National Championship game as well is that Milliner would tend to face-guard receivers down the field. Specifically, two plays against Notre Dame standout tight end Tyler Eifert. I also saw it a few other times when he was caught trailing the receiver that he'd never get his head around. Obviously it's something he got away with in college but won't be allowed to do in the future.
Just because he hasn't done it, doesn't mean he can't do it
The clips shown above are just what they are, a single play. I've noticed a few times while doing these posts that these examples are blown up to be more the rule than the exception and vice versa. I'm not trying to show highlight reels of all of these players but rather a look at what they do well and where they struggle from my observations. The proportions of good plays to bad plays aren't necessarily indicative of the proportions of their play throughout the season.
Here's a GIF showing Milliner's ability to get into the backfield and make a play against the run.
Milliner recognizes the play, beats the block and makes the tackle in the backfield. While the end result is positive, I'm still not thrilled about him leaving his feet to make the tackle the way that he did. The awareness and read/reaction are fantastic on this play though.
As far as his ability to turn and run with a wide receiver. It's not like he can't do it but a matter of getting better and doing it more consistently. Especially out of a back pedal. The GIF below shows him opening up and running with a receiver down the sideline in the National Championship game. Many of you will remember this play.
Milliner runs stride for stride with the receiver and puts himself in perfect position on the receivers back hip to make a play on the ball. He also stays with the receiver throughout the entire route.
'Great fit' with the Chiefs
As far as how Milliner would fit within the Chiefs defense ... I actually think he'd be a great fit. New Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has said that he wants to run an 'attacking' defense. (Although I think most DCs say this). But he wants to bring pressure from anywhere and everywhere. Having cornerbacks that can press and get up on the line of scrimmage to disrupt timing and routes is key to this style of defense.
There's no point in consistently bringing pressure if the QB can easily get the ball out quickly to a receiver with a free release and the separation to make a big play. Milliner can get up in a receivers face and alter the timing and route of a play within a short distance, but also the speed to stay with a receiver down the field.
Like ALL NFL prospects he's not perfect or without questions and room for development. But Milliner fills a need and would fit well within our defense in my opinion.
It's not a penalty if it's not called, right?
A special thanks to Clay Wendler for creating these GIFs and the guys at draftbreakdown.com for providing much of the game film.
Dee Milliner will become a much more popular name associated with the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 1 after these recent moves by the Chiefs. They could still conceivably take an offensive lineman or defensive tackle at the top pick but it's not quite as definitive as before in my opinion. Especially with free agency still on the horizon.