Browns' Potential Draft Target: Dee Milliner

Wesley Hitt

Dee Milliner has been the topic of discussion for quite a while among many Cleveland Browns fans. It's evident that we have a need at the position and Milliner appears to be the best CB in this year's draft class. If you're like me, the signing of Chris Owens and Kevin Barnes hasn't instilled any confidence that we have found our second starter but you're happy they are here to push the current depth on the roster and serve as versatile options for Horton's new scheme. With the Brent Grimes momentum from last week slowing down and seemingly dumping us in the doldrums of free agency, many impatient fans have been left wondering what our plan at the position is? Is the front office really happy allowing one of the players currently on the roster to compete and emerge as the #2 CB or do they plan to take a CB with one of their first few picks in the upcoming NFL Draft?

Recently, Ryan Alton from DraftBrowns.com sat down with me to a fictitious fireside chat to discuss the highly coveted CB, Dee Milliner. I will be creatively interweaving these discussion questions and answers throughout my piece for your reading pleasure and entertainment.

So let's go, or as they say here in Hawaii: 'Ola iā kāua [oh-la ee-ah kay-oo-ah]


THE GOOD

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  • Athletic and instinctive - finds ball in air, adjusts
  • Possess good size and quickness
  • While inconsistent, shows ability to set the edge as a defensive back vs the run
  • Great closing speed
  • He reads the game well; anticipates and takes good angles
  • Good in run support, often setting the edge and fighting through blocks
  • His speed allows him to make up space quickly
  • Active hands vs pass plays, often breaking up and deflecting passes
  • Can blitz off the edge and be effective if not touched due to his speed

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Q: The trade winds were nowhere to be found however the winter rain splashed hard outside the window. I thought about happier things; things that might make a Browns fan living in Hawaii happy. I asked Ryan: What are the best things about Milliners' game that Horton would like and utilize?

A: One word: Measurables. At 6'1", 200 lbs., Milliner has the size that many defensive coordinators covet in today's NFL. It has become a passing league. The elite wide receivers coming out of college today are tall, fast and physical. With new rules passed every year that seem to favor the offense and an increased emphasis by offensive coordinators on throwing the football, the need for tall, physical corners is at an all-time high. Dee Milliner fits the mold.

He solidified his position as the draft's top corner by running very well at the combine (4.31 and 4.37 in the 40) and he has the leaping ability (36 inch vertical jump) to go up against taller receivers and fight for the football. He is also well-versed in press coverage and being able to jam receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage having played in Nick Saban's program at Alabama.

According to this scouting report http://www.nepatriotsdraft.com/2013/01/dee-milliner-scouting-report.html at NEPatriotsDraft.com, Milliner is a terrific corner blitzer. He tracks down QB/runner with great speed, patient and finds good lanes as a pass rusher. There's little doubt, Milliner is the type of corner that Ray Horton would love to have on the outside to stop the increasingly popular zone read principles many offenses are beginning to employ around the league.


THE BAD

  • While he has good, active hands, doesn't show the ability to catch the ball, dropping INT opportunities and showing several drops during the combine drills as well
  • Seems to get beat often when in press coverage, especially against bigger WR who easily gain inside leverage on slants or quick curls and flash across his face to the outside
  • Not a good tackler; often dives at feet of WR or RB and misses play
  • While he's in good position and takes good angles often, he doesn't break down and line up tackles with technique, leaves feet early
  • Arm tackles late in games with moderate success
  • He will be having shoulder surgery which could cause some concern for scouts and coaches
  • Doesn't back pedal - plays cushion, shifts hips and runs sideways
  • Not a dynamic jumper while in transition, even with a 36" vertical jump at combine
  • Because he doesn't back pedal he can get crossed up by WR, who get behind him


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Q: It was Prince Kuhio Day, March 26th, and nearly the entire island was off from work. I too was off from work and asked Ryan if he knew why we celebrate Prince Kuhio Day? He, like me, had no idea. So, I asked him something about which we both were fond: What are the contract implications of having Haden and Milliner together on the Browns? How could we make it work?

A: IF the Browns drafted Milliner, they'd have both of their starting corners taken in the top 10 of their respective draft classes. While I'm sure the Browns wouldn't be the first team in history to ever do such a thing, it is a rather uncommon practice, especially prior to 2011 and the implementation of the rookie wage scale. The reason for that being the salary cap implications of having two players who play a premium position due for exorbitant contracts at roughly the same time. The rookie wage scale, ratified under the new CBA, helps to keep the cost of high draft picks on a slotted scale. Therefore, Dee Milliner at #6 in 2013 wouldn't cost nearly what Joe Haden did at #7 in 2010 (5 years/$40,056,742).

But here's where the Browns have to be careful: Haden's rookie contract expires in 2015. Banner's philosophy is to not allow valuable players in their first contract to approach free agency where they gain leverage by threatening to test the open market rather than re-sign to a club-friendly deal. Therefore, it is extremely likely that the Browns will attempt to re-sign Haden in advance rather than risk a looming contract dispute in 2014 or 2015. With only Alex Mack and TJ Ward scheduled to become free agents prior to Haden (Haden - 5 year contract/Ward - 4 years), the Browns may be able to re-sign all of them prior to the end of the 2013 season. However, they must be careful in the event they draft Milliner.

If the Browns draft Milliner and re-sign Haden in 2013, then they would have both of their starting corners up for contract renewal at the same time (2018). That is hardly a desired outcome, especially for a premium position like cornerback. More than likely, one of them (Haden, due to his age) would be allowed to leave in free agency in 2018 if that were to come to pass. The Browns not only have to decide whether or not to draft Milliner but, if they do, they have to be careful about what and, more importantly, when to pay Joe Haden. Knowing Joe Banner, he's already planned for every contingency. But the best course of action may just be to pass on Milliner altogether and get a cheaper corner later in the draft, one that you'd only have to sign for 3 to 4 years.

Q: I then took a sip of one of Kona Brewing Co's finest, Wailua Wheat; glanced over at the now soaking wet, orange and brown painted corn-hole boards starring back at me from my lanai sliding door and thought to ask Ryan: Why would drafting Milliner would be a bad idea for the Browns?

A: Aside from the contract implications, Milliner is a fine athlete (some may even say "elite") but opinions on him are mixed. Many people believe he is the top corner available in this year's draft. Some do not. Many people believe he is definitely worthy of a top 10 pick. Some do not. It's really a matter of preference. Typically, an elite corner should go in the top 10 of the draft. The reason for that is, along with quarterbacks, left tackles, and pass rushers, cornerbacks are one of the most valuable positions on the field. All things being equal, those four positions typically go higher than others in any given draft. But the question remains with Milliner... Is he an elite corner, or is he merely better than everyone else? I'll leave that up to the guys whose jobs are on the lines to get it right.


OVERALL

Dee Milliner is an intriguing prospect who has the potential to turn into a very nice #1 CB for somebody who calls his name early in the first round next month. In my opinion, he's the best cornerback in the draft without a doubt. His speed alone is intriguing for an NFL CB and he also brings good size, fluid hips and solid football instincts. He's active against the run, takes good angles to the ball and often finds a way to get his hands in the way to break up the pass. He uses his speed to make up for positioning mistakes but will need to work on his tackling at the next level. While he takes good angles and isn't afraid of contact, diving at the feet of players and not showing good tackling technique or breaking down consistently may be a big concern for teams at the next level and the weakest part of his game. He also didn't seem impressive when used in press coverage and lacked the ability or requirement to back pedal. While he seems to be stout and possess good strength, he may need to increase his upper body in order to jam bigger WR at the next level. I believe the strength can be added, but the tackling and back pedal may be accompanied by a longer learning curve with mistakes that could translate into points on Sunday for opposing teams.

Q: OK, so I'm running out of witty, facetious anecdotes and stories simply aimed at amusing you. Much like Austin Powers I am feeling I may have lost my "mojo", so I simply asked Ryan: How would drafting Milliner at 6 fit the "Banner philosophy"?

A: Well, the Banner philosophy I think most people are familiar with pertains strictly to free agency and veteran players. Contract negotiations and pro personnel are areas he has years of experience with and many teams around the league have since patterned themselves after. As far as evaluating college prospects and the draft goes, I can only guess since this is Banner's first in Cleveland and there are mixed reports as to who actually ran the "war room" in Philly.

We don't even know for sure if Banner will run the draft here in Cleveland. It is merely assumed since he has "final say" on all football related decisions but, until we know for sure, I'd be careful about making such assumptions. My hope is that the scouting department still in place from the previous regime has continued to do an impeccable job despite the turnover in the remainder of the front office and will be relied upon heavily for their input from the likes of Banner, GM Michael Lombardi and Assistant GM Ray Farmer.

As it stands right now, two weeks into free agency, the Browns are still without a corner capable of starting opposite of Joe Haden. I originally believed they would try to fill this hole through free agency in order to approach the draft with the idea of taking the Best Player Available, no matter the position. However, without a #2 corner currently on the roster, you have to believe if Dee Milliner is on the board when the Browns pick, they would have to strongly consider him. However, drafting for such an obvious need is an unenviable position especially at #6 overall.


SUMMARY

While Dee Milliner is possibly going to be a very good NFL CB, the Cleveland Browns already have a very good, borderline elite, talent at that position in Joe Haden. As Ryan described above, drafting Milliner early would appear to be a great move, locking in our CB set, but there are contract implications as well as arguments that at #6, he wouldn't be the BPA or the best move for the Browns to make. The pick could make sense for the Browns if they truly feel CB is their biggest need and Milliner is their highest rated player on the board at that time. There's no denying that he would certainly fit the mantra of Ray Horton in the sense that he's a mix of a fast "little guy" ( although not for his position ) who can hit and get to the QB in blitz packages.

I am on the record as saying that I absolutely love the film on Milliner. He's got great football instincts, makes plays on the ball and seems to have the measurable to really excel at the next level. That being said, I do not want the Browns to take Dee Milliner at 6th overall, even in what is becoming a passing dominated league. I prefer pressuring the QB to affect the defense and find that the bigger overall value for the Browns will be to draft a pass rusher in the first round. With all the other holes on the roster in need of a major upgrade, and the talent that I have graded higher than Milliner, I find it hard to think that we're going to spend that high of a pick on somebody who will become our #2 cornerback. Contrary to what Ryan shares below, I think there are several good cornerbacks this year that could slip to the third round. Ideally, I'd like to see us trade back a few spots and gain additional picks or leverage to use to trade back into the 2nd round. Here are some of the names I'd keep in mind for the CB position regardless of if we trade back and gain a 2nd round pick or stick with our current lot of picks: Jamar Taylor, Tyrann Mathieu, Brandon McGee, Terry Hawthorne, Robert Alford, and even though some analysts recently moved him up to top 5, if he falls but is healthy, DJ Hayden.

Q: It was Pau Hana time, the day was done and the waves were up, so I paddled out to catch a few rides before sunset. Upon my return I was exhausted but stoked! So like any good Browns' fan I attempted to hold onto that warm, happy feeling, and project it forward to April and so I asked Ryan: Should Browns' fans be worried we won't land a #2 CB if we don't take one in the first round or land Grimes in Free Agency?

A: A team without an elite corner on their roster already should be worried about the lack of top-tier corners in this draft. After Milliner, there seems to be a drop off, although that largely depends on who you ask. I know a lot of "draftniks" and talent evaluators like names such as Xavier Rhodes, Desmond Trufant and Johnthan Banks nearly as much as they like Milliner. However, teams like the Browns, who already have an elite corner (Haden) on their roster, need not fret over passing one of the top tier guys and waiting until a little later on to address the position.

Ideally, the Browns would probably love to trade down and acquire a second round pick, knowing that someone they have rated highly will likely fall to them there, but that may not be possible. The Browns should still be in great shape to pick up a starter opposite Haden in Round 3 or 4 of this draft if they pass on Milliner at 6. It's important to keep in mind how much pressure having Haden on the opposite side of the field will take off a rookie corner.


FILM BREAKDOWN & ANALYSIS

Dee Milliner vs Georgia

  • Good help vs run early, sets the edge and fights through the block
  • Showed solid tackling and pursuit early
  • Plays off the LOS often, isn't asked to jam WR
  • Excellent jumping pass deflection in the end zone around the 12:57 mark in 3rd
  • Although he doesn't make a pair of INT late in the 4th quarter, both are deflection situations and he was aware and tracking the ball, just could make catch
  • Takes good angles on tackles; closing speed
  • Shows ability to turn his hips and track ball in air, corralling WR
  • Didn't back pedal throughout the game, and often left 5 yards + of space between he and WR; can get exploited in the double move atop WR route trees
  • Dives at feet of a would be sure tackle in 4th quarter
  • On last play of game where the play was designed to go his way, he had what appeared to be perfect coverage on the WR in the endzone


Dee Milliner vs Notre Dame

** Forward the video above to 4:56

  • Sunk into his cut while playing pressed up vs Eifert, got beat across the face but used speed and hands / awareness to make play on the ball
  • The TE mismatch was used early: Eifert had one terrific catch that was ruled incomplete and one near catch early
  • With decent size and quickness, he shows the ability to effectively pressure the QB in blitz packages
  • Play at 5:24 in the 2nd where he does well not to bite on play action, held his assignment, read the QB, pressed up towards LOS as QB scrambled and then jumped in passing lane causing QB to change his arm motion and throw ball out of bounds vs get sacked
  • Gets beat to the outside on a fly pattern but makes up for it with his speed, awareness; eyes ball in flight and makes play with his hands to deflect and nearly cause an INT
  • Playing well off LOS again this game, very little press or jam shown
  • No back pedaling shown in this game, runs with hips turned
  • Good motor and angles vs run

Pass Defended vs ND:

Here you'll notice Dee is playing tight at the LOS, something he didn't do often this year, and he's lined up against Eifert, the TE

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You'll notice that he get caught leaning to his left here, and Eifert is able to make initial move outside

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Here you can see him jab Eifert, slowing his progress to the outside and showing his strength

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After the initial jab, he's still with the TE and is in perfect position

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Here you see him corrall the TE to the sideline and he's noticing Eifert's eyes as they begin to focus on the ball en route

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Again, remains in good position; he's not playing the ball, he's playing the man here

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Great position for this jump ball, causing the TE to concentrate and forcing him to have to make a great catch, if any

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Here you can see, just barely, that he now has vision of the ball almost as it enters Eifert's hands, and his hands are immediately active searching for the deflection

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Dee Milliner vs. Michigan

  • Good closing speed and anticipation
  • Takes good angles but seemed to go for big hits, often missing or diving at players feet instead of breaking down and form tackling; inconsistent as a tackler
  • Doesn't seem to shy away from contact
  • Excellent, active hands in coverage, looking to deflect the ball or disrupt passing lanes and receivers
  • Active in run support, finishing play; good motor
  • Seemed to communicate to teammates often pre snap
  • Doesn't appear to show a big vertical while in transition, but size appears to helps him make plays

Deflection vs Michigan:

Again, we see an example of Milliner in press coverage but with hips turned looking inside at the QB, not back pedaling

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Notice here that he is able to run with this WR while keeping his eye on the QB and the ball nearly the entire time, allowing him to line up to deflection as you will see below

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Dee Milliner vs LSU

  • Good route anticipation, good use of hands to break up passes
  • WR able to get across his face and beat him often in press coverage
  • Excellent awareness, angles, speed and setting the edge vs run
  • Good motor and pursuit
  • Used in edge rush situations often, 1 sack, 1 QB hit and 2 hurries due to his speed and ability to get to QB if untouched
  • Gets beat several times on timing / curl routes
  • In cushion and press, gets caught trying to make hand / arm-play, losing position on WR and misses arm tackle that he must make at next level

Sack vs LSU:

Here you'll notice Dee is pinching inside with safety help over the top in a designed blitz. He does an excellent job tracking the QB, watch as it develops here. The key for him is that he recognizes the pass early but seems to stall to read the play, this stalling causes the running back to make the wrong block, allowing him free path to the QB:

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You'll notice in the live action that not only does he register the sack but he's also trying to swat the ball loose and cause the fumble

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Dee Milliner vs Tennessee

  • Dives at receivers twice early; one missed tackle for 25 yards after contact
  • Good job reading Bray on jump ball in end zone, left his man to help Safety over the top and make jump ball deflection type play
  • Strong against run, sets edge well and finishes plays strong
  • Also looks strong against the screen play, sniffing it out, beating blocks
  • Susceptible to the curl route again in this game due to his cushion underneath
  • Speed evident chasing down WR's in 3rd quarter
  • Doesn't seem to jam receiver at LOS well, often gets crossed and then relyies on speed
  • Misses out on INT; absolute bullet / deflection that hit him in the facemask
  • Good contribution during special teams

Dee Milliner vs Ole Miss

  • First run play caught diving at feet again, misses tackle although was in position
  • Good coverage and pass break up vs RB on screen play out wide in flat
  • Good blitz and sack even though was untouched
  • Playing off the LOS again this game, giving cushion to WR
  • Interception is thrown right to him, didn't have to earn that one at all in 2nd quarter
  • Gets beat by a step towards the end of the 2nd quarter on a deep route down the sideline by WR, the ball is extremely underthrown and he nearly makes the INT but can't make the catch. At the next level that's 6
  • Dives at feet of RB at end of the 2nd quarter and misses tackle again
  • Great help on crossing route, makes big hit in what appears to be zone support
  • While in press, again shows propensity to get beat on quick stick and cross; WR gains body position and leverage for quick slants
  • Unable to beat block on run play late in game, resulting in a TD ran directly at him

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