Whether or not Dee Milliner will be a day one starter has been a point of discussion surrounding the Jets. The Jets took Milliner ninth overall, but incumbent starters Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson are returning on a pass defense that probably was not as good as its number two ranking but surely was not a weakness in 2012. Milliner certainly will be a starter in the long-term, but I do not understand why it is necessary to push him into the lineup on day one just because he was taken in the top ten.
The transition from college to the NFL is a big one. There are so many lifestyle changes for rookies. They have to adapt to living on their own. They need to get acclimated to a new city. They are getting used to having football as a full-time job. They have to digest a bigger and more complicated playbook than they have ever seen. The competition is bigger, faster, stronger, and better. There are not many bigger transitions. Even good prospects can struggle out of the gate after such a head-spinning turn of events. If you can ask a rookie to take on a reduced role and face slightly less talented competition out of the gate to ease the transition, it might not be the worst thing in the world.
Do not be mistaken. There is a difference between being the number two and number three cornerback. The number two guy is going to see more snaps and face more difficult competition. The number three guy is still going to see significant playing time. This is not the difference between the number one and number two quarterback. With the prevalence of spread offenses in the NFL and the focus on the passing game, the third cornerback is going to see a steady diet of playing time. Even if Milliner is number three on the depth chart, he is likely looking at snaps. Remember when we talked about using the run game to protect Geno Smith and limit his throws? Keeping Milliner as the number three is the same concept. The guy is going to play as a rookie, but you can at least make his job a tad easier.
In order to surprise people in 2013, the Jets are probably going to need Milliner to make a meaningful contribution. This is a team that needs its cornerbacks to carry all of the load in coverage. Look at the safeties and linebackers. Let's say to have a top coverage unit, your defense needs to provide 10 in value. You could get it any number of ways. The cornerbacks could be worth 4 and the linebackers and safeties worth 3. With the Jets, it's probably going to have to be an 8, 1, 1 split when you look at the lack of talent at linebacker and safety. This team needs corners who can cover their man one on one far down the field without giving the safety a ton of responsibility over the top. The Jets need safeties and linebackers to help each other against backs and tight ends since there might not be one player at either position capable of consistently succeeding one on one.
The Jets are also going to need their safeties to help the run defense. This profiles to be a very weak run stopping front seven. Of the seven projected starters, only Muhammad Wilkerson and David Harris are effective run stoppers. A key in football is building overwhelming strengths. Doing so either allows you to reallocate resources from your area of strength to another area or forces your opponent to reallocate his resources from other area to combat your strength. If the Jets can cover at the corners really well, they can ask less of the safeties in the passing game and use them as an extra resource in the run game, which will be necessary.
This means Milliner is going to have to step up to some degree as a rookie. If he is ready to play full-time on the outside and control starting level receivers, that is great. He is going to have to at least be ready to play well in a more limited role because if the Jets are going to have a dominant cornerback group, they will need a third guy they can trust to play well back there.