Could Dee Milliner excel as a true free safety alongside Calvin Pryor? That's the question I've been contemplating for a while.
Lately I've have to take a break from GGN due to family reasons, but that hasn't stopped me from thinking about the roster and how we can get the maximum return on the players that are available to us. One of the most interesting players is Dee Milliner, the 9th overall selection of the 2013 NFL Draft, a cornerback from Alabama.
Now we all know that Milliner has struggled in his first two seasons with the New York Jets. He suffered from a hamstring problem and uneven play in 2013, which led to him being benched by Rex Ryan on more than one occasion. During the 2014 off-season he suffered a high ankle sprain, keeping him off the practice field and out of the first game of the season. In week 6 he tore his Achilles tendon, ending his 2nd season early and in disappointing fashion.
Teams inquired about the availability of Dee Milliner this off-season, offering up mid and late round selections for the talented Alabama prospect. The Jets decided to hold firm with their man and believe he will become good, as soon as we can figure out how to keep him out of the trainers room.
The Jets have a lack of real depth at the free safety position and although Marcus Gilchrist is slated to start there, he isn't a natural fit at the position. The Jets are now loaded at cornerback, having signed free agents Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine. Todd Bowles likes to run a lot of sub-packages, so the 3rd and 4th cornerbacks for the Jets will be getting plenty of work, but with Dexter McDougle enjoying an impressive off-season, would it be wise to move Dee Milliner to the free safety position?
When you have a first round selection, it's important to get value out of him. At best Dee Milliner will be the Jets 4th cornerback this year but that's not even guaranteed with McDougle. So could he offer more value as a free safety? Absolutely.
First of all, Todd Bowles likes to play a lot of press coverage. This is suited to Revis and, to an extent, Cromartie, but that doesn't suit Dee Milliner. Nick Saban is notorious for having his corners play off the line, limiting the big play potential. So immediately, Milliner is better at playing the ball in front of him. With his numerous injuries, turning and running with receivers isn't getting easier and backpedaling puts a lot of strain on the Achilles.
Milliner has good instincts and shows off some impressive range. He has good length and showcases a little strength in the upper body. He also has good recognition on double moves and tracks the deep ball well. When you add to that the fact he has very impressive closing speed, it's quite the resume for a starting free safety in the NFL.
Is it time to give up on Milliner as a corner? Probably not. However, does it add more value for the Jets right now and over the next year or two to get a starting caliber free safety? I would argue it does.