Our annual pre-draft series begins with a profile on one of the nation’s most competitive and productive cornerbacks.
Swagger. Some players have it. Some don’t.
In the case of Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, swagger isn’t an issue. He has plenty of it. And because of his self-assured play, Milliner’s poised to be the top defensive back drafted in 2013.
Confidence, in fact, is a big part of Milliner’s game.
“That’s a must,” he told reporters at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine. “You’ve always got to have confidence as a cornerback, and not only as a cornerback, that's any position on the field.”
The 5-foot-11, 201-pound junior cornerback demonstrated his confidence at the combine, following an impressive 2012 season that saw him earn first-team All-American honors for the Crimson Tide.
Play-making was never an issue for Milliner, but still, scouts wanted to see him demonstrate straight-line speed in the all-important 40-yard dash. How else was he going to prove he could cover the opposing team’s No. 1 wideout in the NFL?
Asked what 40-time he might post at the combine prior to his on-field workout in Indianapolis, the confident cornerback looked at the reporter and said, “Watch the NFL Combine.”
The nation did and Milliner ran an impressive 4.37.
It was just the latest case of the Alabama standout proving to be a competitor.
Milliner postponed surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder to run his 40, too.
“I was hurting when I was playing, but you've got to fight through it and keep playing,” Milliner explained. “I just continued to go out there and play.”
The shoulder surgery will take place on March 12 and the Alabama defensive back expects rehab to take two months.
In his mind, playing hurt showed a lot to NFL teams who’ve spent hours combing through his productive game tape in the nation’s top football conference.
“Everybody knows that I’ve got the torn labrum,” Milliner said. “I’m going to have surgery on it, so I know once I’ve had surgery on it I'll get back to 100 percent to the normal player that I am.”
In addition to the swagger he plays with, the Alabama defensive back showed the ability to play through pain. He also displayed the competitiveness necessary to battle every week in the Southeastern Conference, a factory for NFL prospects.
“Just my mentality as a football player,” Milliner said of the other key intangible in his game. “My toughness, the physical play that I play with, it’s just different form some cornerbacks in today’s league.”
Air-tight coverage is also a staple of Milliner’s play. The same can be said for tackling. A willingness to do both made him one of three finalists for the 2012 Thorpe Award given to the nation’s top defensive back. Milliner recorded 54 tackles (four for loss) and 22 pass breakups for the back-to-back national champs.
When Milliner gets to the next level, sound technique will be relied on heavily due to the NFL’s strict rules for contact past 5 yards off the line of scrimmage. Plus, helmet-to-helmet hits are fined heavily in the professional ranks.
However, such rules don’t intimidate Milliner.
“I don't think it’ll change your mentality as a player,” he said. “It’s a physical game, you’ve just got to know what you’re doing and just watch yourself when you're out there trying to make plays on the ball.”
It all goes back to confidence and that’s why Milliner believes he’s the best cornerback in the draft.
“You’ve always got to have confidence in the plays that you can make, your ability that you have,” he said. “I feel like I am the best DB in all of this. No offense to all of them other DBs, I just I believe in what I can do and all the plays that I can make.”
Milliner displayed all the plays he can make with three tackles and two pass breakups in Alabama’s BCS Championship win over Notre Dame.
Furthermore, he finished his career with 34 pass breakups, tying him second nationally among active players.
And if anyone doubts that Milliner’s skills can translate to the NFL?
“I like to go out when people say that, try to prove them wrong, try to go out there and make a big difference when they talk about me.”