The New York Jets drafted Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner with the ninth-overall pick in April’s draft, and he has faced the challenge of replacing Darrelle Revis since the moment Roger Goodell read his name. The Jets released their first official depth chart yesterday, and to no one’s surprise Milliner was listed as the starter at cornerback opposite Antonio Cromartie.
The decision to start Milliner means that Kyle Wilson will be moved inside as the team’s nickel corner, and he will primarily cover slot receivers. This is the role Wilson has been in for the majority of his career, and he has been met with good success there. The evolution of the NFL into a passing league means that most teams will spend about as many snaps in their nickel package as their base defense.
For Milliner, training camp was the opportunity to show that he belonged with first team and was ready for the responsibility of covering elite wide receivers. Since his return from a shoulder injury, Milliner has been excellent in camp, earning the praise of both Cromartie and head coach Rex Ryan.
Milliner’s emergence is crucial for the Jets’ defense, because Ryan’s scheme relies heavily on cornerbacks who can cover their man one-on-one with little or no help. He likes corners who are physical and who can run, and Milliner has displayed his potential to be a lockdown cover man. He will likely still have a learning curve in the early part of the season, but even Revis wasn’t an elite player as a rookie.
Fair or not, Milliner will be compared to Revis, especially early in his career. To be perfectly clear, Revis is without a doubt the best cornerback in the league, and asking anyone to play at his level is a little ridiculous. What the Jets will ask of Milliner, however, is to routinely shut down the opposition’s No. 2 wide receiver. Milliner has shown his ability to do this, and now he must continue to perform as preseason games begin.
Every team wants their first-round pick to step in and contribute right away, but for Milliner and the Jets, this was more important than most. Replacing a team’s best player is an unenviable task, but Milliner’s quick rise to prominence in camp shows he might just be up for the challenge.