When the New York Jets drafted Dee Milliner with the 9th overall pick last April, they thought they were getting an NFL ready corner who could step in and be an immediate starter. Milliner has not lived up to that billing, missing several games with injury, getting benched three times and generally get torched when he was on the field. However, Milliner has made some huge strides over the last few weeks, and he had arguably his best performance of the season in yesterday’s 24-13 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Milliner was surprisingly matched up against Browns star receiver Josh Gordon for the majority of the game, a not so subtle challenge for the rookie to prove himself. The Browns were more than happy to oblige the Jets’ test, and they targeted Gordon an absurd 16 times, mostly with Milliner in coverage. The Browns also went after Milliner when he was on any of their other receivers, and their game plan was clearly to try and beat the rookie.
However, Milliner responded in a big way. Gordon only caught 6 of those 16 targets, gaining 97 yards. That is actually one of the least impressive performances Gordon has had over the second half of the season. Milliner recorded 9 tackles, broke up 5 passes and came down with his first career interception. All in all, it was by far his best game as a pro, and it was the best indication yet that Milliner could become the shutdown corner many observers thought he was before the draft.
Milliner still has some learning to do, and he struggled with double moves yesterday, as he has all season. Milliner is also prone to give receivers too much space and keep his eyes in the backfield, but those are easily fixable mistakes. If he can continue to play like he did yesterday, then Milliner will certainly live up to his draft status and become a quality starter. It may have taken longer than expected, but it looks like Milliner is finally putting it all together, and he is becoming a solid young corner for the Jets.