The Buffalo Bills currently hold the No. 8 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft and the team could be targeting Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. The Bills used their No. 10 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft to select cornerback Stephon Gilmore out of South Carolina, but there’s still major issues in the team’s secondary.
Gilmore performed admirably in his rookie year, recording 61 tackles, three forced fumbles, and an interception, while defending 16 passes. According to ProFootballFocus’ Signature Statistics (subscription required), he was targeted 87 times, allowing 49 receptions for 736 yards and three touchdowns.
The Bills recently released veteran cornerback Terrence McGee, and Leodis McKelvin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, leaving a major void in the secondary. If McKelvin isn’t retained, the Bills will be left with extremely inexperienced players in Crezdon Butler, Ron Brooks, T.J. Heath, Justin Rogers and Aaron Williams as potential starters.
Williams was selected with the No. 34 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft, but had a miserable 2012 campaign as he dealt with nagging injuries. According to ProFootballFocus, opposing quarterbacks posted a 120.4 passer rating when targeting Williams and he surrendered five touchdowns despite playing only 288 coverage snaps.
The Bills recently hired former New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to the same position. His defense is based on pressuring quarterbacks with exotic blitzes that often leave cornerbacks alone in one-on-one coverage with wide receivers. Furthermore, Pettine’s defenses fielded as many as seven defensive backs on roughly 16 percent of the Jets’ defensive plays in 2011, more than any team in the National Football League.
While general manager Buddy Nix has publicly expressed the need for a quarterback, a wide receiver and a linebacker, the cornerback position still needs to be addressed. While players like Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon and Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree have recently been mocked as the Bills’ first-round pick, Dee Milliner is a strong candidate for that draft slot.
Milliner emerged as the Crimson Tide’s shutdown cornerback after Dre Kirkpatrick left for the National Football League following the 2011 season. Milliner stands 6’1” and is listed at 199 pounds, which gives him adequate size for the position. He’s an above-average run defender and he has experience playing a variety of coverage techniques. Milliner’s instincts in the secondary are as good as any of the defenders in the 2013 draft class and he plays with excellent leverage against opposing wide receivers.
He uses his hands to his advantage and displays magnificent positioning when contesting jump balls. While questions regarding Alabama cornerbacks’ backpedaling technique have arisen, he’s proven to be a quick study during his tenure with the school. In his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, Milliner has recorded 136 tackles, six interceptions and 36 passes defended.
Selecting Milliner with the No. 8 overall pick would allow the Bills much more versatility on defense. Pairing him with Gilmore would provide youth and skill at a position of emphasis, and would give Pettine the freedom to blitz safeties without fear of leaving them in man-to-man coverage.
With the Jets, Pettine was able to be versatile on defense due to having two lockdown corners in Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. If Milliner is available when the Bills are on the clock, they should run to the podium to make him their selection.
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