After Tuesday’s finale of the 2013 NFL Combine, the Eagles may have been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the whole process. The number four pick gained a lot of value when Alabama’s Dee Milliner ran a 4.37 official 40-yard dash.
“Watch the NFL Combine,” said Milliner when a reporter questioned him on his speed. He backed up his words with 4.31 and 4.37 unofficial runs on Tuesday, opening scouts’ eyes to the prospect.
While excelling in most aspects and measurables at the combine, the 6-0, 201-pound cornerback had trouble catching the ball in drills. Leading the NCAA in passes defensed in 2012 with 18, Milliner may have had a chance to have more than the two interceptions he tallied in the 2012 season had he been able to hold on to the ball. Regardless of his drops at the combine, Milliner is not a receiver so his draft stock was not hurt.
His draft stock did, however, rise due to the combine. “Welcome to the top ten,” said Mike Mayock immediately following his 40-yard dash. Now that Milliner’s solidified his top ten position, he is likely to go in the top five, not slipping past the Detroit Lions who hold the fifth pick in April’s draft. This raises the value of the Eagles fourth overall pick in two ways.
The Eagles could use the pick on Dee Milliner to bolster what is arguably the weakest position on the team in the defensive backs. They could also shop the pick to teams looking to go after Milliner having to jump ahead of the Lions to do so.
Milliner is a physical cornerback who excels in bump-and-run coverage and has spent his offseason thus far working on his off coverage and back-pedaling. With 54 tackles in 13 games Milliner has no problem sticking his nose in on a play and hitting the ball carrier. A physical presence, something lacking in the Eagles defense in 2012, will be a big plus when Chip Kelly is looking at potential draftees.
If the Eagles are looking to address the defensive back question later in the draft, there may not be a huge drop-off of talent. The deepest position in the draft is undoubtedly the safeties and cornerbacks and value could be had in the second and third rounds. Moving back could not only add another pick in that range, but it could also put the Eagles in a more sensible position to draft a player like Dion Jordan (see article here) who is in the 7th-15th pick range.
Milliner, like Jordan, is expected to undergo surgery and miss his pro day to add more to his pre-draft workouts. Both players are expected to be out 3-4 months, giving them plenty of healing time before August’s Training Camp.
If a team is looking to move up to draft Milliner, the only sensible place to move would be to the Eagles position at number four. The top three teams, Kansas City, Oakland, and Jacksonville, all have bigger needs to address than cornerback and will not take Milliner in the top three. There sit the Eagles at number four, who haven’t been particularly dismissive in talking about trading the pick, one spot ahead of the desperate Lions.
The Lions, who only had 11 interceptions in 2012 and ranked 14th in pass defense, have seven defensive backs (four cornerbacks) heading into free agency and will likely lose at least three of them. That leaves a pretty significant hole for them which leads to speculation among the Lions faithful that their prayers may be answered at number five with Dee Milliner.
The Eagles could easily yank those dreams away by trading their pick to a team who wants Dee Milliner at the right price. Or they could use their own pick and fill a need on a defense that is clearly in rebuilding mode. Whichever way Chip Kelly and the Eagles choose to go, the Detroit Lions will likely have a waiting game on the self-described “best defensive back in this draft,” come April 25th.
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