The Cleveland Browns got it right when they drafted cornerback Joe Haden out of Florida in 2010 and could be looking for his counterpart come April. Haden, who tallied 51 total tackles, three interceptions and ten passes defended in just 11 games, has turned into one of the top defensive backs in the league and has shut down opposing wide receivers week after week. This would be all well and good if there were only one wide receiver to guard, but that isn’t the case. Having another lockdown corner opposite Haden could turn this young defensive backfield into a top contender.
Like Haden, the SEC has another top corner that could fit the bill in Cleveland: 6-1, 197-pound Dee Milliner from Alabama. Milliner was outstanding for the Crimson Tide during its back-to-back National Championship runs and really stood out in 2012.
After finishing his junior season, Milliner ended up with top honors and awards, along with the stats to back up his worthiness. A unanimous All-American selection and All-SEC recipient, Milliner was Alabama’s top cornerback and finished with 51 tackles, two interceptions and 18 pass break-ups, which ranks third all-time for Alabama’s single season records. The star corner also led the SEC with 1.67 passes defended per game and added four tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks to his already impressive resume.
What Milliner would provide to the young Cleveland defense is a sense of security and some weight lifted off of Haden’s back. The Browns ranked 25th in the NFL against the pass after giving up an average of 245.2 yards per game and 19th against the run, allowing 118.6 yards per game. The Browns totaled 17 interceptions – which ranked 11th in the NFL and atop the AFC North – and with the addition of Milliner, this defensive backfield could easily crack the top ten.
Along with his ability to cover wide receivers and force quarterbacks to second-guess who they throw to, the top-ranked cornerback in this year’s draft has top-end speed and a frame that can add enough bulk to be a force in jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. Milliner runs a 4.48 40-yard dash and that time could be faster at the NFL combine, as many scouts believe he has a lot to prove. That motivation could all but lock up his status as a top-five pick.
If the Browns are ever so lucky that Milliner falls to them at the sixth spot in the draft, I can’t see owner Jimmy Haslam not giving the go-ahead to Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi to pull the trigger.