Alabama's Dee Milliner has a legitimate chance to make some history in this April's NFL Draft. Several factors are in play that could make him the first cornerback to come off the board before pick No. 3. The current record is shared by Bruce Pickens and Shawn Springs who were both selected with the third pick.
The main reason teams should consider taking Milliner this early is because of his natural ability. This is a player who boasts all of the physical skills needed to be a dominant NFL player. He's a versatile defender capable of matching up against any type of pass-catcher.
A great example of this versatility is represented in the picture below. Alabama asked Milliner to play Notre Dame's tight end Tyler Eifert in one-on-one situations. Notre Dame felt that Eifert gave them a mismatch because of his size, strength and leaping ability.
However, Milliner took on the challenge and matched Eifert's physical play. This shows that Milliner features the potential to handle the bigger targets in the NFL like Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and Rob Gronkowski.
Milliner isn't just a physical defender, as he also features the speed and fluidity to handle quicker targets. His strong performance at the combine showed the type of athleticism he possesses. There won't be many players at the next level capable of running past Milliner.
He's also an instinctive player who has a great feel for the position. The image below shows Milliner's ability to get his head around, locate the ball and keep it out of the hands of the receiver. In the NFL, cornerbacks who struggle getting their heads turned around are often called for pass interference penalties.
In order to be considered as a top-three pick, a cornerback can't just settle for breaking up passes. He also needs to generate turnovers. The below image shows that Milliner has the ball skills to grab an interception anywhere on the field.
A good cornerback is also able to come up and support the run. This clip shows that Milliner isn't afraid to play close to the line of scrimmage. Supporting the run is a very underrated part of a cornerback's game. Again, if a defensive back hopes to break into the top three they need to be a well rounded players.
Outside of talent, the NFL's increasing focus on the passing game heightens the value of the cornerback position. The easiest way to show the change in the league is by highlighting the rise in passing attempts.
This past season, there was a total of 17,788 passing attempts in the NFL. The Detroit Lions led the league with a total of 740 attempts. Compare this to the 16,493 passes attempted in the 2003 season, and it's easy to see the growing use of the passing attack. The high amount of attempts that season was held by the New York Giants with a total of 616.
When talking about where a prospect could land in the draft it's important to consider the needs of each team. Milliner gets a boost because teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles all have a major need at the cornerback spot.
At No. 2, the Jaguars could be the first team to take a long look at Milliner. They recently lost starting cornerback Derek Cox to the San Diego Chargers via free agency. This leaves Kevin Rutland, Antwaun Molden and Mike Harris as the only cornerbacks on the roster.
There's an obvious need here for the Jaguars, and Milliner represents the best available cornerback in this draft. It's also important to note that Jacksonville just hired a defensive-minded head coach in Gus Bradley.
Bradley comes over from the Seattle Seahawks where he used physical cornerbacks like Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Milliner has similar size and plays with the same type of aggressiveness as these two players.
Milliner could still come off the board at No. 2 even if the Jaguars aren't considering him. With both the Raiders and Eagles in need of a cornerback a trade isn't out of the question. As we saw last year with the Cleveland Browns' move to get Trent Richardson, teams sometimes have to move up just one spot to ensure it lands the player they want.
It's time we stop looking to the past and start realizing that the cornerback position is one of the most important on the field. Nobody should quickly dismiss the notion that a cornerback is worthy of being one of the first two players selected in a draft.
This type of thought process is exactly how a team will miss a chance at landing a player capable of dramatically improving their chance of winning.