Dee Milliner was used and abused through most of the first three quarters of the 2013 season.
The first-round, first-year cornerback was benched multiple times for subpar play, getting regularly burned by receivers on the perimeter and showing a clear lack of confidence. Basically, he looked like a rookie defensive back in over his head — kind of how most of them do.
But the Alabama product, like his offensive counterpart in Geno Smith, went all out down the stretch. Milliner grabbed three interceptions in the last two games, batting down a whopping 10 passes to boot.
With that, NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt recently name Milliner one of his top-10 candidates to break out in their 2014 sophomore seasons.
“. . . Being viewed by many as the replacement for Darrelle Revis didn’t make Milliner’s rookie year any easier,” Brant wrote. “While I don’t know if you can ever truly replace Revis, Milliner has turned it around, and I think he has a better-than-average chance of making the Pro Bowl within the next two years.”
Brandt may be right, and Milliner deserves the benefit of the doubt, considering he spent most of last offseason and training camp on the sideline nursing a rehabbing shoulder.
Regardless, much of his immediate fate is dependent on what happens on the opposite side of the field. Even though Antonio Cromartie struggled last season, Cro was still the most dangerous corner on the Jets’ defense, so Milliner was often targeted. But with a handful of borderline prospects battling for the No. 2 perimeter gig, Milliner may be less of a pawn in opposing quarterbacks’ games.
At the same time, if Milliner does continue to get targeted, he’ll have more opportunities to make plays like he did last December. No matter how you slice it, he’s in very much of a prove-it season, as is the coach-GM tandem of Rex Ryan and John Idzik that made Milliner the No. 9 overall draft pick a year ago.
After all, they’re all in it together.
“It started out rough last year, but we ended on a good note,” Milliner said recently, via TheJetsBlog.com. “We didn’t make the playoffs, but hopefully we’ll get there this year.”