Commentary

Jets need Milliner to reward GM's risk

Dee Milliner, plagued by injury, must play like a top-10 pick for John Idzik's sake

Updated: July 29, 2013, 10:45 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Let's face it, the New York Jets have an Ike Davis-like batting average when it comes to top-10 draft picks. Most recently, there was Mark Sanchez (enigma), Vernon Gholston (epic bust) and Dewayne Robertson (bust). They hit with D'Brickashaw Ferguson, preventing the oh-fer.

The new big man on campus arrived on the SUNY Cortland campus after 5 p.m. Monday, a new millionaire with lofty NFL dreams. His name is Dee Milliner (cue the "Dee-Day" headlines) and, while he won't be the most scrutinized rookie in camp (hello, Geno Smith), he's the most important.

[+] EnlargeDee Milliner
AP Photo/Bill KostrounThe Jets haven't given Dee Milliner the thumbs-up for full contact.

The Jets need Milliner to make an immediate impact because he was the ninth overall pick, and you don't choose a player that high unless you think he's special. They need Milliner to be good because Antonio Cromartie can't cover more than one receiver at a time.

They also need to save face. This is a referendum for the John Idzik regime.

Soon after blowing into town, Idzik -- carrying out the wishes of owner Woody Johnson -– traded Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a highly controversial move. A few days later, Idzik used his first draft pick on Milliner.

Out went the best cornerback in football. In came a rookie cornerback, triggering comparisons that won't die anytime soon.

Trading Revis was the right move, because it would've been insane to pay $16 million a year to a cornerback coming off major knee surgery. But the right moves don't always turn out well.

If Milliner turns into Gholston, it will be an indelible blemish on Idzik's record. If Milliner is no better than average, it still will stunt the Jets' rebuilding effort. This has to be a home run for the Jets.

Not surprisingly, they spent the day trying to downsize expectations, attempting to put as much distance as possible between Milliner and Revis. Sorry, that's a tough sell.

"Dee Milliner is never going to be Darrelle Revis," Rex Ryan said. "He'll just be Dee Milliner, and I think that will be good enough."

Milliner comes from good stock. He played under Nick Saban at Alabama, known for producing fundamentally sound defensive backs. Scouts say he can play press coverage and "off" coverage. They say he's not afraid to tackle. The stopwatch says he's very fast.

But he doesn't come without risk. Milliner played a lot at Alabama, yet he managed only six interceptions in his career. His medical history also is a concern. He has undergone five surgeries -- a knee scope, a sports hernia, a tibia stress fracture and both shoulders.

When a player's surgery total is close to his interception total, you wonder. One AFC personnel director said, "He'll be a solid starter, but I don't think he's a Pro Bowl player."

Milliner arrived with questions. The man hasn't played or practiced football in nearly seven months. There was surgery in March to repair a torn labrum, and he was a spectator in the Jets' offseason program. The coaches admit they have no idea if he's in shape.

They will start him off slowly, easing him into full contact. For now, he will be limited in practice, according to the Jets.

Milliner said all the right things about a long day of traveling -- Alabama to Syracuse, changing planes in Atlanta -- but the real test comes when he's on the field.

Make no mistake, he will be picked on. Opponents will avoid Cromartie and go after the rookie. Every time he gets beat, he'll hear the whispers: "Wish we still had Revis." For Idzik, they'll be louder than whispers.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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