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A Tale of Two High-First-Round Picks

Posted Apr 26, 2013

Dee Milliner and Sheldon Richardson will be linked for a while in Jets lore as "the 2013 first-rounders." But in classic-TV terms, are they more like the Odd Couple or Perfect Strangers?

They're both new additions to head coach Rex Ryan's defense, true. But Milliner patrols the corner, that part of the neighborhood vacated last Sunday by the trade of Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay, while Richardson is a hand-in-the-dirt defensive tackle, in fact, he's the third first-round D-lineman selected by the Jets in the past three drafts.

They're both intrigued with the Big Apple, a place they'd never hung out in until Thursday night. But while they're both hometown guys from different parts of the non-Apple. Milliner grew up in tiny Millbrook, Ala., and when it came time to go to college, the Parade Magazine All-American stayed in the Tuscaloosa/Birmingham neck of the woods and went to Alabama. Richardson, meanwhile, grew up near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, signed initially with Missouri, then due to issues with his grades, went to a California JuCo before returning home to Mizzou for his final two seasons.

"I think I'll be fine here," Milliner said of NYC, which he said he could traverse well because "I won't need a car — it's all cabs and buses."

"It's crazy. It's big, it's huge. I've never been a part of a city this big," Richardson said. "And I'm excited."

But there's the varied receptions each received at Radio City Music Hall. Milliner's was quite positive from the assembled wearers of the green and white. And why not? After the Revis trade, and then after the first eight picks of the draft were dominated by four O-linemen, two OLBs, a DE and a WR, pushing the best corner in the draft down to No. 9, the fans were happy to welcome Milliner into the fold, and Milliner was happy to be in the fold.

"Do the Routine Things, Get Better"

"I'm glad and very fortunate to be a part of the Jets," Milliner said shortly after his selection. "I visited with them and I felt comfortable with them. You're going to have seasons like they had last year, a couple of hard losses. So you've got to go out and do the routine things and get better."

Richardson's was more mixed. One unnamed Jets fan in the gallery will, again for perhaps just a while, symbolize the pick as he was captured in slo-mo wearing a frown on his face and holding his hands out to his sides, then moving his hands to his mouth to utter some succinct phrase that captured his thoughts on the pick.

But that was OK with Richardson, who, despite being a top-15 pick by several draft analysts, admitted to having some lapses over his time on and off the field with the Tigers.

"It was fun," he said, unfazed, of his New York greeting. "I had a little mixed reaction. I heard some boos and some yays. But that's OK. We can change that in a game."

General manager John Idzik, presiding over his first NFL draft after many years in the Buccaneers', Cardinals' and Seahawks' front offices, was not of two minds about how Round 1 went for the Jets.

"When we say we got two players in our top four, that will tell you what we feel about them," Idzik told reporters as Thursday night grew old.

In regard to that top four, the Jets' two picks also shared some traits because, while confident in what they achieved in their college careers and what they can do in the pros, they aren't over the top.

Milliner was in the Jets' top four because of his dynamic play for the dynamic Crimson Tide. This past season he was a unanimous All-America first-teamer, a finalist for the Nagurski (defensive player of the year) and Thorpe (top defensive back) awards, and a CB whose 34 career pass breakups were tied for second nationally among active players before he declared for the draft.

Milliner vs. Revis?

The comparisons have already begun, in some quarters, between him coming in and Revis going out.

"I stay away from comparisons," Milliner said, "but I don't shy away from challenges."

The Milliner-for-Revis equation is flawed, said Idzik, among others. For one thing, it may well be argued that Antonio Cromartie, not Dee Milliner, is replacing Revis in the Jets' back end. For another, said Idzik:

"I think it's unfair to Dee. We drafted him because of his talent, because we felt he was the best player on our board at the time. It was not position-specific. If you insinuate that, I think it devalues Dee a little bit. It's pure and simple — he was one of the best players on our board, period."

The Richardson situation is slightly different, since some feel he's redundant at DT for the Jets and, on some independent draft analysts' boards, was taken ahead of more heralded DTs Star Lotulelei, who went one pick later to Carolina, and Sharrif Floyd, who slid all the way from No. 3 on some boards to 23rd, where the Vikings finally stopped his downward spiral.

But Jets director of college scouting Jeff Bauer said Richardson was well worth the high rating on their board.

"As a player, this guy is special," Bauer said. "We had a lot of scouts that looked at him and he just jumps off the tape. This is a defensive tackle who made plays 20 yards down the field, sideline-to-sideline, and his motor is non-stop. He’s going to make an impact here quickly. How he fits into our defense, Rex can answer that, but he’s a great football player in our eyes and we went with him."

And Richardson will admit to some but not all criticisms of his game. On an ESPN New York radio interview after his selection, he wasn't about to buy into the theory that he didn't get after the quarterback.

"I feel I get to the quarterback quite often, actually," he said in his animated way. "A few double- and triple team swill change that."

"The Draft Is Deep"

So that will be one of those storylines for Richardson that he'll have to overcome. For Milliner, it's probably "the surgeries," a reported five this past week over his 'Bama career, most recently a labrum that he's still rehabbing.

But Milliner and the Jets agree he'll be ready to roll by, if not the June full-squad minicamp, then the start of Cortland camp.

"I know I'll be ready when training camp starts," he said.

Many Jets fans will fret about offense not being addressed with either of the two high picks on Thursday. But Idzik declined to see that as others did, that somehow the Jets "missed out" on Round 1.

"This draft is deep," the GM said. "There will be guys there. We can’t predict what’s going to happen at our picks in Rounds 2 and 3, but we feel confident we have some very fine players left in this draft. We’re excited about tomorrow. We’re excited about Saturday as well."

Richardson, for one, is excited beyond Saturday. As he said about being selected by the Jets:

"This is a life-changing day for me."

If it was a momentum-changing day for the Jets defense and team, then the Green & White are onto something big.

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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