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Among DBs, Predraft A-Plus for Dee Milliner

Posted Apr 16, 2013

Newyorkjets.com's coverage of the 2013 NFL Draft includes breakdowns of each position group, the Jets' needs at the spot, and the top players expected to be selected at the position from April 25-27. Today's seventh in the series: Defensive Backs.

The Jets’ secondary took a major hit early in the 2012 season when All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Green & White’s Week 3 overtime win at Miami. With No. 24 sidelined the remainder of the way, his teammates had two choices: Rise to the occasion or crumble trying.

“Losing Darrelle, it hurt,” new Jets defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman said. "But I was taught a long time ago you can’t get emotional. You have to coach the guys that you have, you have to make sure that your backups are ready to go. And in this case our backups were ready to go.”

CB Antonio Cromartie increased his level of play and leadership, while Kyle Wilson showed he can be a No. 2 corner. At the conclusion of the season, Cro’s on-field performance was recognized with his second career Pro Bowl and the Jets' Curtis Martin MVP Award S LaRon Landry, in his lone season with the Green & White, also garnered a spot on the AFC Pro Bowl roster.

“Getting a guy like Landry, he brought toughness, he brought leadership, he brought experience to our secondary. And Yeremiah [Bell] did a nice job as well," Thurman said. "We had some young guys step up and play pretty well.”

Even with the absence of Revis, the pass defense finished No. 2 in the NFL in allowing just under 190 net passing yards a game.

While the secondary did an admirable job, its three top safeties from a year ago are no longer around. The team signed Dawan Landry (LaRon’s older brother) last week and second-year safeties Josh Bush and Antonio Allen are set to return. But is that enough? This draft class features several DB prospects who have the potential to quickly make NFL impacts.

Milliner, Rhodes Cornering the Market

It clearly will be a shock if Alabama’s Dee Milliner isn’t the first defensive back taken. The 6’0”, 201-pound CB finished the Crimson Tide’s 2012 BCS National Championship regular season with just two interceptions but also tied for third nationally with 18 pass breakups. He finished with 22 PBUs after the postseason.

Milliner skipped the benchpress at the combine due to a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Yet he competed in all the other drills and impressed, especially in the 40, where he clocked the sixth-best time (4.37 seconds). In Pat Kirwan's latest mock for CBS Sports, latest mock draft, he has Milliner being taken sixth overall, by Cleveland.

"The Browns need a corner like Dee Milliner," Kirwan writes, "and I'm starting to think he may fall right in their lap."

Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks has Milliner a notch higher in his most recent mock draft, projecting that Detroit will choose the consensus 2012 All-American with the fifth selection.

The second DB expected to hear his name called on day one is Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes. Many analysts are projecting him to go to Tampa Bay at No. 13. A Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist, Rhodes, declared for the draft following the Seminoles’ ACC championship season.

“I did all I could in college,” he said when he exited FSU. “If I was to come back, I don't think my status would be getting any better."

Rhodes excelled during the combine, finishing tied for the third-best vertical jump among all prospects (40.5") and tied for the sixth-best broad jump (11’0”).

Safety First? Longhorns' Vaccaro

Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro will most likely be the first safety chosen. Drafttek.com lists him as the 15th-best prospect on its big board. The 6’0”, 214-pounder displayed throughout his time in Austin the skillset to be effective against both the pass and the run. He’s familiar with playing in the nickel and frequently makes impactful hits. Limited at his March 26 pro day with a hip injury that prevented him from running and jumping, Vaccaro appeared to be back at full speed as he visited Cincinnati on April 3.

One concern teams may have with Vaccaro, however, is his previous off-field trouble. Last May he and two teammates were arrested for failure to obey, a misdemeanor, outside a downtown nightspot in Austin. Before that, an arrest warrant was issued for him in 2009 for a misdemeanor assault after he allegedly was involved in a fight with another UT student during a pickup basketball game.

NFL.com gave Vaccaro an 87.7 combine grade, translating to "immediate starter." Banks predicts he will be taken by Pittsburgh at No. 17.

Another talented corner is Desmond Trufant, the younger brother of current Jet Isaiah Trufant and Seattle CB Marcus Trufant. A four-year starter at Washington, he helped the Huskies rank 23rd nationally in pass defense en route to being named an All Pac 12 first-team selection. At the combine, Trufant produced the second-best 20-yard shuttle time (3.85 seconds) and the eighth-best 40 (4.38).

ESPN's Mel Kiper labels Trufant as his second-best cornerback and many experts project the Falcons taking the Tacoma, Wash., native with the 30th pick. But for Desmond, it doesn’t matter where he’s taken. He just hopes to continue following in his brothers' footsteps.

“I don’t know the last time when there’s been three brothers in the NFL,” he said during his interview at the combine. “It’s definitely a milestone. It’s big for our family and our city. And so I’m just going to keep it going.”

LSU’s Eric Reid is a compelling safety prospect. In 2011 he was a member of a Tigers secondary that featured Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu and Jim Thorpe Award winner Morris Claiborne, now a CB with the Cowboys.

Starting all 13 games in 2012, Reid finished third on the team with 91 tackles and had seven pass breakups, two interceptions, one tackle for loss and fumble recovery. At the combine he tied for the third-best vertical jump among athletes (40.5") and for the third-best broad jump (11’2”).

A Baton Rouge, La., native, Reid played on LSU teams that won 10 or more games in each of his three seasons. As he enters the pros, he said of his time in Death Valley, "I've been very fortunate and blessed to have been able to play football at LSU."

The Sports Xchange’s Rob Rang compares Reid to former Jet and former LSU safety LaRon Landry. Reid is expected to be a second-round selection.

Twoop Safeties Named Jo(h)n

Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks is a borderline first-round choice. The 2012 Thorpe Award recipient, as the nation’s top defensive back, spent his first collegiate season at safety but then shifted to cornerback as a sophomore, where he flourished. For his career he produced 45 starts, racked up 139 solo tackles, picked off 15 throws, had 41 PBUs and forced five fumbles. He also returned 30 punts for 289 yards.

Yahoo Sports’ Doug Farrar believes Banks is a smart pick: “He's got the kind of open-field ranginess teams prefer when facing an abundance of three- and four-receiver sets, he plays well in the slot, and he can move up high in different packages."

From Banks’ perspective, he envisions himself being a dominant force at the next level. “I think I can play against anybody. I can own anybody," he said at the combine. "I think I can cover Megatron.”

Although S Jonathan Cyprien didn’t attend a major football school at Florida International, he had stellar performances whenever FIU faced larger programs, including Louisville, Maryland, Rutgers and Texas A&M.

In his four-year career, the 6’0”, 217-pounder started 45 games — the most starts by a safety in program history — and totaled 365 tackles, seven interceptions, 23 pass breakups and six forced fumbles.

Standing 5’10”, Florida’s Matt Elam lacks the traditional size of an NFL safety. Yet his explosiveness, ability to make electrifying plays all over the field, and outstanding leadership qualities classify him as a highly regarded prospect.

After finishing second on the Gators with 76 tackles last season, Elam, the kid brother of former Jets S Abram Elam, became only the second safety in school history to be named an AP All-America first-teamer. He clocked a 4.46 in the combine 40, and shortly thereafter, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun wrote: “For such a hard-hitting prospect to run well, that should provide a boost to his already healthy draft stock. Elam also has looked sharp in the position-specific and agility drills."

Other Notables

CB Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana; CB David Amerson, North Carolina State; CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU; CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State; S Bacarri Rambo, Georgia; CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers; CB Darius Slay, Mississippi State; CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State; S Phillip Thomas, Fresno State; S Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

Tuesday, March 26: Wide Receivers

Friday, March 29: Tight Ends

Tuesday, April 2: Running Backs

Friday, April 5: Quarterbacks

Tuesday, April 9: Offensive Line

Friday, April 12: Defensive Line

Friday, April 19: Linebackers

Preseason Live: New York Jets

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