Just four days after trading away All-Pro cornerback and face of the franchise Revis, the Jets used their first-round pick and the ninth overall selection in the NFL draft to grab Milliner, a corner out of Alabama.
Jets general manager John Idzik downplayed the notion of Milliner being Revis' replacement shortly after making the corner his first pick as the Jets' GM.
"I think it's unfair to Dee. We drafted Dee because of his talent. We drafted Dee because we felt he was the best player on our board at the time," Idzik said. "It was not position specific. If you insinuate that, I think it devalues Dee a bit. It's pure and simple. He was the best player. He was one of the best players on our board period. When we had the chance to get him at nine, the room was pretty excited."
The Jets made one of their monumental moves in franchise history when they traded Revis, the cornerstone of their stingy defense, to Tampa Bay for two picks, including the No. 13 selection they used to acquire Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Before tearing his ACL in September, Revis was arguably the best defensive back in football, if not the best defensive player.
Even with Revis' departure, the Jets had two starting cornerbacks in Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson, and Cromartie was coming off his best season as a Jet. Idzik said the Jets had Milliner, as well as Richardson, ranked among their top four players. He added that position need did not come into play, although Revis leaving and Milliner entering has led to the comparisons.
"Nobody replaces Revis," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Our guys, we want Cro to be Cro, and we want Dee Milliner to be himself. That's it. He's a great football player. All these guys are. They don't have to worry about trying to be compared to Darrelle Revis or whatever. Darrelle Revis is a great football player. ... All [Milliner] needs to do is be the guy that we drafted and that's be himself and we'll be more than happy with that."
On Wednesday, Milliner seemed open to talking about being Revis' potential replacement, saying he'd be fine being the heir apparent. He even told ESPNewYork.com that he believes he could be as good as or even better than Revis, saying he has plenty of confidence in his abilities.
On Thursday, after being drafted, Milliner played it much closer to the chest.
"I'm not really worried about it, the comparisons, or anything like that," Milliner said on a conference call with reporters. "I'm just trying to go out there and compete for a job. In a new place, I got to go out there fresh and get on the grind."
As the Jets traded away Revis just one season after the corner tore his ACL, they're bringing in a rookie corner with an injury history. ESPN reported that Milliner has undergone five surgeries: a right knee scope, a sports hernia, a right tibia stress fracture and surgeries on both shoulders. In March, he had his latest surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Milliner said he will be fine and will be ready before training camp. He added that the injuries were minor, saying they did not keep him from playing and he never had any setbacks. He said his labrum is fine and he's ahead of schedule.
Idzik said Milliner is a good way through his rehab and the Jets expect him to be cleared in June, which means he would miss organized team activities but be set for training camp. The Jets are comfortable with his injury history.
"He's had a few things. He's a very physical player. He doesn't miss time," Idzik said. "He played through the injuries. He attended the Indy combine so that he could compete. That's very important to us. Then had his surgery post-combine, so that says something to me, too. Dee just loves football. He just does not miss practice, he does not miss games. And that was really important to us."
In grabbing Milliner, the Jets acquired the top-rated cornerback on the board. Milliner started 30 games at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide to back-to-back national titles. He was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2012 and a unanimous All-SEC first-team selection. He said he's excited to be with Gang Green.
"It feels great," Milliner said. "Good to know I'll be in the city of New York."
Four selections after the Jets grabbed Milliner, they added Richardson to boost their defensive line. Other top defensive tackles such as Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei were available, but Richardson jumped out on tape.
"It's the athletic ability," Jets director of college scouting Jeff Bauer said. "His ability to change directions is uncanny. We were talking. We don't know if we've seen a defensive tackle this athletic. I can't even think of one. They had him play linebacker one game against [Texas] A&M. Stand up. You'll see a special athlete, athletic ability, his balance, it's special."