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Milliner tops the list of corners

Posted Apr 17, 2013

As we go down the Road to the Draft, Driven By Liberty Ford, here’s a look at the defensive backs of the 2013 NFL Draft class.

With the 2013 NFL Draft fast approaching on April 25, ClevelandBrowns.com will take a deeper look at the prospects, position-by-position. Today’s spotlight is on the defensive backs.

Overview:

One cornerback is expected to go early in the top 10, while the safeties and other corners could come off the board in bunches during the second and third rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft, according to many experts.

“It’s a deep safety crop,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Jr., said. “You’re going to have a run on safeties in the second round. Teams need corners. There’s going to be a major run on corners in that second, third-round area.”

Key Players:

*Cornerback: Dee Milliner (Alabama), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut); Safety: Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) and Matt Elam (Florida).

After a consensus All-American and All-Southeastern Conference season in 2012, Milliner decided to forgo his senior season with the Crimson Tide and make the jump to the professional ranks by entering the 2013 NFL Draft.

Milliner, a finalist for both the Bronko Nagurski and Jim Thorpe awards, which are given annually to the nation’s best defensive back, made 51 total tackles, intercepted two passes and broke up 18 more. The 18 pass break-ups were a career high and rank third among single-season bests in Alabama history.

“I really like him,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said. “I think he’s a heck of a football player and I think he’d be safe, but I don’t think he’s that explosive 4.35 kind of 40 guy. I love him as a player, love him on tape.”

Rhodes had 39 total tackles, including 27 solo stops, in 2012. He broke up 10 passes, and also had three interceptions, one shy of his single-season best of four from 2010. In his career, Rhodes made 112 solo tackles, 140 total stops, eight interceptions and 31 passes defended.

Wreh-Wilson intercepted four passes during his sophomore season, two of which he took back for touchdowns, and took away another three during his junior and senior years at Connecticut. Wreh-Wilson also finished with 131 solo tackles and 181 total stops in his four collegiate seasons.

“In this league, you’ve got to be able to cover, and certainly, Wilson can do that,” Kiper said. “He’s obviously got the height you want. He’s over six feet. You think about the length; you think about the ability that he showed at Connecticut to match up in coverage and do a good job. His tackling is so-so at times. He’s got to shore that up, but he’s worthy of being a second-round draft choice.”

Vaccaro played in 51 games during his four-year run with the Longhorns. He started the last 26 games, and 32 overall. He had 264 total tackles and 162 solo stops, 16 tackles for loss and five interceptions. Vaccaro also proved to be a hard-hitting safety capable of separating opponents from the football, as he forced four fumbles during his career.

“Vaccaro is the one that the more tape I watched, the more I liked him,” Mayock said. “They played him closer to the line of scrimmage this year. He covered a bunch of slots this year. Watching him cover Tavon Austin at West Virginia, that’s rare. In today’s world, that’s rare and it’s important.

“I think his coverage ability is quick feet. He’s tough as nails. He tackles. It looks on tape like he loves the game. I have trouble thinking he’s going to get past 15 or 20 even though safeties don’t go that high. I think he’ll be gone in the first 15 picks.”

Elam, whose older brother Abe played for the Cleveland Browns from 2009-10 and is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, entered the draft after a career year in pass coverage. In addition to his 68 total tackles, and career-best 58 solo stops, Elam collected four interceptions.

In three years at Florida, Elam totaled 168 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles, and six interceptions.

*ClevelandBrowns.com utilized the players’ list by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock.