The Detroit Lions haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first round since taking Terry Fair 20th overall in 1998, a year after selecting Bryant Westbrook with the No. 5 pick.
Fair went on to make seven interceptions and score five touchdowns, two on kick returns, while starting 48 games over four seasons in Detroit.
Westbrook started 54 games in five years with the Lions and made 12 interceptions, three of which he returned for scores.
In the 14 years since those picks in back-to-back drafts, the Lions have taken five offensive tackles, four receivers, two defensive tackles, two quarterbacks and two linebackers in the first round.
Is it time to go for another cornerback?
One of the biggest complaints about Detroit’s defense in recent years has been the lack of a shutdown corner. The Lions re-signed free agent Chris Houston, but they need another quality player to emerge on the other side of the field.
Some analysts, including ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper Jr., believe the Lions should try to fix the problem Thursday night by selecting Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner (6-foot, 201 pounds) with the fifth choice overall.
Others aren’t so sure. Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network, has dropped Milliner to No. 16 overall in his prospect rankings, behind D.J. Hayden, a cornerback from Houston.
Milliner has been widely considered the best corner coming out this year.
While many of the mock drafts still project Milliner in the top six, FOXSports.com’s Peter Schrager has dropped him all the way to Miami with the 12th pick, in part because of concerns over a shoulder injury that required surgery last month.
There has been speculation that Milliner might not be ready for the start of training camp in late July.
“Teams aren’t as high on Milliner as the pundits,” Schrager wrote.
Milliner told reporters at the NFL Combine in February that he suffered the injury when he dived to try to knock down a pass in a loss to Texas A&M on November 11.
Milliner played in the final four games, including a national-championship victory over Notre Dame.
“I was hurting, but you’ve got to fight through it,” he said.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew gave Milliner a ringing endorsement during a news conference last week.
“He’s the elusive, big corner,” said Mayhew, who played cornerback in the league from 1988-1996 with Buffalo, Washington and Tampa Bay. “Everybody’s trying to find that guy. We’ve been here for years talking about these guys and trying to find a guy with some size and he certainly fits that mold.
“People have always said you need a corner that’s big with some speed and some coverage ability who is good at the line (of scrimmage) and is a smart guy that can play nickel (cover a slot receiver) and play outside and maybe move into safety.
“OK, where is that guy? There’s like five of them in the history of the NFL, you know?
“He brings some of those traits to the table, I think.”
If that quote is genuine, Milliner quite possibly could be the Lions’ top target.
Or was it just a typical smokescreen in a league where you can’t believe anything anyone tells you as the draft approaches?
The biggest question most scouts had about Milliner was whether he has the elite speed to be considered one of the top picks.
Milliner answered that issue by running the 40-yard dash in 4.31 and 4.37 seconds at the Combine.
He said he had waited to have the surgery until after the Combine because he wanted to prove himself and erase any doubts.
But now he has to rehab the bum shoulder, which could be affecting his draft stock.
Or maybe that’s the smokescreen. You just don’t know sometimes until draft day.