INDIANAPOLIS — The good news for Dee Milliner is he’s the best cornerback in the NFL draft.
The bad news: He needs surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
But Milliner promises he will be fully recovered for the season and even said he delayed the surgery so he could do everything but lift at the Combine.
“I will be back to normal,” he said Sunday.
Milliner hurt the shoulder when Alabama played Texas A&M and he dove to break up a pass and landed awkwardly. He played through the discomfort, right through the Crimson Tide’s win in the title game over Notre Dame.
He plays the classic Nick Saban style: Aggressive, tough and attacking when the ball is thrown.
Milliner, who left as a junior, described it as “hard-nosed, physical at the line of scrimmage” and not afraid to come up in run support.
He’s highly ranked because he’s the best at his position, but the consensus from scouts is he’s not as good as Morris Claiborne or Patrick Peterson, previous SEC corners taken high.
Still, with the Browns switching to a reckless pass-rush style, corners who can cover are paramount. They have Joe Haden, but need someone to replace Sheldon Brown.
Haden was taken seventh overall in 2010. Milliner would seem to fit if the Browns judge him worthy of the sixth pick — provided he’s healthy.
As for the knock on Milliner that he’s not an elite athlete and is a product of Saban’s system and coaching, Milliner had a short response: “Watch the NFL Combine.”
It happens every year at the Scouting Combine — one guy who may or may not have been highly regarded burns up the track, makes an impression and shoots up the draft board.
This year, though, there may be good reason for West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin to be drawing notice.
In past times, his height and weight (5-foot-8 and 174 pounds) would deem him too small for the rough-and-tumble NFL, but the read-option and spread formations make him an intriguing player and a potentially difficult matchup.
During the week, Austin proclaimed himself the best player in the draft. Then Sunday morning he ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash. Red alert.
Austin’s a Percy Harvin type who averaged 198 total yards per game as a senior. Lining him up in the slot against a third corner could produce a lot of problems for defenses. It may be a stretch to think of him going top 10, but with a trade down he could bring a lot of excitement to a team like Cleveland as the third receiver with Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Given the Browns might be reluctant to bring Josh Cribbs back, Austin could step in as a returner. He had 1,289 yards as a receiver, had 813 yards on returns and scored a touchdown on punt and kickoff returns and had 643 yards rushing.
“A lot of teams are looking for a guy who can do multiple things on the football field,” Austin said. “I think I’m that guy.”
Another interesting player for the Browns at the sixth pick has only played football for two seasons. But he can’t be ignored — especially his size.
Brigham Young’s Ziggy Ansah stands 6-5 and is 275 pounds. He has linebacker speed and size to play end. He started at BYU playing basketball and running track, and when those didn’t work out he went to the coaches and said he wanted to try football. They didn’t take him seriously — he admitted he didn’t even know how to put on shoulder pads — but by his final season he was starting.
He’s from Ghana, knows few of the nuances of the game but has ability that produced a sack-and-a-half in the Senior Bowl.
The obvious similarity is to Jean-Pierre Paul of the Giants, but Ansah is so new to the game he has a long way to go to be compared to Paul.
Ansah and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo are two of the higher regarded outside rushers.
Could the Bengals take Eddie Lacy of Alabama with the 21st pick? The Bengals need a safety and many projections have them taking Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro. But why not Lacy?
BenJarvus Green-Ellis topped 1,000 yards last season, but Cincinnati would benefit from a more explosive player. Lacy averaged 6.5 yards per carry and gained 1,322 yards as a senior at Alabama, including 321 in the SEC Championship Game and the national title game.
“If I was able to perform well in those games, you know it should be an indication that I can do the same thing in the NFL,” Lacy said.
Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon played through a painful shoulder that he injured the second week of the season against Central Florida. Eventually it became too much.
Simon had to miss the Michigan game, then left Senior Bowl practices early and had surgery to clean out the shoulder. The surgery means Simon will not do anything at the Combine aside from interviews and medical tests.
“I had surgery two-and-a-half weeks ago. Fortunately, it was just a clean-out and I should be back to doing everything in about two-to-three weeks,” Simon said.
Now he needs to find a position. Simon is an excellent teammate and a dedicated player, but he’s looked at as too small for the defensive line and too slow for linebacker. He was practicing at linebacker in the Senior Bowl, but that week was aborted. Simon tried to turn the uncertainty to his advantage with the media.
“I feel I can play multiple positions and something that will work to my advantage,” he said.
He also said the Browns seem “very interested,” adding: “And I’m very interested. It’s hard to say, really. But I have talked to them quite a bit.”
Jarvis Jones, the Georgia linebacker pegged as a possible top 10 pick, has medical issues that are scaring teams.
Jones has been diagnosed with stenosis, a narrowing of the spine, and teams are concerned about it even though some players went an entire career with stenosis and never knew.
Jones said doctors told him he is fine, and many people live with a slight narrowing of the spine. He had a stinger at USC, but later failed a physical, which is why he transferred to Georgia. There, he was cleared to play by spine specialists.
“I know that I’ve got to be careful about my technique and how I play this game,” Jones said. “Therefore, I do the extra stuff to protect my neck, to protect my shoulders. I saw a lot of doctors (in Indianapolis) and they weren’t too concerned about what they saw. They thought I was fine.”