Why the Lions are not Drafting Dee Milliner

March 21st, 2013

Dee Milliner tortured the Wolverines, but don’t expect him in Detroit (photo courtesy Toledo Blade)

Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

This is the time of year where far too many people fall victim to the phenomenon of groupthink. A spurious idea about a team or a draft prospect catches fire and burns up mock drafts, internet message boards, and Twitter. Often it begins innocuously enough, with a simple projection by a popular pundit positing a player to a team because the need seems to fit the talent. Somehow this gets construed as some sort of Old Testament commandment from the NFL Draft Gods, of which Mike Mayock from the NFL Network is the reigning Zeus.

Mayock and others assigned Alabama CB Dee Milliner to the Lions at the 5th overall pick in mock drafts over the past month, and this is somehow being treated as gospel by the teeming throngs of sycophantic followers. No disrespect to Mayock, whose work I greatly respect and whose candid presence and persona is a real treat, but this is just not going to happen. Here are several reasons why the Lions will not take Milliner despite what the message board know-it-alls and broad-scoped national analysts will tell you.

Foremost is the relative state of the team. Last year the Lions drafted not one, not two, but three corners. Third round pick Bill Bentley started three of the first four games before getting hurt and going on injured reserve. Fifth round pick Chris Greenwood never saw action because of an abdominal injury suffered in OTAs. Sixth round pick Jonte Green wound up in a starting role at the end of the season and was a pleasant surprise. That is a pretty significant investment into the corner position just last year, and because of where the players were taken it was presumed that the payoff would not be immediate. GM Martin Mayhew was looking towards the future with those picks, and that future will be here this summer.

Bentley and Greenwood are in a similar spot to where Mikel Leshoure was a year ago. Leshoure was a second round pick in 2011 but missed his entire rookie season due to a preseason injury. The masses all seemed to write him off completely, regularly mocking running backs to the Lions in the early stages of the draft. Never mind that the team had just spent a second round pick on Leshoure, or traded up into the first round to draft Jahvid Best a year before. Sure, both were injured, but that doesn’t bury the fact that the team had just made a sizeable investment in the position without adequate time to reap in any potential payoff. I spoke to Jim Schwartz during Senior Bowl week last year and he raved about Leshoure, saying he felt like he was a bonus draft pick for 2012 and would be an integral part of the offense. He also was brightly optimistic about Joique Bell, who finished the 2011 with the team and impressed in practices. Anyone close to the Lions at all knew this, and at that point there was still some hope that Best could return as well. The Lions internally viewed running back as a position of relative strength, not need, heading into the 2012 draft. That didn’t stop numerous draftniks both prominent and ponderous from mocking players like Isaiah Pead, Robert Turbin, or Lamar Miller to the Lions in the second or third rounds.

The Lions feel about their current corner situation now much the way they felt about running back a year ago. When I talked to the coaches and staff in St. Pete and Mobile this year, I got eerily similar takes about Greenwood and Bentley that I did a year earlier about Leshoure and Bell. Detroit is bullish on these players and very anxious to see what they can do when healthy. Bentley and especially Greenwood are essentially being considered like redshirt rookies, players that greatly benefitted from a year within the system to mature and learn. One position coach told me that Greenwood can emerge as “a real studhorse” this season. The team is also quietly optimistic about late-season addition Ron Bartell. They are very satisfied to see what they have from last year’s acquisitions, though they absolutely wanted some insurance.

That insurance policy is Chris Houston. He was a top priority in free agency, and the Lions re-signed him for less cash and a longer term than expected. Houston sits atop the corner depth chart and keeps all the young talent where they belong on that pecking order. He also serves as a mentor, which is something the organization is more cognizant of as a need. Chris Houston is a perfectly adequate #1 corner. He is not a shutdown corner by any means, and his ball awareness skills are infuriating at times, but the team trusts him to fill that role and for the most part he has performed well enough. Had Houston not re-signed, then taking Milliner at 5 was definitely more of a possibility. But it was still doubtful. Why?

The Lions have a very distinct team philosophy and valuation of the cornerback position. Jim Schwartz’s defense is predicated on having playmakers on the defensive line. There’s a reason why Sammie Lee Hill, a good talent who will be the featured starting DT in Tennessee now, sat fourth on the depth chart in Detroit; Schwartz very strongly believes in dominating the line of scrimmage and defending the passing game by getting pressure on the opposing QB. If corners can make plays, that’s all the better, but the Lions are not a team that places an imperative on having a premium, top-shelf cornerback. More to the point, if they do want an elite corner that is a definite upgrade from Chris Houston, that guy is available in Darrelle Revis. The Lions would trade the #5 pick to the Jets for a proven commodity like Revis before they would use it on an unproven talent like Milliner.

So when you are filling out your own mock draft, or mindlessly accepting that the mock drafts you see from prominent pundits are irrefutable evidence that a team is absolutely going to select someone, keep this in mind. Think about the forest beyond the tree right in front of you. That’s precisely what Martin Mayhew and the Lions are doing this offseason. Whether you agree or not, the Lions are very confident that they are fine at cornerback; it is not a pressing need either now or in the immediate (1-2 seasons) future. That doesn’t mean they dislike Dee Milliner or that he isn’t worthy of consideration by a team picking in the top five. He just isn’t a realistic option for Detroit at the five spot.

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12 Responses to “Why the Lions are not Drafting Dee Milliner”

  1. Darrell says:

    From here on out this is the only place I am coming for information relative to the lions…know ive said it before, but i love the in-depth analysis in addition to how the articles tie together. Interest in Chris Faulk (ot) implies the lions are looking for o-line help later in the draft, as he is not coming off the board early. For me, LT was the only position I could see Detroit draft @ 5 other than Ansah. Even prior to this i hesitated to put much more value into LT because I believe detroit has more faith in fox and Hilliard than do general fans and the media. It is absolutely astounding to me the lack of willingness of these fans and “experts” to look through the lens of “the man.” There are too many “me monsters” who seemingly say “I” 3500 times in a sentence and don’t listen to anything actually said or the past information on the team and it’s stance on certain issues. It actually induces a form of neurosis into me as Every other source makes me think “maybe I’m the know-it-all prick that doesn’t get ‘it.’” So I’d like to say thank you for restoring my sanity from the schizophrenic state that has seemingly been a tack in my back pocket.

  2. seenable says:

    While I disagree that taking Milliner would be “doubtful” had we not re-signed Chris Houston, I agree with just about everything else you said.

    What standing would you say Conroy Black is on right now, especially as compared to Chris Greenwood?

  3. Jared says:

    Very detailed article outlining why the lions don’t need Milliner. However, it could be also argued that they didn’t need Fairley with Suh, Hill, and Williams on the roster and they didn’t need Reiff with Backus and Fox on the roster. But they drafted those guys anyway because of the “Best Player Available” philosophy. Any argument on why Milliner should not be drafted by the lions should include the fact that there are better players available, and that might not be a hard argument to make.

  4. TekkenII says:

    What if you’re wrong?

    • adminLions says:

      If I’m wrong I’ll be a punching bag for a day or two. I’ve been wrong before on picks, nature of the beast. But I will be absolutely shocked if wrong here. Shocked!

  5. CMax says:

    I guess no Jarvis Jones either after his bad pro day? Looks like the choices are clearing up.

  6. HittinBombs says:

    Jeff, your own mock draft linked on this site has you predicting the Lions to take Miliner, lol.

    I do appreciate the thought put into your analysis of the Lions’ use of #5, however. You make some good points. Free agency and Backus’ retirement has affected my outlook on that selection, as perhaps it did yours since your mock in late Feb.

    I was pretty firmly in the take Miliner camp, but agree we have more pressing needs, and perhaps a shot at a franchise LT or pass rusher at that spot. I personally would jump on Joeckel or Fisher if they’re there, and would probably consider Miliner (if they grade him that highly) still before a DE due to the depth of DE in the draft.

    No matter what, the Lions should have a number of good choices on drafting a difference maker this year!

  7. JSmoke says:

    I disagree on a lot of things with this article.

    Yes, that is Jim Schwartz philosophy and yes it allows them to be content with less talented CB’s. However, I don’t believe for a sec that they would pass or do not covet a top CB prospect.

    Mayhew offered a 1st, 2nd and 4th round pick for Patrick Peterson. They were in trade talks for Asante Samuel and were very interested in Cromartie.

    Bill Bentley is a small CB. He is also weak. I admire his passion and fire, but I seen the guy shaken up few times while making tackles. Didn’t he have a concussion while tackling someone?

    Bentley struggled. He wasn’t good. He is not and will never be a #1 or #2 CB. However, he could be a great nickel back. That HAD to be the thought process when drafting him.

    Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green were 5th and 6th round picks. It is rare that such late round picks ever become solid starters. Usually, they don’t even make the team and are gone in couple of years.

    Both guys were picked because of their size and athletic ability. They both played for small schools. I don’t blame Mayhew for taking a chance on them, but to rely on them? That would not be smart. 1st round picks don’t pan out.

    Jonte Green was horrible. He improved late in the season, but not enough to even be called average.

    To say they invested a lot is not true. If these guys were 1st or 2nd round picks then yes.

    The same philosophy can be applied with the LB’s. They drafted two and traded a 4th to get one. That’s more of an investment and I see no one talking about this.

    Chris Houston is average at best. Not a #1 CB.

    The Lions secondary gets torched year after year and I mean torched. With or without Delmas. There is NO way they can be content with average to below average DB’s.

    Glover Quin will help, but he is no Ed Reed. Houston needs help and Delmas is very injury prone.

    I think theres a VERY strong possibility they Draft Milliner.

    Also, your Revis comment has no credibility. It isn’t a sure thing that they can trade for Revis and it would be pretty much impossible because this team has NO money and they’d have to pay him boat loads. They’re risking their future with all of these contract restructures just to be able to sign a couple of guys including their own.

    The last thing is the RB’s. Don’t be so gullible. There is NO coach who will talk down their own player or not say how great their players are.

    Leshoure has been a disappointment. He averaged less than 4 ypc. Had no long runs. He came back from an injury that rarely any player comes back from. That may or may not be his problem.

    Bell has been a pleasant surprise, but we all know he isn’t starting material.

    It’s almost certain Best won’t be back.

    If the Lions were happy and set at RB like you think and they claim, then they would never went after Reggie Bush as hard as they did. He was their top priority.

    My final words:

    This team’s heart and soul of the defense is in trouble. They have no starting caliber DE’s. You can’t just throw Jones and Young in there and expect something good to happen.

    It’s not just DE’s they need, but they need good DE’s and depth.

    So I’m hoping for Ansah in the first and David Amerson in the 2nd. Yes, a CB.

  8. JSmoke says:

    I want to add that hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully Green and Greenwood are the next Browner and Richard Sherman.

    However, that’s wishful thinking and unrealistic.

  9. The_Good_Reverend says:

    JSmoke I couldn’t agree with you more… I wass thinking the exact same things reading this column.

    The first primacy of anything talking Detroit Lions draft under Martin Mayhew or Matt Millen has to begin with “Best Player Available”. Now whether we believe the player they believe is the best player available to select is debatable, but they have proven position or redundant position selection has no concern with the Detroit Lions.

    In 2007 the Detroit Lions selected Drew Stanton in the second round of the draft. In 2009 although Sam Bradford the top rated draft eligible QB opted to stay in school they still drafted Matt Stafford, while Stanton and Daunte Culpepper was still on the roster. By the way that year they drafted Sammie Lee hill, who went on to start like 12 games, only to come back in 2010 when they signed Corey Williams for big money, and then drafted Ndamokong Suh number two overall… And let’s not get on the subject of them drafting receiver after receiver every year.

    The question is not of position, but the player ranking ranking value of their board. Dee Milliner has ben ranked the top cornerback in his class going all the way back to middle school. Milliner has also developed a great relationship with what I will call members of Mayhew’s inner circles of Florida rooted friends (as if Deion Sanders). Milliner was coached by a good friend of Jim Schwartz, and a fellow member of the notorious Bill Belichick coaching tree(If you don’t think they carries value see Amari Spievey or Riley Reiff as two examples). I would be surprised if the Detroit Lions do not have Milliner ranked within the top 3 players in the draft, and I do not believe any defensive ends (because most have high ceilings, but too many question marks for a top 5 selection gamble) will be included within the Detroit Lions top 3 player rankings of this draft.

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