Dee Milliner experienced something last night foreign to many recent New York Jets draft picks. He was cheered as he entered the National Football League.
Milliner, a cornerback from the University of Alabama, was taken by the Jets with the No. 9 pick in last night’s draft, followed four spots later by the team’s second selection of the first round, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from the University of Missouri.
“I was nervous,” Milliner, 21, said in a news conference. “I was just glad they welcomed me here.”
Jets fans have a long history of booing their team’s choices at the annual draft, held at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall since 2006. A 90-second video called “NY Jets Draft Blunders” has more than 1 million hits on YouTube and last year’s first-round pick, defensive end Quinton Coples, was booed by fans who wanted the Jets to take an offensive player.
Milliner has the opportunity to succeed four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, traded four days earlier to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Jets received two picks in that deal, including the one they used to draft Richardson.
Milliner said he looks up to his predecessor, who earned the nickname “Revis Island” for his ability to blanket the opponent’s best receiver without assistance from teammates. Milliner said he’ll try to build his own legacy in New York, a city he visited for the first time this week.
“I can’t focus on replacing somebody, because if you focus on that you’re going to mess up on other things,” Milliner said. “Hopefully, I can turn into one of those guys who has their own island, just like he did.”
Milliner won two national college titles with the Crimson Tide following the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The draft’s top-rated defensive back and fifth-rated overall player, according to ESPN’s Scouts Inc., Milliner had six interceptions and 136 tackles in his three-year college career.
The 6-foot, 201-pound (1.83 meter, 91 kilogram) cornerback’s health was questioned this week after ESPN reported that he’d had five surgeries, including procedures to repair a sports hernia, a right tibia stress fracture and operations on both shoulders. He’s not expected to be ready to play until the end of training camp, according to the report.
New York most recently had two first-round picks in 2008, when the team took defensive end Vernon Gholston at No. 6 and tight end Dustin Keller at No. 30. In 2006, the Jets used a pair of first-round picks to draft offensive linemen D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold, multiple Pro Bowl selections who have been Jets starters since their rookie seasons.
The 6-foot-2, 294-pound Richardson, also on his first trip to New York, was rated the No. 14 overall player by Scouts Inc. He notched 79 tackles last season, more than any other defensive tackle in the Southeastern Conference, with 10 1/2 tackles for a loss and four sacks.
Richardson will play on the defensive line alongside Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson, the team’s first-round pick in 2011. The Jets have used their past five first-round selections on defensive players.
“We’re going to be a young defensive line,” Richardson said. “I’m ready to get after it. Put me in pads right now.”
New York’s first two picks are notable for what they aren’t: a quarterback. Jets starter Mark Sanchez was benched twice last season while accumulating an NFL-high 26 turnovers, including 18 interceptions, and many New York fans have called for a change.
Tim Tebow, acquired prior to last season, attempted eight passes in 2012, and this offseason the team signed veteran David Garrard to compete for the starting job with Sanchez, who is guaranteed $8.25 million in 2013. Jets General Manager John Idzik said he was looking to bring in players to push Sanchez.
The Jets finished 6-10 last year, a season that team owner Woody Johnson called “disappointing” on a conference call last week. Milliner and Richardson will join a defense that allowed 23.4 points per game in 2012, the franchise’s highest average in 16 seasons.
Richardson said he was unfazed that his welcome from Jets fans last night was not as smooth as Milliner’s.
“I had a little mixed crowd, boos and yays,” he said. “They can change that in one game.”
The draft continues tonight at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time with rounds two and three. New York’s next pick is No. 39, the eighth pick of the second round.