Crimson Tide in the NFL: Former cornerbacks finding different career paths
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With less than a week left in our 2015 NFL previews, we take a look at more former Alabama defensive backs that have seen different careers since entering the league. Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner both played for the Crimson Tide on the 2011 national championship team that is known for their talent on the defensive side of the ball. The two high school All-Americans helped hold opponents to just 110 passing yards per game and finished the season combined with five tackles for a loss, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two touchdowns. Both players were drafted in the first round of their drafts, Milliner a year after Kirkpatrick, but one has found a home with a franchise while the other is fighting for a roster spot.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals, Cornerback
6’2″, 190 pounds
2 years, $10.24 million
Kirkpatrick finished his time in Tuscaloosa as a two-time All-American selection with three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a touchdown on a blocked punt. He helped the Crimson Tide win two national championships and left after his junior season. Kirkpatrick was drafted by the Bengals with the 17th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. His rookie season was cut short with health issues that included a recurring knee injury and getting a concussion after playing just five games. Kirkpatrick has shown major improvement over his last seasons, while still only starting just five games for Cincinnati. In those seasons, he has 12 pass deflections, six interceptions, two touchdowns and a forced fumble.He finished last season strong, intercepting Peyton Manning twice in week 16 before starting the season finale against Pittsburgh and the Bengals’ playoff game against the Colts.
This season, Kirkpatrick is listed as a first-team cornerback across from Adam Jones and his expectations for 2015 are huge. Kirkpatrick has seen the bench for most of his career but since he is listed as the starter going into the season, the former Alabama star says he is ready to be the captain for Cincinnati’s defense. The Bengals coaches and players have seen a lot of improvement in Kirkpatrick’s game and believe he is ready for the next step in his career. Kirkpatrick even said that he wants to become the face of the Bengals’ franchise. Kirkpatrick has just three tackles so far this preseason and will continue to see limited playing time in the final two games against the Bears and Colts.
Dee Milliner, New York Jets, Cornerback
6’0″, 201 pounds
2 years, $7.47 million
Dee Milliner played with Kirkpatrick at Alabama for two seasons. He had his best season after Kirkpatrick was drafted in 2012, finishing the year 51 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. His season helped build his draft stock and the Jets took him with the 9th overall pick in 2013. Milliner was put in as the Jets starting cornerback in his rookie season but his inconsistent play got him benched three times throughout the season. He finished his rookie year with 56 tackles and three interceptions in 12 starts. Milliner has struggled with leg injuries during his career but the worst one came in 2014. During week 3 of his second season, Milliner ruptured his right Achilles tendon which needed surgery, causing him to miss the rest of the year. He came back from the injury, ready to fight to get his starting job back.
At the beginning of training camp, Milliner was once again struck by the injury plague after a wrist injury forced him to have another surgery. This one is expected to keep Milliner out six to eight weeks meaning he will miss the first few games of the Jets season. The injury means that Milliner will most likely be listed on the team’s short term injury reserve. This may be Milliner’s best way to be sure he makes the roster as many fans are tired of the so-called “bust” and say that he should be cut. Milliner has not seen any playing time in the preseason, which does not help his case. There have also been trade rumors that Milliner may move to Dallas who needs more help with their secondary depth. In any case, Milliner’s career has not gone the way he’s wanted it to but if he can find good health for a full season, the NFL may see why he was a top-ten pick.