Draft Prospects on Tape: Dee Milliner, Jonathan Cooper, and Ezekiel Ansah

In these next few posts, I’ve looked at some college tape on draft prospects and recorded my thoughts and commentary. Watch the videos and read a bit of my commentary at the end.

We’re going to start with two of the top-ranked defensive prospects in this draft, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, as well as an offensive lineman who has a chance to leap to the top of his position, North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper.

Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama:

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 201 lbs.

Alabama corners can be picked out fairly quickly from other top program corners. This is because they do not backpedal as their technique. Backpedaling is a skill most corners have when coming into the NFL. Alabama corners, instead, play a technique called “trail technique”: They play the wide receiver exclusively by allowing him to get a step in front of them, then attaching themselves to the WR’s hip pocket and playing the man, not the ball. They coach this at Alabama so that the defensive back does not get caught looking in the backfield and instead just pays attention to the man they are covering.

Why could this be an issue in the NFL? Well, almost all zone coverages require the defensive back to backpedal. (The one exception is the Tampa-2, where the cornerback can jam and squat into coverage in the flat.) For example, the Seahawks corners play a lot of zone Cover-3, where the corner has the deep third of the field to cover.

By backpedaling, the CB starts off with a cushion on the man he is covering and is able to keep distance between him and the WR, then turning and running as necessary, before the WR catches you. This allows the CB to read the backfield, the QB, and even the route the WR is running, rather than playing catchup.

So that’s a brief primer on DB technique. Now, the issue with Milliner in the NFL is that, even with his strong speed, there will be a number of WRs that will be quicker than him and likely quicker off the ball. If Milliner had an elite jam or press, this wouldn’t bother me as much. But he doesn’t show a very strong jam in the games I’ve watched, and he relies on his speed to outrun some of the less-talented WRs that he faces.

But what Milliner lacks in technique off the ball, he makes up for when he is in mid-stride and when the ball is in the air. He is not afraid of contact and is able to make tackles in the open field; he gets the ball at its highest point (the point where the ball is first catchable by a WR); and he gets his hands in and breaks up a number of passes (one in particular is a big one early on in the national championship game against a great TE, Tyler Eifert).

I believe Milliner’s ceiling is a Pro Bowl corner who can lock down a side of the field at important times of the game. I also firmly believe that his floor is not so low, either. This makes him a fairly safe pick, a player that will be a starter in the NFL for a number of years earning a solid second contract. With his deficiencies, I’m not crazy about taking him in the top 5, but I do like him as a top 10 player at a position of scarcity in the NFL.

Jonathan Cooper, G/C, North Carolina

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 311 lbs.

This is the player who could be challenging Chance Warmack as the top interior lineman selected. Cooper’s biggest negative is his size: at 6’2″, there is a concern over whether or not he has the height to compete. I believe the idea this might be an issue comes from the fact that many players of his height seem to move more slowly once they start carrying 300-plus pounds. This is not the case when you watch Cooper.

Cooper’s strengths come big time in two places. The first is his ability to pull. When he pulls, he gets out quickly and out in front of the RB/QB, and he can deliver some great open field blocks. If his issue was his weight, he all but answers these questions when he is out in the open field. The second skill of Cooper’s that jumps off the screen is his ability to pass block. At the left guard position, pass blocking is now almost as important as the left tackles. A left guard is likely facing one of the new wave of pass-rushing defensive tackles, and these players can cause some serious disruption. Cooper is able to sit strong for the most part against this kind of player.

The few times that he can’t make his issues some obvious. He has some liability in his ability to stop bull rushes. He doesn’t “sit” (sink his lower body) particularly well against bull rushes, and in the run game, he doesn’t get that explosive push that many NFL teams are looking for.

Cooper’s ceiling is, as far as potential high picks go, relatively limited. I do see Cooper as a longtime starter at either guard or center in the NFL. He may catch a Pro Bowl here or there, but he likely won’t reach that All-Pro status. With that said, Cooper is a very safe pick with a solid floor, and I believe he can start on day one in the NFL and find himself playing for a number of years– just not at a Pro Bowl level. Cooper is personally one of my favorite players in the draft, and one I’ll be watching very closely on draft night. I think he has a chance to shock some people and show up inside the top 10.

Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, DE, BYU:

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 271 lbs.

Ansah is a player I’m very much struggling to like despite being told by many that I should be jumping on board the bandwagon. My issue with Ansah is that he just does not look good on tape. Yes, he will have those special plays that make you go “Wow.” The Senior Bowl and Combine really caused his value to skyrocket, especially the Senior Bowl, where he looked like a man among boys.

My issue comes from that exactly, though. The Senior bowl is one week of practice, a few weeks after you are potentially finished with a bowl game, and nearly three months removed from everyday, in-season football. Ansah shined during the Senior Bowl because he was able to showcase his athleticism– which is truly terrific. But I’m a bit averse to risk, and players that do not show any technique on film make me nervous.

Ansah does not use his hands, seems to play a bit out of control, is lacking at “assignment football”, and his overall football awareness (his ability to decipher a play on the fly) leaves a lot to be desired. What he does bring is that Jason Pierre-Paul-like athleticism. He can get a tremendous jump off the ball, shows a nice vertical leap in the middle of plays (he bats down a number of balls throughout the year), and his quickness off the edge can be troublesome. But from my point of view, that’s where the praise ends. When I watch Ansah on tape, I watch a player who does not engage well, gets swallowed by inferior talent along the line, and, at times, looks quite lazy. One such example is in my tape review video. On one play, you can see that when he gets into his stance before the snap, his feet are not staggered and his hand is barely in the ground. He does not come off the ball and just stands around for a few seconds before making a halfhearted attempt towards the quarterback.

Ziggy is most definitely a player with tremendous upside. If a team takes him, they are saying they are willing to coach him and let him learn. I think Jason-Pierre Paul is a terrific example of what he could potentially become. The other side of the coin? In my eyes, it’s Vernon Gholston, the OLB the Jets drafted #6 overall in 2008 who never recorded a sack and was cut by the Jets, Bears, and Rams, never even making the 53-man roster of the latter two.

That’s it for now, but I will have a couple more posts with prospect tape reviews before the draft begins.

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