When Dee Milliner ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds in February, he appeared to cement his status as a top-10 pick in the NFL draft.
Though widely considered the top cornerback prospect, Milliner entered the NFL combine with questions about his speed.
"Just watch the combine," he boldly told reporters in Indianapolis a few days before he was to run.
"I know my body. I know what I can do and how I can run," Milliner said recently during a phone interview. "So I just knew I could go out there and produce. I know I was a little out of shape, because I can run faster."
Despite running with a torn labrum (cartilage) in his shoulder, Milliner posted the second-best time among cornerbacks. With a number of teams picking in the top 10 in need of corners - including the Eagles - the Alabama product solidified his standing as the top prospect.
Milliner may be in play at No. 4 for the Eagles, a team that waved goodbye to Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason and added only stopgap replacements through free agency.
He never was likely Howie Roseman and Chip Kelly's top choice with the fourth pick. The Eagles canceled a predraft visit with Milliner earlier this month.
"Some players, you feel like you have a lot of information on," Roseman explained last week. "When you meet with them at a certain time and when you visit with them and you have certain people in the building who are familiar with people . . . you feel comfortable where you are with that player."
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who left Alabama in February, certainly knows Milliner well enough, having watched him in practice for three years.
And too much can be made of predraft workouts and visits. Three years ago, for instance, the Birds spent hardly any time with Brandon Graham before trading up to nab the Michigan pass rusher.
But the buzz with the draft approaching Thursday has the Eagles interested only in linemen at No. 4. If that's the case, the only chance they will take Milliner is if they trade down. And that isn't as implausible as it sounds.
The Lions, with the fifth pick, Browns (sixth), and Jets (ninth) have been linked to Milliner. Each team had the 21-year-old in for a visit.
The NFL Network's Mike Mayock recently ranked Houston's D.J. Hayden atop his list of cornerbacks. Hayden has recovered from a near-fatal collision during practice with a teammate in November when a major vein leading into the heart was severed.
"Most people think Dee Milliner is the No. 1 corner in the country," Mayock said. "I happen to like D.J. Hayden."
Xavier Rhodes of Florida State and Desmond Trufant of Washington are two other cornerbacks who could be taken in the first round. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Rhodes has abnormally long arms (333/4 inches).
Kelly's preference for rangy defenders is well documented. Cary Williams (6-1, 190) and Bradley Fletcher (6-0, 200), added this offseason, are presumably the Birds' starting corners right now. But neither has a contract with guaranteed money beyond this season. The Eagles will be looking for corners to develop and could take one in the middle rounds.
They have not fared well drafting mid-round corners in recent years. Curtis Marsh (third round, 2011) and Trevard Lindley (fourth round, 2010) are still on the roster, but neither projects as a starter. Brandon Boykin (fourth round, 2012) had a solid rookie season in the slot.
The 6-foot, 201-pound Milliner would likely start right away. He had shoulder surgery in March and may not be ready by training camp.
"We haven't been able to do the rehab like I want to because I've been going to different teams," Milliner said. "But once the draft is over, I'll be able to start to rehab it and try to get back on track."
Top Cornerback/Safety Prospects
Here are the top-rated cornerbacks and safeties in the NFL draft and lower-rated players the Eagles might take in the later rounds:
Player, college Ht. Wt. rd.
Dee Milliner, Alabama 6-0 201 1
D.J. Hayden, Houston 5-11 191 1
Xavier Rhodes, Florida State 6-1 210 1
Desmond Trufant, Washington 6-0 190 1-2
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State 6-2 185 2
David Amerson, North Carolina State 6-1 205 2
Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut 5-11 201 2-3
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU 5-9 186 2-3
Darius Slay, Mississippi State 6-0 192 2-3
Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut 6-1 195 3
Tharold Simon, LSU 6-2 202 4
Marcus Cromartie, Wisconsin 6-0 195 7
Player, college Ht. Wt. rd.
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas 6-0 214 1
Matt Elam, Florida 5-10 208 1-2
Jonathan Cyprien, Fla. International 6-0 217 1-2
Eric Reid, LSU 6-1 213 1-2
Phillip Thomas, Fresno State 6-1 208 2-3
D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina 5-11 208 2-3
Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse 5-9 213 3
J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern 6-0 213 3
Duke Williams, Nevada 5-11 203 5
Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma 5-11 213 5
- Jeff McLane