By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) _ A few days after trading Darrelle Revis, the New York Jets drafted a player who can help replace him.
The Jets selected Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner with the ninth pick in the NFL draft Thursday night, adding a player considered by many to be the top defensive back available.
And now, Milliner will get the opportunity to fill the void created by losing perhaps the best cornerback in the league.
“I’m not really worried about it, the comparisons and all that,” Milliner said on a conference call.
New general manager John Idzik insisted the Jets went after Milliner solely because he was one of the best players on their draft board, and not because they were looking to immediately replace Revis on Rex Ryan’s defense with a player who could become a similar talent.
“That is wrong and had nothing to do with it,” Idzik said. “It was purely based on the player. And, it may be perceived that way, but the reality is: Dee was one of our highest-ranked players, regardless of position, on our board. So, we took him.”
It was the first of the Jets’ two first-round picks. They took Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson with the 13th pick, which was acquired from Tampa Bay for Revis on Sunday along with a conditional fourth-round selection in next year’s draft.
“We selected two of the top four players on our board, period,” said Idzik, hired in January to replace the fired Mike Tannenbaum.
The Jets were also high on West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, who was taken by St. Louis at No. 8 after the Rams traded up with Buffalo. Idzik acknowledged that New York fielded trade queries regarding its first-round selections, but resisted because of the players that were available.
New York still has some major needs on offense after going after two defensive players on the opening day of the draft, which runs through Saturday.
“We’re not done,” Idzik said. “We’ve still got two days of work.”
Added a smiling Ryan: “You can’t blame this one on me. … These two players that we got, we’ll all see soon enough when we get out there, but when John mentions how these are impactful players, I believe that’s exactly right.”
Milliner could start opposite Antonio Cromartie on a defense that ranked second overall against the pass _ even without an injured Revis.
Cromartie will actually take over the role as the team’s No. 1 cornerback, as he did last season after Revis tore a ligament in his left knee. New York also has Kyle Wilson, the team’s first-rounder in 2010, but Milliner was high on the Jets’ draft board because of his ability to match up with top wide receivers while helping lead the Crimson Tide to consecutive national titles.
“I think it is a great opportunity for Dee,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “Rex Ryan does a lot of the same stuff that we do in terms of how they play in the secondary and what they do. I think Dee will fit right in. They do a lot of stuff, and he is a smart guy. I think it is a good fit for him.”
The 5-foot-11 Milliner had six interceptions and 36 pass breakups in his three seasons with Alabama, and will be asked to play man-to-man defense in New York.
“That’s mostly what we did, so that’s mostly up my alley,” the former Alabama star said. “That’s what we do, played a lot of man and the Jets also do, so that fits in perfect.”
Jets fans gathered at the draft site at Radio City Music Hall in New York City cheered the pick and some even chanted Milliner’s name while the team was on the clock.
“It was great, man,” Milliner said.
At a pre-draft event in Manhattan on Wednesday, Milliner told reporters that the Jets liked him, and “they probably like me more now since they got rid of Revis.”
He sure was right about that.
There have been some health concerns about Milliner, who reportedly has had five operations during his career, including shoulder surgery in March. Idzik said Milliner is coming along in his latest rehabilitation and should be ready for training camp, if not minicamp in June.
Milliner also didn’t seem too concerned.
“It’s all good,” he said. “I feel great. I’m already ahead of schedule. I’m ready to do pushups.”
Richardson, who’s 6-foot-2 and 294 pounds, is an athletic, sideline-to-sideline lineman who had 79 tackles last season for Missouri. He adds depth to a defensive front that includes two other first-rounders in Muhammad Wilkerson (2011) and Quinton Coples (2012), along with newly signed free agent Antonio Garay.
“His ability to change direction, it’s special,” Jets director of college scouting Jeff Bauer said of Richardson.
The Jets have mostly played 3-4 style fronts on defense under Ryan, but could be looking to play more 4-3, especially with the depth they’ll have.
“We played in a 4-3 scheme, a one-gap defense,” said Richardson, who added he also played nose tackle at times when Missouri switched to 3-4. “The type of player I’d describe myself as is a Sheldon Richardson-type guy. I want to come in and make a name for myself and just work hard and help bring wins to the team.”
While many expected the Jets to go for an offensive playmaker or a pass-rushing linebacker at No. 13, the pick of Richardson over a few other defensive linemen such as Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd was a mild surprise _ especially to some of those fans who booed the announcement at Radio City Music Hall. But the Jets thought highly of Richardson, who spent two years at Missouri after transferring from junior college.
“Any guy should have confidence in his talent and his ability,” Richardson said. “I really do think I was one of the top guys in the draft and I’m just happy to come to the Jets.”