Each Tuesday of the NFL season NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst Rob Rang will identify his Rookie of the Week. To qualify, the first-year professional player must have played a significant role in a competitive NFL game, demonstrating not just flashes of talent but the potential to emerge as a legitimate long-term standout. The player's draft status -- whether as a former first round pick or undrafted free agent -- does not apply.
Top NFL Rookie of Week 17: New York Jets CB Dee Milliner
While Jets' defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson emerged as the favorite to win the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year and quarterback Geno Smith flashed brilliance in surprising wins over the Patriots and Saints (among others), 2013 was largely a season to forget for Milliner, the New York's first pick of last April's draft.
Milliner struggled for much of his rookie campaign, missing time due to a contract holdout and various nagging injuries and getting benched by Rex Ryan three times over the first two months of the season.
Against the Dolphins in Week 17, however, Milliner showed off the form that earned him the top spot on NFLDraftScout.com's cornerback rankings in 2013 and the No. 9 overall selection in the draft.
Lining opposite Miami's speedy free agent addition Mike Wallace, Milliner collected two interceptions, broke up two other passes and helped the Jets beat the Dolphins 20-7 in Sun Life Stadium. The loss knocked the Dolphins out of playoff contention.
In fairness, it wasn't all rosy for Milliner on the day. Miami's lone score on the afternoon was a Wallace touchdown against the rookie, who incorrectly guessed on that the Dolphins' wideout would turn in for a quick comeback or slant on a 4th and 3 from Miami's five-yard line. Instead, Wallace zipped past Milliner, hauling in a nice touch pass from Ryan Tannehill to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Wallace was targeted 12 times in this game, however, including two other times in the end zone but finished with just five catches for 25 yards and the one score. Wallace became an even more critical part of Miami's game plan with steady possession receiver Brian Hartline suffering a knee injury in the first quarter. Behind a 16 target, seven-catch performance against the Baltimore Ravens October 6, Sunday's game included the second most targets Wallace had seen all year long.
Milliner showed excellent route-recognition on his first interception of the game, breaking back in front of Wallace to snatch a well-thrown pass from Tannehill to abruptly end a promising Dolphins' drive early in the third quarter. Milliner, while surprisingly fluid given his well-built 6-foot, 201-pound frame, does not possess Wallace's straight-line speed. The interception was the more impressive considering that the rookie was locked up in man to man coverage.
The same ability to break back toward the ball was demonstrated on Milliner's second pick of the day, which came with 1:30 remaining in the game. The interception sealed the Jets victory. Just as importantly, it gave Milliner, Rex Ryan and the Jets the strong finish each needed to end the 2013 on a positive note.
Rookie of the Week Archives:
Week One: Carolina Panthers DT Star Lotulelei
Week Two: Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins
Week Three: New York Jets QB Geno Smith
Week Four: Buffalo Bills ILB Kiko Alonso
Week Five: Green Bay Packers RB Eddie Lacy
Week Six: Detroit Lions TE Joseph Fauria
Week Seven: Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed
Week Eight: Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington
Week Nine: New England Patriots WR Aaron Dobson
Week 10: St. Louis Rams WR/PR Tavon Austin
Week 11: Oakland Raiders QB Matt McGloin
Week 12: New York Jets DL Sheldon Richardson
Week 13: Denver Broncos RB Montee Ball
Week 14: Minnesota Vikings WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson
Week 15: San Diego Chargers WR Keenan Allen
Week 16: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell