Almost everyone knows about the big name cornerbacks in this upcoming draft, they've been written about over and over again. But one name that I believe is worth getting used to is Walt Aikens from Liberty University. He's flown relatively under the radar for quite some time now but his stock jumped a bit after his performance at the Senior Bowl. With the Eagles needing depth at the cornerback position, I figured it was worth it to take a closer look at Aikens.
Everyone has seen the mock drafts with the Eagles drafting a cornerback like Kyle Fuller or Bradley Roby in the first round. But what if they don't address the position in the first day...or even the second? Well Walt Aikens is a name you should keep in mind. He's a long, physical cornerback that fits exactly what the Eagles are looking for at the position. He played mostly "boundary corner" at Liberty University but is versatile and even has some experience at safety from earlier in his college career.
Aikens fits the "big people beat up little people" build that Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman are looking to add to the Eagles' roster at 6'1", 203 lbs. and 32 1/4" arms. Sadly, Aikens was snubbed and not invited to the combine but put on quite the show at his pro day. According to this article from newsadvance.com, twenty NFL scouts attended Aikens' pro day and he certainly made it worth their while. He posted unofficial forty yard dash times of 4.37 and 4.39 which apparently ended up being 4.49 but still impressive considering his size. Aikens also reportedly looked very smooth in positional drills and once again showcased the impressive skills he first unveiled to the NFL world during practices at the Senior Bowl.
Coming out of high school, Aikens was recruited by a number of well known schools including Clemson (OMG next Dawkins!) and Louisville but ultimately committed to Illinois. He was impressive a freshman and started five games at safety with 32 total tackles and two passes broken up. But Aikens was arrested for possession of stolen property and was kicked off the team.
Aikens ended up at Liberty University following that situation and starred for the Flames' football team for three seasons. He was named a Big South all-conference honoree three times including being named to the first team following the 2013 season. Aikens finished the 2013 season with 62 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and 1 sack through 12 total games (10 starts). Aikens finished his career at Liberty with 7 interceptions and 6 forced fumbles. He even spent some time at playing on the Flames' basketball team and track and field team.
As I mentioned above, Aikens has outstanding size and speed for a cornerback. At 6'1", 203 lbs. with 32 1/4" arms and 4.49 speed, he's a lot for wide receivers to go up against. Sorry to disappoint you all but sadly, there isn't a spider graph available for Walt Aikens. But what makes Aikens very special is that he has great technique to go along with the measurables as well and that is what shows up on tape!
Aikens is an exceptional athlete with fluid movements. He can keep his man "in his pocket" on the outside and keep up with his receiver down-field. Aikens is a willing tackler and isn't afraid to get dirty in the running game, although he does have a tendency to tackle low and not keep his head up which can be improved with coaching. Aikens thrives in press coverage but is athletic and disciplined enough to use his burst and make plays when in zone coverage as well.
All of these things I mentioned and more are showcased in the three games of film that are available of Aikens here on draftbreakdown.com. But although I watched all three games, one game in particular stuck out to me when watching Aikens and that was the game against Charleston Southern. Aikens made one mistake on a long touchdown but other than that he showcased his abilities against the run, pass and screen game as well. So I'm going to highlight quite a few of the plays that stuck out to me from this tape in particular.
Up first we'll take a look at Aikens in press coverage and how he gets a jam at the line and then sticks with his man down the sideline even though the receiver tries to use a double move.
1) Aikens lines right in front of the receiver with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, ready to jam at the snap of the ball.
2) Aikens uses his length and power to get a jam at the line and knocks the receiver toward the right sideline.
3) The receiver appears to be running a go route and Aikens keeps up with him stride for stride along the sideline. He kept the receiver in "his hip pocket" the entire time.
4) Now here the receiver attempts to use a double move by chopping his feet and slightly turning back to the ball. But Aikens stays with him the whole time and doesn't fall for it at all.
5) The play was designed to go to Aikens' man but as you can see he had him completely blanketed and due to the pressure, the quarterback was forced to throw the ball anyway and it was picked off by a safety roaming over the top.
Once again, here's another play showcasing Aikens' abilities in press coverage and defending a long pass down the sideline.
1) Aikens lines up across from the receiver with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.
2) But this time, Aikens elects not to jam and instead slightly backpedals and uses his length to force the receiver along the sideline.
3) Aikens stays with the receiver stride for stride down the sideline and notices the receiver turn his head back around for the ball, so he gets himself in position to make a play on the ball.
4) This is where Aikens' athleticism and length come into play. He uses his long arms and leaping ability to bat the ball away and the pass falls incomplete.
This next play showcases Aikens' awareness when he is lined up off the line of scrimmage and how he uses his speed to make plays in space.
1) Aikens is lined up around five or six yards off the ball with his body towards the quarterback. This allows Aikens to read the quarterbacks eyes and try to telegraph where the ball is going.
2) Aikens lets the receiver that he was lined up across from pass into the linebacker's zone, he notices the tight end is running in the flat towards his side and heads that way.
3) Aikens uses his explosiveness to meet the tight end as soon as he catches the ball and brings him down for no gain.
4) Although the play was blown dead once he drove him back a yard or so, Aikens carried the tight end pretty far back.
Now we're going to look at Aikens in press coverage again but this time he showcases his awareness and speed by blowing up a screen pass.
1) Aikens lines up in press coverage right in front of the receiver with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage (I know, this is getting old now).
2) Aikens recognizes they're trying to set up a screen and uses his speed to avoid the block from the tight end and stick with his man.
3) Because of Aikens' speed, the tight end completely whiffs on the block and Aikens is right there to make a play on the ball.
4) The receiver still manages to make the catch but he barely gains a yard or two and is immediately brought down by Aikens.
Enough of the passing plays, let's take a look at what Aikens can do against the run. During this first play, Aikens contains the outside, forces the run inside and then finishes up the tackle for a small gain.
1) Aikens lines up in press coverage across from the receiver with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.
2) Aikens uses his length to get off the block from the receiver and heads toward the backfield.
3) Aikens forces the play back towards the inside where he knows he has linebackers and defensive linemen ready to make the tackle.
4) One of the linebackers trips up the running back but Aikens is there to clean up the tackle for a small gain.
Once again, we're going to take a look at Aikens against the run but this time he's in off coverage and still locates the ball and makes a tackle.
1) Aikens is lined up off the ball with no receiver in front of him, almost like an outside linebacker position.
2) Aikens stays with the tight end in his zone responsibility for a couple of yards and then recognizes the run.
3) Two of the linebackers over-pursue the run and that leaves just Aikens and the safety (not seen on the screen) as the only guys between the running back and the end zone.
4) Aikens makes a great open field tackle and completely stops the running back in his tracks.
5) Oh, and just for good measure, Aikens makes sure to drive the running back about two or three yards back and body slams him to finish it all off.
Last but not least, just one final play. Aikens lines up in off coverage but reads a designed option play and uses his athleticism and speed to make a great tackle for a loss of five yards.
1) Aikens lines up off the ball, across from a receiver with his body facing towards the quarterback. Once again, allowing him to focus on the quarterback's eyes and the backfield.
2) Aikens stands his ground while he reads the run. He's trying to read whether or not the quarterback will keep the ball or pitch it to the running back.
3) Aikens recognizes the quarterback is keeping the ball and sprints full steam ahead towards him.
4) The running back tries to block Aikens but he fails miserably and Aikens slips right by. He blows up the play and forces the quarterback out of bounds for a loss of four or five yards.
As you can tell, Walt Aikens is a pretty darn good cornerback and someone that the Eagles could really use. Of course he's going to be talked down because he comes from a small school but he still has the size, athleticism and skill-set that could very well transfer to the next level. He may not be an instant starter if he's drafted by Philadelphia but he could certainly replace Cary Williams or Bradley Fletcher on the outside in a year or so. He has a hard nosed attitude that all Eagles' fans would love to add to the secondary.
Aikens' stock has been on the rise since the Senior Bowl and his pro day but I'm still not sure he'll be a day two pick. If he's available in the fourth round when the Eagles pick and they have yet to address the cornerback position, he's certainly a name worth looking at. Outside of that one off the field slip-up during his freshman season at Illinois, Aikens fits what the Eagles are looking for and should be able to contribute in their secondary for years to come if he lands in Philadelphia.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed! Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @Anthony_DiBona, thanks again!
P.S. - If that wasn't enough for you and you want to see more of Walt Aikens making plays, feel free to watch this highlight video of him as well. Enjoy!