Walt Aikens started his collegiate career at Illinois where he played as a safety and contributed as a freshman before transferring to Liberty and making the move to corner. After redshirting the 2010 season, Aikens took over as the team’s boundary corner and never looked back. His combination of length and athleticism made him a difficult matchup for opponents and he became a regular on the Big South All-Conference team.
For the NFL, Aikens has a lot of the characteristics that have become increasingly popular the last few years. He has the speed to compete but also has size and strength that gives him the potential to press and play physically with receivers going down the field. Aikens has shown he can help in the running game and as a tackler but just needs to be more consistent there. He warrants a day three pick as someone who should initially help as depth but could become a starting corner at some point in his career.
Vitals & Build
Aikens measured 6’5/8” 205lbs at the scouting combine with 32 ¼” arms. He has a pretty strong build and is well put together. His long arms make him taller than he is on the field and he has shown good speed. His change of direction skills can vary. There are times when he can be really smooth, but will occasionally be too high and have trouble making that transition. Aikens will probably continue to fill out as he goes along but his potential lies in his ability to consistently be fluid.
Aikens can do the job as a tackler, but is somewhat selective in terms of effort at different times. When he wants to make an impact, he can wrap up and put a decent hit on a guy. Too often, he seems less interested in the play after the ball is caught, unless it risks making him look bad.
Aikens needs to be more consistent with tackling lower, working to keep his feet moving and just buying in to the idea that he can be an impact hitter. He is more than strong enough and has shown he can lay the wood on opponents, but seems far more inclined to do it when the opponent is not in a position to hit him back.
Aikens can be an asset in the running game. He played strong side corner for Liberty and certainly showed he can come up the field, work through trash and make plays. Aikens does not always seem thrilled to take on and shed blocks. He can certainly do it, but there are times when the effort is not there and he seems to be going through the motions until his teammates can get in and make the tackle. The times he is motivated and interested, he can be really good and work to shrink the field the opponent can run.
His build and physical tools suggest he has the ability to play the strong side in the NFL, but he just needs to be consistent in effort and how badly he wants to fulfill his role.
This is where Aikens seems to be at his most effective. He has experience both on and in off man coverage. Aikens certainly has the build and ability to play in press if a team wanted him to do that route. He seemed to play up on the man quite a bit when he was in Mobile for the Senior Bowl and looked good, competitive.
Aikens has a nice backpedal and can really stay low and compact in his movements. He will occasionally get too high and have trouble planting and redirecting forward, but can really do a nice job when it comes to coming downhill or flipping his hips and running with the opponent. His speed is good but his length and overall size certainly help him when it comes to bodying the receiver outside to the sideline.
Aikens is really aggressive when it comes to playing the football and works to separate the opponent. His style can be a little risky as he will get called for pass interference when he mistimes his hit and comes in too early. When he is right, he can make a nice fit and use his hands to rake the ball out from the opponent.
Aikens is far more suited to play on the outside and near the sideline. In the event he comes into nickel situations, a team would be more likely to move someone else inside and let him play on the outside.
When it comes to zone coverage, Liberty tends to disguise it by having their corners and Aikens in particular use a shuffle technique. He can either go into man or drop into zone depending on the call but it puts him in a situation where if a quarterback makes a misread, he can capitalize with an opportunity to cause a turnover.
Man coverage is where Aikens is more effective, but he has done a nice job of disguising his intent, getting to his drop and being aggressive in coming up to attack the ball whether in the air or after the catch. As a result, Aikens can probably help a team that wants to use him in varying roles from press man to press into zone or dropping deep.
Aikens has shown he can make plays on the ball and catch the ball away from his body. His arm length is great for finding a way to reach in and poke the ball out of the play, but he has also been able to make some impressive catches at times. And after the catch, he is aggressive and is looking to make an impact, trying to score the ball.
Aikens is best suited to play in a man system based on how well he can run with opponents combined with his size and length. He could be extremely attractive to teams that want to run press or want to mix up their coverage looks as well.
There are a lot of raw skills with Aikens and a team could see someone they can mold and develop over time. He looks like he will come in as a third or fourth corner initially and should come in and play outside in sub packages, but Aikens has shown that he is not afraid to compete with anyone and there is absolutely potential for him to develop into a starter down the road.
Aikens does have experience as a safety as well, so he could also be depth there in addition to corner.
Aikens has some similarities to Dwayne Gratz of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gratz was the tougher, grittier corner at Connecticut who played in a similar role in their defense last year. The Jaguars drafted him with the intent of making him into a press corner to fit Gus Bradley’s defense and that could be what happens with Aikens. He has the abilities to do that kind of job, but whether that system or another one, Aikens has a lot of the same tools that Gratz did.
Walt Aikens has the skill set to play in the NFL and just needs to continue to work on refining his craft and get more consistent with the run and as a tackler. He has a good build in terms of strength and length combined with speed that should allow him to be effective at the next level. If he can bring a consistent intensity, he can become a starter in the NFL and warrants a third day pick in the draft.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com