Browns Potential Draft Target: CB, Walt Aikens

Liberty Atheltics

There are few things I enjoy more than seeking out what I consider to be "draft day gems". Players that possess talent but fly under the mainstream radar. Sometimes this is because the players' film is hard to come by for the average fan or the athlete plays for a smaller school with less exposure. Regardless, during my player evaluation process, I follow my criteria. I tune out all the noise and reporting and I try to focus on what I see on "the tape". Last season, when looking for a good fit for a press man corner, I was enamored with Robert Alford and this year for that same role, I like Walt Aikens.

Background

Walt is a little know, small school defensive back who got his first start at Illinois as a safety during his Freshman year. Although Coach Zook lobbied hard to keep him in the program, Aikens ended up transferring to Liberty following an incident where he plead guilty and served two weeks in county jail for misdemeanor theft charges. I spoke to Walkt about the incident in our recent interview:

"That was the biggest obstacle I've had to face. That whole situation matured me and taught me not to take things for granted. It was a learning experience and it was the first trouble I had been in in my life, and the last"

While at Liberty, Aikens was able to make the transition to cornerback where he showed tremendous athleticism and play making ability vs. lesser competition. Where Walt really began to catch the attention of scouts (and myself) was during his performance at the Senior Bowl and East West Shrine game. He showed up and competed with some of the best senior WR's in the country, including Vanderbilt WR, Jordan Matthews. Not only did he compete, but he more than showed that he belonged on the field, impressing scouts with his ability to play press man, jam at the LOS, play off man or zone, and adjust and make plays while in coverage down field. Overall, one of the more impressive traits is that Aikens shows a willingness to support the run and often uses his physicality, aggressiveness and length to fight through blocks; to help bring down ball carriers; and to help get his hand on passes to deflect.

Vitals

Standing at at 6'1" and weighing 203lbs, Walt Aikens boasts the size that many NFL teams covet at the corner back position.  His height is made even more appealing by his long arms (32.25") and athletic build, explosiveness, and fast twitch. During his recent Pro Day in March, Aikens put on a show for scouts with his 40 time (4.42) and showed his vertical leaping ability (35"). Aikens also registered a 3 cone of 7.10 seconds and a broad jump of 9'10".

At 6'1", his 3-cone is average but not great and doesn't necessarily reflect the looseness in his hips that often translates to success on the field as an NFL defensive back. Based on the available pro-day and combine 3 cone data which has been collected since 1999 by my fellow draftnik James Cobern, I can confidently say that there are roughly 5 "mid sized DB's" ( 6' - 6'1" ) who are/were NFL starters who had slower 3-cone times than Aikens. Those DB's are Eugene Wilson, Tracey Porter, Marlon McCree, Glover Quin, and Daniel Manning. When looking at Walt as a mid-sized DB, many players within Walt's same 3-cone time range have often been good back-ups at best. An interesting fact also found in this combine data is that a large majority of the most exceptional NFL "mid-sized" DB's have 3 cone times that fall in the 6.5 to 7.05 range.

While this doesn't change what's on film for Walt, especially given his size and attitude/mentality on the field, this data does give it further context. The data is strictly height based, so if you believe he is grouped among the right sized athletes, then it means something. I say this because at 6'1', he's right at the threshold of being a "taller DB" (6'2"+) and at this threshold, based on the same data from 1999, there are numerous Starters and All-Pro's with 3-cone times similar or even slower than Walt's: Byron Maxwell, Trumaine Johnson, Terrell Thomas, Dre  Kirkpatrick, Chris Clemons,  Xavier Rhodes,  Kam Chancellor, Adrian Wilson, Nnamdi Asmomuga, Mark Barron, Michael Huff, and Dashon Goldson are just a few in the group who had slower times than Aikens. But again, although he may play like a bigger DB, the fact remains he's still grouped in the "medium sized" DB's by height.

What all this means is that when you group him with the big DB's, he measures extremely well and even better than some all pros. When you group him with the medium sized DB's his fluidity and change of direction measures pretty average but this is most likely due to the impact size plays on fluidity. When I look at how I want to use Walt, I look at him like a taller DB and not a medium DB because I feel I can utilize his length and his height and his physicality. I think that's where he thrives and because of that I think he can develop into a solid defensive back and potential starter in this league as I'll outline below.

Production

Aikens projects as a man corner who will excel in a press or off man coverage scheme.  His size and length really show up when he is in press coverage and can jam receivers, re-route them and impact the timing of the route and the play. Liberty played into his strengths, lining him up as a boundary corner during his Sophmore, Junior and Senior seasons.

In his junior season, Walt started 11 games and was once again named to the Big South All Conference Team for his second year in a row; he led Liberty in tackles with 59 (39 solo); forced a conference tying high of 3 fumbles and tied for 5th with 7 deflected passes to go along with 1 interception. As a senior, Aikens' registered 62 tackles ; 6 passes deflected and 3 interceptions.

His ability to turn and use his speed to run with WR helps make up for one of his weaknesses (much like many bigger corners) and that is that he tends to be a little upright in and out of his breaks.  And his vertical jumping ability helps him adjust and make plays on the ball while in the air.

Aikens diagnoses the play and drives to the ball quickly using his athleticism and speed. He shows the ability to make sound tackles both in run support and when his man catches the ball. He has instincts to try to pry the ball loose and is very confident in his ability on the field. This showed up during the Senior Bowl where he adjusted to the level of competition and quickly made a name for himself with his physical play, especially in 1 on 1 drills.

Draft Grade

Aikens has the size and physicality that could fit very nicely opposite of Joe Haden and he plays with a chip on his shoulder. He is a cerebral player and studies that game. His demeanor and personality on the field fit the mold of the new mantra the Browns are branding as the franchise's new core values - accountable, passionate, tough, relentless, competitive and passionate. I believe that Walt needs a year to develop, especially because the corner back position is among the hardest transitions to make as a NFL rookie. If he develops as I think he can, year two is where he steps in and can compete for a starting role. He could surprise and assimilate faster, but I think it takes him at least one season of learning before his true potential is unlocked.

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At the end of the day, Walt is an early day 3 value who may go as soon as the 2nd round because of his size and speed combination. As you can see from my grade, he's right in between the two rounds in terms of talent score and I wouldn't be surprised either way.

Film Room

I invite you to take a look at his film. The longest game is only 4 minutes . . .

Game Notes vs. Charleston Southern:

Plays to check out (start point) --- 1:20; 2:06; 3:25; 3:40; 3:49; 4:22

  • Press man early, jamming WR and forcing off his timing and his route.
  • Shows good pop in his hands.
  • Willing run support on more than one occasion
  • Sets edge when asked to early on, uses good form to finish tackle
  • Plays man to man as well as off man and zone
  • Hips looks a little tight at times during transition out of back pedal, but reads and diagnoses play well
  • Shows big time play at the end of the game in single coverage along the boundary

Game Notes vs. Monmouth

Plays to check out (start point) --- first play; 0:06; 1:08; 1:15; 3:23; 3:31

  • First play of the game, shows ability to beat the block and step around with eyes up on the play
  • Shows off man early, giving 12yd cushion -- reads play well and is in proper inside technique to beat the WR to the spot; gets his hands on the ball; reaches around with inside arm to break up play
  • Shows press ability to re-route WR at LOS
  • Pass Interference - questionable call or clear PI? The end zone camera looks like he made a clean play.
  • Shows some average tackling traits, doesn't finish tackle or has an awkward finish to the play
  • Excellent INT, jumps the route and makes a great play

Game Notes vs. Kentucky Wesleyan

Plays to check out (start point) --- 0:44; 0:54; 1:41; 2:12; 2:28

  • Good burst to break up pass out of back pedal on 3rd and 10; off man coverage. Walt reads route, closes quickly and gets his hands on the WR.
  • Shows ability to track and mirror across the zone
  • Great diagnosis and cerebral play on 2nd and 7. Sense screen play and actually calls it out visually to his teammates by pointing; Walt beats his blocker inside with a swim move, gains inside position and actually forces the play outside where the safety makes the tackle. He probably missed setting the edge here, but it was a great read on the play.
  • Easy INT in drop zone coverage but shows great return ability with the run after the play
  • At one point he actually knocks an OL helmet off with his aggressive and strong play on the field setting the edge during a run play.
  • Shows the ability to beat the block on a screen pass again, and makes showlace tackle
  • At end of the game you can see him directing the other DB's and then shuts down a quick out route on 3rd and 9.
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