With the 125th overall selection in the NFL draft, the Dolphins selected Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens.
Aikens, a former All-Big Ten freshmen at Illinois, and three-time Big South All-Conference player, was one of the best small-school prospects in the entire draft class.
Standing over 6’0” and weighing 205 pounds, Aikens brings much-needed size to a secondary that previously didn’t have a cornerback over 6’0”. He’s also a great athlete, registering a nearly elite 40-yard dash time of 4.49 at a workout according to CBS Sports and showing his speed in-game when running downfield with receivers.
More importantly for the Dolphins, Aikens had an impressive short shuttle time of 4.42, which is a big indicator of success in zone-based defenses. Aikens reacts quickly in space, allowing him to close on the ball and break up passes with ease.
The Dolphins also struggled to finish tackles in 2013, often allowing big plays after initial contact was made. Don’t expect Aikens to contribute to that issue. He’s a solid form tackler who fills his running lanes well.
He brings scheme versatility to Kevin Coyle’s defensive backfield, as he has good arm length and the ability to play press coverage. Since he isn’t a press specialist, it’s not a big deal if he never becomes a great press player, but if he can pick up on the technique and nuances of press, that is a valuable tool to utilize against rhythm-based offenses, such as AFC East foes like the Patriots and Bills.
Best of all, as I noted in my scouting report of Aikens, he took to coaching incredibly well at the Senior Bowl. He struggled adjusting to the jump in talent early in the week, but by Thursday he was arguably the top cornerback at the practices. I expect Aikens to make similar leaps eventually in the NFL.
Since he played in many different schemes at Liberty, Aikens is still learning zone coverage. Miami has some depth now, lessening the pressure to play him early, but don’t expect Aikens to start year one.
His technique is still raw, as his footwork can get sloppy in man coverage. He has the ability to mirror effectively but needs to clean up his throttle from backpedal to cuts.
Off the field, Aikens was dismissed from the University of Illinois in 2010 due to an arrest. That was a long time ago, but Joe Philbin likes to have leaders in the locker room. Has Aikens moved past that situation?
Walt Aikens brings solid upside and considerable talent to the Dolphins secondary. Miami needed to add another cornerback at some point, and Aikens was my No. 2 ranked cornerback still available at the 125th pick.
He might not make a big impact in 2014 as he is behind more experienced players that were drafted in earlier rounds, but there is upside for Aikens to become a solid boundary cornerback as he learns from defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. Miami did well by acquiring a quality talent this late in the draft.
Ian Wharton covers the NFL draft for Bleacher Report, specifically focusing on defensive backs. He also covers the Miami Dolphins for DraftMecca.com and FinDepth.com. You can follow and interact with Ian on Twitter: @NFLFilmStudy.