NFL prospect focus: Phillip Gaines & Walt Aikens
Phillip Gaines – Cornerback – Rice
Size – 6003 – 193 – 4.38
Strong Points: 3.5-year starter, height, long arms, speed and overall athleticism, press coverage, zone coverage, ball reactions, hands, very good combine workout.
Weak Points: Was suspended for season-opener vs Texas A&M, strength, tackling, shed blocks, run support.
2014 Stats: 36 total tackles, four interceptions, 10 passes broken up
Gaines is a fifth-year senior and a 3.5-year starter. In 2011 he started the first three games, but sustained an injury and missed the rest of the season. Was awarded a medical redshirt season.
Gaines has excellent height at 6003 with long arms. He is very fast and athletic, with quick feet and suddenness. He has a low pedal and can turn, but takes an extra step in transition. This will have to be corrected at the next level.
Gaines lines up on the left side. He plays a lot of press coverage and some zone. You seldom see him in off coverage. In press, he has a good jam and turn and shows better than average mirror skills. He can get beat off of his opponents’ cuts, but he has the recovery and burst to get back into the play. Gaines plays the ball well in the air and records a number of broken-up passes. His open-field tackling is adequate.
In zone, Gaines shows awareness and is alert enough to help out when free. In addition, he displays excellent range. My only question in regards to Gaines’ zone coverage ability is his transition because he takes an extra step and this costs him some time.
Gaines is not an aggressive run support player. He plays back and waits for the play to come to him. He lacks upper body strength and struggles to get off blocks. He is not an aggressive tackler and you seldom see him try to make a big hit.
Overall, Gaines has a lot of talent. I feel his run support will improve with added upper body strength and confidence. However, until that happens, you can’t count on him to be a good cover guy on special teams.
With his speed, press cover skills and combine workout, Gaines is getting a lot of attention. Those things may get him drafted high. I see him as a top “B” level player (third round) because of his strength and run support deficiencies. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets drafted during the latter part of the second round.
Grade: B 6.6
Walt Aikens – Cornerback – Liberty University
Size – 6005 – 205 – 4.47
Strong Points: Excellent size, good athlete, speed, dominates level of competition, off-man coverage, zone coverage, tackling, played well in All Star games.
Weak Points: Level of competition, did not see a lot of press man coverage, raw, why did he leave Illinois?
2014 Stats: 62 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions for 44 yards, 1.0 sacks
Aikens is a fifth-year senior and a 3.5-year starter. He originally enrolled at Illinois in 2009 and started five games at safety. Transferred to Liberty and did not see game action in 2010. Has been a starter at the boundary corner for Liberty the last three seasons.
He has excellent corner size at 6005 – 205 to go along with good speed. His overall athleticism is good. Aikens can stay low in his pedal, has a smooth turn and can transition very quickly. He has the suddenness required to play corner in the NFL.
Aikens plays the boundary corner for Liberty. While you don’t see him in much press coverage, he plays a lot of zone and man off. He has good anticipation and awareness in off-coverage. Aikens doesn’t let the receiver close too much of the cushion and shows that he can mirror out of that type of coverage. He is an alert zone player who consistently keeps good positioning. He has very good ball reactions and no wasted motion when he breaks on the ball. His hands are good and he shows good running instincts after the interception.
With his size, Aikens plays the run well. He shows he can shed blocks and is a consistent tackler. He also has been used some to return kicks, but I haven’t seen enough to say he has NFL return talent.
Overall, Aikens is an interesting talent. He demonstrated at the Senior Bowl that he can play against better competition and he has ideal size. While he is still raw, he has a lot of upside. I can see him being a starter by his second year. Right now, I view Aikens as high “B” level player, but I can see a club with a need drafting him in the second round. Has too much upside. Why he left Illinois needs to be answered.
Grade: B 6.6
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