From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today I’ll be profiling Alabama CB Eli Ricks.
# Eli Ricks #7/CB Alabama 6’2” 188
Combine/Shrine Bowl invite
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Eli Ricks||6020, 188||8 7/8||32 3/8||N/A|
|40 Yard Dash||10 Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Extremely lengthy, physical corner with prototype size, does a nice job to re-route and squeeze receivers with physicality at the line of scrimmage
— Has solid eye discipline in coverage, keeps eyes low and glued to the hips through his transitions
— Capable and willing to get involved in run support, particularly when ball carriers bounce runs out to the edge
— Has played both on the boundary and in the slot during his collegiate career
— Does a very solid job of tackling the catch to limit yards after the catch
— When at his best, Ricks produces some elite press coverage reps, suffocating receivers with his length
— Has shown nice ability to plant and drive on routes from off-coverage when patient and able to stay square
— Has a nice feel for midpointing routes in zone coverage, playing high to low and forcing check downs
— Arm length allows him to play the pocket with great efficacy
— Has all of the necessary talent and traits to become a dominant press coverage corner at the next level, technique needs to be refined and he may not be a year one starter, but the upside is extremely high
— Visibly a High-IQ, effective communicator in Nick Saban’s Cover 7 Quarters scheme, one of the most complex coverage schemes at the collegiate level
— Can be a step slow coming out of his breaks, caught flat footed at times at the top of routes
— Can be a bit over reliant on grabbing at the top of routes, needs to focus on keeping his feet active to stay in phase
— Has a tough time recovering when hips are opened prematurely, needs to tighten up footwork in press coverage
— A bit high in his transitions, needs to work on keeping pad level low when opening to carry receivers vertically, lots of wasted movement
— Choppy footwork in press coverage, crosses his feet over at times, which can cause him to lose balance
— Needs to be more consistent when plastering in scramble drill/extended play situations, allows separation too often in these situations
— Has a tendency to panic at the catch point, a play style that lends itself to pass interference penalties, of which he had plenty at the collegiate level
— Struggled to consistently stay on the field at both LSU and Alabama
— 44 tackles 2 TFLs 5 INTs 10 PDs 2 TDs
— 2022: 13 tackles 1 TFL 4 PDs
— Named Bednarik Award Player of the Week for his Performance vs Mississippi State this past season, a game in which he recorded 4 PBUs
— Third-Team All-American selection in his 2020 freshman season at LSU
— Second-Team All-SEC in 2020 at LSU
— Underclassmen prospect, was a true junior this past season,
— Former five-star high school recruit
— Born September 26, 2001, will be just 21 years of age when he enters his inaugural NFL season
— Was made available for measurements at the NFL combine, but did not test
— Played two seasons at LSU before transferring to Alabama ahead of his 2022 junior season
Even if Cam Sutton is retained ahead of free agency, a prospect which seems more likely as we inch closer to the legal tampering period, cornerback would seem to logically remain atop the Steelers draft needs. Whether seeking to address the position with the 17th overall pick, or opting to wait until the mid rounds, it is undeniably a great year to address the cornerback position, with no shortage of top talent or depth in this year’s class.
Gearing with an eye toward a potential mid round target, I decided to take a look at Alabama’s Eli Ricks, a former five star high school recruit who played two seasons at archrival LSU before transferring to play under Nick Saban for his 2022 junior season. After struggling to find consistent play time early in the season, the talented transfer dominated in his first start, dominating wire to wire against Mississippi State, a performance which featured four pass breakups and earned him Bednarik Award Player of the Week recognition.
It’s hard not to appreciate defensive backs who are able to flourish in Nick Saban’s patented Cover 7 quarters scheme, arguably the most complex coverage scheme in all of college football. Likewise, defensive backs, such as Pittsburgh’s own Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace, tend to exit college as high IQ players who function as great communicators in coverage at the next level. In that respect, Eli Ricks is no different, standing out on tape with his high level understanding of opponents route concepts, a trait that is particularly impressive given his youth. He will be just 21 years of age when he takes his first snaps at the next level.
Immediately standing out as a playmaker in his 2020 freshman season at LSU, Eli Ricks was able to use his understanding of route concepts to bait quarterbacks into some costly decisions, producing four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Aligned as the slot defender, with LSU playing four over three to Florida’s wide bunch set, Ricks is responsible for the first receiver to release underneath and inside.
With his eyes glued on his keys, Ricks patiently gives ground, allowing the bunch to sort before planting to drive a Florida receiver declares inside on the slant route. Taking a perfect angle to jump the route, Ricks closes downhill to cut in front of the receiver, securing the pick and angling toward the sideline, following his blockers untouched for a 70 yard pick six.
One of the most impressive aspects of evaluating Eli Ricks early LSU tape was how much trust the coaching staff put into him at a young age, allowing him to move from the slot to the boundary and work in a variety of coverage assignments. Working from depth as the hole defender in a Cover 1 hole scheme, Ricks is a free player, able to key Dorian Thompson-Robinson, allowing the quarterback’s eyes to take him to the football.
Once again, Ricks understanding of route concepts is on full display, diagnosing the front side tight end declare shallow and underneath, a key indicator that the offense is attempting to manipulate the defense to open space for the deeper crossing pattern working back across the formation. Ricks does a phenomenal job working for depth to put himself in position to occupy the throwing window on the crosser, where he is able to square himself and elevate to secure the interception.
While his work in pattern match zones is certainly impressive, Eli Ricks has always profiled as a dominant press coverage corner, a facet of his game where he has flashed some downright dominant reps in his three year collegiate career. He has a nice approach in press man coverage, traditionally relying on a patient mirror press, but occasionally crowding receivers with physical jump jams at the line of scrimmage.
Aligned in press coverage to the trips side of the formation, Ricks works in press man MEG (man everywhere he goes) coverage on the #1 receivers, with the Tigers playing a traditional quarters, three over two look vs the #2 and #3 receivers. Working on an island, Ricks see’s the Alabama receiver peeking inside for the snap, presenting a perfect opportunity for Ricks to take an aggressive approach, lunging forward with a two-hand jump jam to disrupt the timing of the release.
Post jam, he is able to square himself back up to the receiver, stay tight at the top of the route, close to the upfield shoulder, and play the pocket with physicality at the catch point for a nice pass breakup. While this technique is far too risky to deploy on a snap to snap basis, it is a great tool to keep in the back pocket to surprise receivers once or twice a game.
Fast forward to a more seasoned Eli Ricks, fresh off a transfer to Alabama, providing more dominant press coverage in his first start, a game in which all four of his pass breakups came from press coverage alignment. Working in an isolated press coverage matchup to the boundary, Eli Ricks inches to give ground, taking a nice angle to beat the receiver to his upfield shoulder, working to get chest to chest and extending his off arm to eliminate the back shoulder target. His length allows him to suffocate receivers at the top of routes when able to stay square in press coverage.
This time, Ricks, aligned in press coverage to the trips bunch set, responsible for the first receiver to declare vertical and outside, forces the receiver into a wide release with his patience, once again taking a perfect angle to cut off the upfield shoulder. Once engaged, Ricks squeezes the receiver into the sideline, getting chest to chest and extending his off arm into the pocket, finishing through the ground to secure another impressive pass breakup. His healthy arm length, measuring in at 32 3/8”, allows him to effectively contest the catch point from a variety of angles, which is particularly healthy when he finds himself off-balance at the catch point.
A solid and effective, if not spectacular edge presence in the run game, Ricks generally does a solid job tackling in the open field when a run fit requires him to do so. When tackling the catch, he does a great job of limiting yards after the catch and punishing receivers in the open field. While not always consistent in his pursuit and willingness to get involved as an extra fitter in the box, he does enough to function as an adequate, if not impactful, tackler at the next level.
Tasked with a crack/replace assignment, working from depth against the Gators jet sweep run scheme, Ricks does a nice job of triggering downhill at a proper angle to seal the edge and force the cutback, shooting low to secure a nice leg tackle and limit the run to a short gain. While his tendency to aim low on tackle attempts can cause occasional misses, a stout frame, along with consistency in effort, physicality, and tackling technique, should help Ricks continue to serve as an effective run defender from his corner spot at the next level.
At his best, Eli Ricks produces some downright elite press coverage reps. The problem, however, is that his inconsistency in technique can produce some reps equally as ugly. He has a tendency to rise up in his transitions, leaving him a step slow to open and carry receivers vertically, often putting himself into trail position unnecessarily. When he fails to play with proper pad level, he is often caught on his heels, leaving him vulnerable to stumbling when matched against talented route runners.
On the bright side, to me, these present issues in technique that can be ironed out with further coaching, rather than physical limitations that will define his gamer moving forward. All that being said, a valid counter argument could be raised that if Nick Saban can’t coach flaws out of a players game, it may be tough to find a coach capable of doing so.
Turn on one of Eli Ricks best games and you’ll find yourself wondering why he isn’t being mentioned among the top corners in this year’s class. Turn on his worst game and you’ll find yourself wondering whether he has the coverage skills to survive at the next level. While flashes of brilliance were not uncommon with the former five star recruit, ongoing battles with injuries and inconsistency prevented him from ever cementing himself as the elite college corner that many had projected.
While slightly larger in height and arm length, but slighter in his build, I saw similarities between Eli Ricks and current Chicago Bears corner Jaylon Johnson, who has also battled with injuries, but has carved out a nice career in Chicago. If Ricks is able to iron out the deficiencies in his press coverage footwork, his frame, along with his high level instincts in pattern match zone coverage, should help him become a productive and adequate, if not dominant player at the level. That being said, without commitment to refining technique, it is not out of the question that he could find himself on the wrong side of some noticeably ugly reps against the league’s premier route runners.
If selected by Pittsburgh in the mid rounds, Ricks would likely compete with James Pierre for boundary cornerback snaps in the teams sub packages. While I am not quite sure he would be ready to play by the start of the season, potentially undergoing some struggles in camp and the preseason, it is fair to expect that Ricks could begin to factor into the rotation and help create takeaways on the back end by as early as midway through his first season, and at latest by the onset of his second season. Depending on how the draft board breaks, and how late Eli Ricks remains available, he is a logical mid round target for Pittsburgh, or any other team, at the cornerback position.
Projection: Mid to Late Day 2
Depot Draft Grade: 7.8-Potential Starter/Good Backup (3rd Round)
Games Watched: vs Utah State (2022), vs Mississippi State (2022), at LSU (2022), vs Kansas State (2022), at UCLA (2021), vs Florida (2020), vs Alabama (2020)