Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama | NFL Draft Scouting Report

He's since been forgotten after entering the cycle as a projected first-round pick, but does Alabama CB Eli Ricks still carry early-round appeal?

Once anticipated as a potential first-round pick, did Alabama CB Eli Ricks live up to his upside in his lone season with the Crimson Tide? Here’s an in-depth look at how Ricks stacks up in a loaded 2023 NFL Draft CB class, and whether he can still command early-round capital in a heavily-contested group.

Eli Ricks NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Cornerback
  • School: Alabama
  • Current Year: Junior
  • Height/Weight: 6’2″, 188 pounds
  • Length: 32 3/8″
  • Hand: 8 7/8″

Ricks has been a constant subject of football royalty — at both the high school and collegiate levels. In high school, he transferred from one titan to another when he made the senior-year switch from Mater Dei to IMG Academy. Ricks was lauded as a five-star recruit, compared favorably to All-Pro Richard Sherman, and signed with the defending national champion LSU Tigers.

At LSU, Ricks was an immediate star. As a true freshman, he quickly earned reps in the defensive rotation and made the most of his opportunities. Four interceptions and five pass deflections later, Ricks was a Freshman All-American and an easy entrant in way-too-early 2023 NFL Draft mocks.

The 2021 season, however, marked a downturn for both LSU and Ricks himself. The true sophomore only played in six games before undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn labrum. Not long after that, he would enter the transfer portal, eager for a fresh start. He joined forces with the ultimate CFB titan: The Alabama Crimson Tide.

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Ricks’ stint at Alabama didn’t start off on a high note, however. After arriving in Tuscaloosa, Ricks struggled to win a starting spot and entered the year as one of the team’s reserve cornerbacks. He saw the field sparingly until October, against Mississippi State.

Against the Bulldogs, Ricks got his first start at Alabama and made the most of it. Frequently tested by the Bulldogs’ pass-heavy offense, Ricks continuously locked down, tallying four pass defenses in coverage. He’d go on to start four more games in the 2022 season, ending his collegiate career on a high note.

For a long time, it looked as though Ricks would be forced to return to school, but he leveraged his strong finish in 2022 into an early draft declaration. He may not go quite as high as he was once anticipated to, but Ricks is still a compelling prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft CB class.

Eli Ricks Scouting Report

In another strong cornerback class, can Ricks elevate himself and lock down an early-round spot with his traits? There’s still work to do for the Alabama CB, but he has some of the natural ability you’d come to expect from his recruiting billing.

Ricks’ Positives

Standing at 6’2″, 188 pounds, Ricks has a tall frame with near-elite length. That length is a central part of his game, as it affords him a wide disruption radius.

Beyond his length, Ricks is an explosive short-area athlete for his size. He doesn’t need much space to gear up, and he has the capacity to quickly accelerate out of transitions, as well as use his long strides to carry receivers upfield. This natural explosiveness was echoed at his pro day, where Ricks tested with a 35″ vertical and a 10’7″ broad jump.

Going further, Ricks has above-average hip fluidity for his size. He quickly snaps around to match receivers and keep things in front of him. He’s also shown to play low in his stance and manage weight transfers efficiently. While he has room to be more efficient, Ricks doesn’t experience too much delay on transitions. Moreover, he’s a snappy, amped-up short-area mover who brings good corrective twitch.

Ricks has the abruptness to quickly wind up and generate momentum out of an idle stance. Furthermore, with his twitchy lower body movements, Ricks adjusts and maintains positioning in tight spaces. He can manage his speed and corrective athleticism to maintain proper downhill tackling angles.

Ricks’ physical talent is undeniable, but so too is his physical edge. The Alabama CB shows off intense physicality at the line. He surges into jams, using his length to shock receivers and delay releases. Additionally, he fully extends on jams, generating force inside his opponent’s torso.

Ricks actively targets hands and shoulders to negate swipes and force WRs off-balance. He also uses physical jabs to divert and disrupt focus at the catch point and plays to control the area. He’s a high-energy competitor who’s fueled by contact.

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Technically, Ricks shows bright flashes as well. He has the capacity for fast footwork at the line and uses short gather steps to set up acceleration and maintain balance. He’s also shown to maintain discipline and use feet first in press. Ricks can match receivers with patient feet, then flip his hips promptly when receivers commit.

The Alabama CB can also employ a stutter-step to match receivers, then use one-handed jams to pinch them close to the sideline. In his short time as a starter at Alabama, he showed progression in press coverage, using discipline and targeted physicality to disrupt receivers at the line.

As a processor, Ricks flashes great zone awareness. He can communicate, pass off routes, match patterns, identify underneath concepts, and close quickly. He flashes the capacity to anticipate and react promptly to breaks in front of him. Moreover, he’s able to key in on QB tells and break early on passes, as well as follow the quarterback’s eyes and position himself accordingly.

Yet, Ricks’ ball skills might be his best trait. They are borderline elite, as Ricks can easily extend and contort. Beyond that, he’s very physical at the catch point and comes with a disruptive mindset on top of his playmaking ability. Ricks can use effortless body control in midair to make gravity-defying picks, making crucial adjustments without much response time. The Alabama CB can also catch passes away from his frame, and track and high-point throws in stride with his coordination.

Ricks brings promise in run support as well. The Alabama CB shows off strong tackling ability and good play strength in open space. He squares up, leads with the shoulder, and wraps up opponents, pulling them down with force. He’s able to match backs running to the sideline and rarely overpursues.

Going further, Ricks recognizes screens and dump-offs and peels off short routes. At that point, he closes downhill quickly. When faced with blocks, Ricks uses his length and physicality to engage and deconstruct.

Ricks’ Areas for Improvement

Ricks’ combination of length and athleticism is enticing, but he may not be elite in any athletic areas. He doesn’t quite have the elite explosiveness to gain back positioning after initial losses, and he visibly lacks elite long speed, as his 4.6 40-yard dash reflects.

In recovery, Ricks can struggle to close gaps, and he can get stacked by more explosive receivers. Moreover, Ricks’ fluidity, while above average, is not an overwhelming strength.

On transitions, Ricks sometimes has to uncoil a bit, rising out of his stance and detracting from his efficiency. Too often, he plays too high in his stance. Additionally, his hips sometimes tighten up on inside transitions, forcing extra motion to attain proper angles.

He’s noticeably stiff when responding to hitches and could be more efficient and maximize hip sink on direction changes. Particularly at higher speeds, Ricks does occasionally experience a delay on transitions, using too much time to decelerate and recalibrate.

Ricks loses balance in the open field often and can also be overzealous and play himself out of position with his physicality. At times, he also gets grabby when trying to stick with receivers.

At the line, Ricks is over-reliant on two-hand jams. These two-hand jams often lock the hips and delay transitions, allowing receivers to get a step. Moreover, Ricks sometimes jams before moving his feet, causing him to lurch and lose leverage.

In zone, Ricks doesn’t always anticipate and can miss vital reads as a result. His reaction quickness and consistency could still improve, even after 2022. Short delays can put him a step behind.

Ricks can also be baited into breaking early by double-moves, and he lacks the elite fluidity to recover. Occasional timing lapses at the catch point also show up. In run support, he can be indecisive when encountering obstructions.

Current Draft Projection for Alabama CB Eli Ricks

After the 2022 season, Ricks grades out as a fringe top-100 prospect on my board. He’s somewhat scheme specific, and that scheme preference could be the difference between him going late Day 2 or early Day 3. Regardless, he has the traits to garner consideration from teams in the middle rounds.

Ricks never quite rose to the Round 1 level that many expected from him, being a productive former five-star recruit. That said, he still has a lot of physical appeal as a prospect. Ricks has rare length and superb explosiveness, and he’s also incredibly physical with his length. In press, he’s trending up with his technique and discipline.

Past his length-explosiveness combination and physicality, Ricks also has excellent ball skills and shows flashes of adequate zone awareness and reaction speed. He could still strive for more consistency as a processor, but Ricks has the necessary capacity and is opportunistic when making plays at the catch point.

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Ricks’ fluidity and long speed, however, are both visibly non-elite traits. He struggles to sink at times and also tops out early when tracking down the field. But as a press-man CB who can use his length to dictate reps, and as a zone corner who can drape over outside passing windows with his reach and instincts, he brings plenty to like.

Ricks might need an acclimation period before he can start, and his lack of speed and elite fluidity caps his ceiling a bit. Nevertheless, as a dual-sided press-man and zone CB, the 21-year-old provides the necessary upside to be a solid starter at his peak.

Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Eli Ricks

Strengths: LSU transfer with tremendous upside. Fluid pedaling in reverse, quick in transition, and stays on the receiver’s hip out of breaks. Physical, engages receivers throughout the route, and is very aggressive.

Easily runs downfield with opponents, excels in press coverage, and doesn’t back down to a challenge. Drives to the ball out of his plant, has a closing burst of speed, and plays with a violent style. Works to get off blocks and make plays upfield against running plays or screen passes.

Weaknesses: Must do a better job getting his head back around to track the pass in the air. Battled injuries the past two seasons. Played just 24 games the past three years and started just five last season.

Overall: Ricks displayed himself to be a dominant shutdown corner when he was on the field and healthy. Unfortunately, that was not very often over the past three years. He possesses the underlying skills to be a No. 1 cornerback on Sundays but must polish his game. More than anything else, Ricks needs to remain healthy and stay on the field.

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