Alabama CB Eli Ricks begins the 2023 NFL Draft cycle as one of the top players at his position, and his scouting report details even greater upside. But, as is often the case with highly-touted recruits, some prospects can be over-glamorized in the early months. Ricks is a fantastic talent with high-level upside — but he still has work to do to reach his ultimate ceiling.
Eli Ricks NFL Draft profile
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. He 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 entree 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. Now, he’s rostered with the ultimate CFB titan: The Alabama Crimson Tide. And at Alabama, he may be able to realize his first-round upside, like so many others have before him.
- Position: Cornerback
- School: Alabama
- Current Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’2″, 190 pounds
Eli Ricks scouting report
In what looks to be another strong cornerback class, can Ricks elevate himself and lock down a Round 1 spot with his traits? There’s still work to do for the Alabama CB, but such an ascension is certainly in the cards.
Standing at 6’2″, 190 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. Ricks also has solid top-end speed, and he can use his long strides to carry receivers upfield.
Going further, Ricks has above-average hip fluidity for his size. He can quickly snap around to match receivers and keep things in front of him. He’s also shown he can play low in his stance and manage weight transfers efficiently. While he has room to be more efficient, he doesn’t experience too much delay on transitions. Moreover, Ricks is 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, he can adjust and maintain 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.
Technically, Ricks shows bright flashes as well. He has the capacity for fast footwork at the line and can use short gather steps to set up acceleration and maintain balance. He’s also shown he can 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.
As a processor, Ricks flashes great zone awareness. He can communicate, pass off routes, match patterns, and 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 QB’s eyes and position himself accordingly.
Yet, Ricks’ ball skills might be his best trait. His ball skills are borderline elite, as he can easily extend and contort. But 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 he can track and high-point throws in stride.
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, he can recognize screens and dump-offs and peel off short routes. At that point, he closes downhill quickly. And when faced with blocks, Ricks can use 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 or speed to gain back positioning after initial losses. Moreover, his fluidity, while above-average, is not an overwhelming strength.
Ricks sometimes has to uncoil a bit on transitions, 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 can be more efficient and maximize hip sink on direction changes. Especially at higher speeds, Ricks does experience a delay at times 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. He can also be too grabby at times when trying to stick with receivers. At the line, Ricks is overreliant 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 can improve. Short delays frequently 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, and he can be indecisive when encountering obstructions in run support.
Current draft projection for Alabama CB Eli Ricks
In early 2023 NFL mock drafts, Ricks is a frequent first-round inclusion and is sometimes the first CB off the board. After watching the tape, the first-round upside is very visible. But if the draft happened today, I’d likely have a Day 2 grade on him.
It’s important to reiterate that Ricks does have the talent to rise. He has rare length and superb explosiveness, and he’s also incredibly physical with that length. Beyond that, he shows exciting flashes of fluidity, zone awareness, and technical efficiency for his size. And at the catch point, his ball skills are borderline elite. But in many of these categories, greater consistency can be achieved.
With his height and length, Ricks naturally struggles to lower himself and sink his hips on transitions at times. He’s shown he has the capacity to play low in his stance and use fast feet, but he needs to be more consistent here. The same can be said for his processing. Ricks has shown he can position himself effectively in zone and react quickly, but he can be streaky. Nevertheless, a change of scenery at Alabama could help maximize his game.
With his length, explosiveness, ball skills, and flashes of zone instincts, Ricks projects best as a zone coverage cornerback in a Cover 3-heavy scheme. However, with his physicality and force generation on jams, he also has disruptive upside in press alignments. He needs to limit the dependence on two-hand jams and strive for more consistency. Yet, if Ricks can continue improving his fluidity and motion efficiency, he could be a relatively scheme-versatile prospect with high-level NFL upside.