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August 30, 2023

Eli Ricks' work ethic and pedigree land him on Eagles' roster

Cornerback Eli Ricks made the Eagles' roster as an undrafted rookie free agent who played at LSU and Alabama. That background and his preseason tape made it hard to keep him off the team.

The Eagles kept just a single undrafted rookie on their initial 53-man roster: cornerback Eli Ricks.

How did he leave his mark?

"Obviously you talk about pedigree," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said about Ricks on Tuesday. "He was the No. 1 corner in the country coming out of high school and going to LSU. Then didn't have his last season that he wanted to there, and he was a guy that we spent a lot of time on in the draft process."

Ricks was a true freshman starter at LSU in 2020, recording four interceptions. He transferred to Alabama for the 2022 collegiate season, but didn't quite find the role that may have been expected for him given that previous success. 

"So that's a great success story for him when he had a lot of adversity here as a guy who really thought he would be a high pick going into the year," Roseman continued. 

When it comes to finding talent in the NFL, bet on archetypes. 

Is it any wonder that once Roseman started drafting players from Alabama and Georgia, his entire perception as a talent evaluator changed? Defensive backs from the SEC have a premium impact in the NFL. Players who came up in the Nick Saban program are, to put it in simple terms, built differently. It turns out that having guys like Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson with their backgrounds playing in front of 100,000 people at Bryant-Denny Stadium is good preparation for the bright lights of the NFL. Novel concept! Alabama's Josh Jobe made the Eagles' roster as an undrafted player last season and was the team's best reserve corner this summer. This isn't a coincidence. The blueprint is there. 

Being a former top recruit and Saban disciple aren't the only reasons Ricks made the Birds' 53-man roster, of course. He looked the part in camp and in the preseason. 

His first NFL experience saw him nab a pick-6 in the Eagles' preseason opener in Baltimore, where he read Ravens quarterback Anthony Brown perfectly and made a great jump on the ball:

"He came in with an opportunity, and I think what we saw is this is a long, instinctive player with good athleticism and ball skills," Roseman said regarding Ricks. "Those guys are hard to find. His work ethic, his care factor was really high."

He battled his ass off in last week's preseason finale against the Colts, too. Indianapolis kept their first-team offense on the field curiously long against the Eagles' third- and fourth-string dudes. Ricks was matched up with Michael Pittman Jr., who had 2,007 total receiving yards over the last two seasons, and held his own. 

The Eagles are deep at cornerback. They didn't need to go with seven CBs, but that's a credit to Ricks. Darius Slay and James Bradberry have been stars in their careers. Kelee Ringo is a fourth-round rookie out of Georgia, another premier program. Avonte Maddox, though oft-injured, is an above-average nickel corner. Mario Goodrich should end up as the backup slot guy and, as mentioned before, Jobe has proven himself worthy of being a second-team outside corner. Zech McPhearson's season-ending injury earlier this month opened the door for Ricks to stick around with the Birds. That's a brutal turn of events for McPhearson, but those are the breaks of the game and the pure nature of the NFL. Ricks made the most of his opportunities and was in the right place at the right time. 

Slay, 32, and Bradberry, 30, are getting up there in age. Both have been pretty routinely healthy throughout their careers and played in every game in 2022. Still, the Eagles are likely due for some injury regression and it's feasible Ricks will be called on to play now rather than being a guy who can contend for a role come 2024 or 2025. 

I have a feeling the guy who balled out in Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa will be up for that challenge. 

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