Eli Ricks’ time at Alabama will end after one season of high expectations for the LSU transfer that largely went unmet.
Ricks declared for the NFL draft Tuesday, making the announcement on Instagram one day after three Tide juniors declared at a news conference and fellow junior Brian Branch followed later Monday.
“I want to thank coaches Nick Saban, T Rob [Travaris Robinson], Pete Golding and the entire Alabama staff that accepted me in as one of their own,” he wrote. “While here at Alabama, the staff has supported, pushed and developed me into the mature young man that I am today. I have learned just as many lessons off the field as on. The Alabama program exceeded my expectations and tested every limit that I set for myself.”
For Ricks, the decision was not nearly as clear-cut as Bryce Young or Will Anderson, or even his teammate in the secondary, Branch. Ricks played in 10 games this season but made only five starts, including one at Ole Miss that ended when he suffered a concussion on the game’s first play.
Ricks finished the season with four pass break-ups, one tackle for a loss and no interceptions. But NFL teams could still be attracted to Ricks’ length at 6-foot-2 and his freshman season tape in 2020 that earned the former five-star recruit a spot on the Associated Press’ third-team All-America that year.
Ricks, a California native who played at IMG Academy in Florida, was the No. 14 overall prospect in the 2020 class by 247 Sports’ composite. He lived up to that status as a FWAA freshman All-American but a shoulder injury derailed his second season in Baton Rouge.
After transferring to Alabama last winter, Ricks had a slower-than-expected transition in both physically recovering from his injury and in becoming comfortable in the Tide’s defensive system. Speaking to reporters for the first time this season in the locker room after Saturday’s Sugar Bowl, Ricks explained what happened.
“It was more difficult un-learning things than learning things,” he said. “We had a lot of plays that LSU called similar but we did a lot of different things. Really just un-learning things was the hardest part.
“Sometimes, when I first came here, I would do my old technique I learned at LSU or I would get a certain call and maybe we had that same call at LSU, but it’s something different. So just really getting used to the system and making this home. That was really my main issue in the spring.”
Despite signs in the spring and summer that Ricks was not in position to win Alabama’s competition to start at cornerback, national expectations for Ricks still soared. He was projected by ESPN in May as the No. 10 overall pick in the 2023 draft, and picked by the Associated Press in August as a preseason first-team All-American. He was also included on watch lists for major awards.
But Ricks saw minimal playing time until Oct. 22, when he started against Mississippi State over Terrion Arnold following a loss to Tennessee. Ricks started against LSU after the bye week before missing virtually all of the Ole Miss game, then the Austin Peay game the following week. He returned to start in the Iron Bowl and again in the Sugar Bowl.
Ricks was asked in the locker room about his draft decision but did not reveal it.
“It’s really a decision of where I feel like I’m at,” he said. “If I’m ready for the NFL, or if I’m not. It’s really as simple as that.”
Ricks’ quiet draft season had moved him off the radar of major outlets projecting picks, and he was not among the 10 top-rated cornerbacks by ESPN’s Mel Kiper last month.
Without Ricks, Alabama will search for a new starting cornerback opposite junior Kool-Aid McKinstry in 2023. One option is Arnold, but the Tide signed a five-star freshman Desmond Ricks and continues to pursue another five-star cornerback recruit in Cormani McClain.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.
Leave a Reply