BALTIMORE — Eli Ricks didn’t take the football.
The undrafted rookie from Alabama picked off an Anthony Brown pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 31 yards for a pick-6 in the Eagles’ first preseason game on Saturday night.
And he didn’t want the souvenir.
“I plan on getting much more picks in my career,” Rick said, “so they can have that one.”
As he watched the first half of the game from the bench, Ricks noticed that most of the passes he saw were going to the boundary. So when he got his opportunity, Ricks was ready for it and, sure enough, that’s exactly where the ball went.
Ricks knew he was getting into the end zone.
“As soon as I caught it,” Ricks said. “If I catch it in stride, it’s over with.”
Ricks, 21, certainly isn’t lacking confidence.
And after a disappointing season at Alabama in 2022, the Eagles’ rookie is ready to make a strong roster push throughout the rest of the summer.
“I had a rough year last year so I was really waiting for my opportunity to show the world who I am still,” Ricks said. “I’m healthy now. I’m all the way ready to go.”
There’s no question that Ricks had a rough 2022 season at Alabama. He struggled to stay healthy and regain the form that made him a freshman All-American at LSU in 2020. As a freshman, Ricks had 9 pass breakups, 4 interceptions and 2 pick-6s.
But in 2021, he played just six games because of a shoulder injury and after transferring to Alabama in 2022, he still wasn’t able to get back to his peak.
“Last year, I had a lot of injuries,” Ricks said. “I started playing in the middle of the season and I just wasn’t myself last year, to be honest. I really want to show everybody what I still am and what I can do.”
A little over a year ago, Ricks was considered by many to be a potential first-round pick. This spring, he went undrafted and decided to join the Eagles, in part, because they were the first team that called.
In Philly, though, it’s a pretty crowded cornerback room. The three starters — Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Avonte Maddox — are obviously roster locks. And the Eagles traded away a third-round pick to draft Kelee Ringo, so he has a spot. Josh Jobe has emerged as a top backup outside and Zech McPhearson is the top backup in the slot and a special teams contributor.
There aren’t many — if any — roster spots up for grabs.
But Ricks described the competition between him and the other young cornerbacks as “healthy” and said he and the other rookies have formed a bond. Ricks, Ringo and Mekhi Garner are often three of the last players on the field after practice, working on getting better.
Overall, Ricks has had a pretty quiet summer. The other young defensive backs have stood out a bit more in practice. It’s not that Ricks has looked bad, but he was considered by some to be a steal after the draft and he hasn’t flashed that much.
Until Saturday night, when he made multiple plays.
“I hope to build on them,” he said. “But this is just the start for me. I really wanted to make a big play this game and I really wanted to build from there.”
It’s wasn’t just the pick-6 either. Ricks also had a tackle and two pass breakups in his first NFL action. But that interception return for a touchdown was the obvious highlight. And it brought back a nickname Ricks earned early in his college career: Pick-Six Ricks.
“At least I know it still works. I hope I keep that name forever,” Ricks said. “I just gotta keep making plays. That’s all I’m worried about.”