Why Eli Ricks Under Nick Saban is a Perfect Match
Nick Saban is the greatest coach in the history of college football, but the seven-time national champion first made his mark in the secondary. A former safety at Kent State, Saban earned his first defensive backs coaching job at West Virginia in 1978 and would continue to have his handprints on the group as a defensive coordinator and head coach.
His resume speaks for itself.
Eight Alabama defensive backs have been selected in the first round under Saban, including three in the top 10. An Alabama defensive back has been selected in 11 consecutive drafts, which is the longest current draft streak of one position from an SEC school.
Minkah Fitzpatrick just signed a four-year deal worth $73.6 million on June 15 to become the highest-paid safety in NFL history. Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Marlon Humphrey, Landon Collins and Trevon Diggs have put together All-Pro campaigns and Patrick Surtain II is well on his way to doing the same in Denver.
The Crimson Tide received a massive boost to its secondary when Eli Ricks transferred over from LSU in December.
Ricks has been under the guidance of a number of high-caliber coaches in his young career. He played for the legendary Bruce Rollinson at Mater Dei high school in Santa Ana (California) before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida. Ricks was rated as the No. 2 cornerback and No. 14 overall prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle. He signed with LSU and was coached by Corey Raymond — who has produced three players that were drafted in the top-six in the NFL draft in his own right.
The California native played in 10 games, including seven starts as a freshman. He quickly made his mark in the Tigers defense, picking off a pass in the season-opener against Mississippi State and again the following week at Vanderbilt. He finished the season with 20 tackles, five pass breakups and four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Ricks earned second-team All-SEC honors and was the only true freshman to pick up AP All-American recognition. The following season, he picked off a pass in LSU's season opener at UCLA but was ultimately limited to just six games because of a torn labrum.
The junior cornerback has a tremendous amount of talent and will now be under of the direction of the defensive back guru himself.
“He’s done a good job,” Saban said of Ricks in March. “He’s coming off a shoulder injury, so he missed half a season – or more than half a season – last year. He wasn’t able to do anything for a long time, so when he started here with the offseason program, that was the first thing he’s done for a long time. He lost some weight. He’s been gaining it back.
“But (he’s) an experienced player who understands how to play the game. He’s picking up things and doing a good job out there. It’s a positive addition to our team.”
At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Ricks has the size and length NFL scouts will covet. He’s physical at the line of scrimmage and excellent in man coverage. Ricks has elite ball skills and plays with incredible instincts. He has long strides that allow him to keep up wide receivers downfield and is active in run support.
Ricks is widely regarded as the top cornerback prospect for the 2023 draft class. In a recent mock draft, ESPN NFL draft analyst Matt Miller has Ricks going No. 4 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Miller called Ricks “as good as any cornerback prospect in the past few draft classes.”