Eagles undrafted rookie Eli Ricks was waiting for an opportunity to introduce himself


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Eli Ricks announced his arrival to Philadelphia Eagles fans with an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the preseason opener. Perhaps it’s a play that eventually fades into preseason oblivion, residing with other August standouts who didn’t make it to September.

But Ricks also had two pass breakups and will have a few more weeks to make the Eagles think — and he offers a profile that could intrigue the team.

Ricks was a five-star recruit who’s been on the NFL’s radar since 2020 when he started at LSU as a true freshman and was named a freshman All-American. If the pick sixes looked familiar, he returned two of his four interceptions for scores that year. He earned the nickname, “Pick-Six Ricks.”

“At least I know it still works,” Ricks told reporters after the game. “I hope I keep that name forever.”

He could not capitalize on the freshman year momentum, missing seven games as a sophomore with a shoulder injury and also missing time in 2022 after transferring to Alabama. He had one interception and six pass breakups combined during the past two seasons, both marks short of what he did as a teenager in 2020.

“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. “That’s a little bit of what I have.”

Ricks left Alabama after his junior season and went undrafted despite a 6-foot-2, 188-pound frame and high-level production early in his college career. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler gave him a sixth- or seventh-round grade. He was ranked the No. 2 cornerback in his recruiting class out of high school — only Kelee Ringo, the Eagles’ fourth-round pick, was higher. Philadelphia was the first team to call Ricks to bring him in as an undrafted rookie.


Breaking down the Eagles’ undrafted rookies, from Eli Ricks to Jadon Haselwood

Ricks said he’s showing what he can do at full health. It’s been a long time since that was the case. He’s been relatively quiet this summer, although this period after the first preseason game is when rookies who raise their stock tend to make their move. It’s hard for him to push much higher on the depth chart. Darius Slay and James Bradberry are entrenched as starters, Josh Jobe is making the case to be the top reserve on the outside, and the Eagles are invested in Ringo. That’s four outside corners. If Avonte Maddox and Zech McPhearson are the two in the slot, then that’s six cornerbacks. And it doesn’t even include veteran Greedy Williams or Mario Goodrich, who has also impressed this summer in the slot. The practice squad would seem more likely, but Philadelphia can make roster gymnastics work on cutdown day to try to keep someone it doesn’t want to lose. Jobe made the team as an undrafted rookie last year. There are still two more preseason games and two weeks of practice to impress. But Ricks helped himself on Saturday, and he said it’s just the beginning.

“This is the start for me,” Ricks said. “I really wanted to make a big play in this game and build from there.”

2. Staying in the secondary, third-round pick Sydney Brown has his arrow pointing up after the second half of the preseason opener. He finished with a team-high nine tackles — all solo — and what jumped out most was his range. He swarms and accelerates at all levels of the defense, which was part of the appeal for the Eagles when they prioritized him on Day 2 of the draft.

“I always play fast,” Brown told reporters after the game. “I’m trying to process things mentally as fast as I can. If you think a minute before you play and miss that minute, you’re going to miss that opportunity. I try to pull the trigger on the gun and leave no regret and just move on to the next play. If something doesn’t go my way, I just move on to the next play and the next time.”

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Third-round rookie Sydney Brown led the Eagles in tackles with nine in his preseason debut. (Charles Brock / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Brown hasn’t made much movement up the depth chart through the first two weeks of training camp, but my guess is that’s about to change. Reed Blankenship has seemed to run away with the top safety spot, but the second starting role remains up for grabs. Terrell Edmunds is in the lead, although Brown has time to make up ground. That seems to be what he does well.

Pay close attention to the reports coming out of practices this week and then how Brown plays on Thursday. That could be the big test.

3. Don’t take the running back rotation on Saturday and the fact that Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott didn’t play as an indication of the pecking order in the backfield. The Eagles seem devoted to a committee approach, and coach Nick Sirianni said after the game that Gainwell and Scott will play on Thursday after D’Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny played on Saturday.

“I always like those guys getting tackled, so the first time they get tackled isn’t in game one,” Sirianni said. “That’s my philosophy with backs.”

We’ll have more on the running backs later this week. At this point, it seems the Eagles are most comfortable with Gainwell in situations such as hurry-up and two-minute offense, which were areas where he was used last season. Swift has looked most explosive this summer. Penny’s track record when healthy cannot be ignored, and he’s the biggest back of the top four. My guess is still Swift becomes the top running back, but they will all have roles. It won’t look as much like last season when Miles Sanders was the clear top running back.

4. These next two evenings will be the most important practices of training camp for Philadelphia. Sirianni said the Eagles are treating the joint practices with the Cleveland Browns like a preseason game, which is how he’s approached the sessions during the past two seasons. The Eagles and Browns had good practices last summer, and that week offered validation that Philadelphia could be one of the NFL’s heavyweights. The Browns have a season over/under of 9.5 wins, so they’re expected to be in playoff contention. There’s talent on that roster and the practices will be heavy on the first- and second-team units. (Look for the deep reserves to get more work in the game.)

I’ll pay close attention to how the Eagles’ linebackers and safeties handle Browns coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense. Between the rushing attack, play-action game and ability to use David Njoku in the middle of the field, this will be a good test for the biggest question marks on the Eagles’ roster.

The Myles Garrett–Jordan Mailata matchup will be fun to watch after Garrett was limited in practice last summer. Former Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is now in charge of Cleveland’s unit, so you can expect the Eagles’ offensive line to be tested.

5. Shaun Bradley confirmed on Instagram that he’s out for the season following an injury on Saturday, leaving the Eagles without one of their top special teams contributors. Bradley is also in the final year of his contract.

The Eagles can add a linebacker in the coming days for depth, but if you thought Bradley would make the 53-man roster, then this changes the math. It’s week two for Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham, so there should be a better chance to gauge their progress in the defense.

Speaking of special teams, something that stood out in the snap counts from Saturday: Nolan Smith played 56 percent of the snaps in that phase. He played special teams at Georgia, too, and could be a factor for the coverage teams this season with his size and speed.

(Top photo of Eli Ricks: Rob Carr / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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