PHILADELPHIA -- The first NFL experience for Eli Ricks was more surreal than he even imagined. Always the player tasked with the hardest job on the field, Ricks had his toughest task to date since he started playing football.
Proving why he belongs on the Philadelphia Eagles.
"This has been a very hard experience for me. I'm usually the first guy called on ever since I played football. Now it's totally the opposite," Ricks said after the Eagles' final preseason game Thursday night. "I gotta prove myself to be here. That's where my focus has been, to shift my mindset."
Talent alone wasn't going to get Ricks on this roster, yet his play on the field certainly helped. When Ricks did get the opportunity to showcase his skill set in the preseason, opposing quarterbacks needed to think twice before targeting him. Ricks allowed just six completions on 17 attempts for 89 yards, having an interception returned for a score and four pass breakups. He did allow a touchdown pass, yet opposing quarterbacks had a 39.1 passer rating when targeting him.
The undrafted rookie cornerback gave the Eagles even more of an incentive to keep him, thanks to a few blocks on kickoff returns. He was the one keeping up with world-class hurdler Devon Allen on his 73-yard kickoff return, making a few blocks upfield to get Allen those extra yards.
For players on the bubble like Ricks, special teams is the ticket toward making a 53-man roster.
"That was my favorite play of the day," Ricks said with a smile. "I just kept blocking my man and I knew [Devon] he was gonna make a cut off me. I just had to make a good block. I never ran track, so maybe I missed (my calling)!"
As the final cutdown day approaches, it's unclear whether Ricks has made the 53 -- but he has a case. The Eagles are crowded at cornerback, with Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox and Josh Jobe having roster spots locked up.
Now here is where things get complicated. Ricks has outperformed Kelee Ringo in training camp, but Ringo was a fourth-round pick so he's not going anywhere. Philadelphia needs a backup slot cornerback after Zech McPhearson was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, which is where Mario Goodrich comes into play. Goodrich takes the majority of snaps in the slot and is the ideal candidate for that job (and he also didn't play Thursday night).
The Eagles have to decide whether they can actually afford to put Ricks on waivers and potentially lose him to another team. Based on how Ricks performed this summer, that's a gamble.
"As an undrafted guy, you have to do a little bit extra to stand out," Ricks said. "I had to pick out a big play to show I belong here, but I feel I've done all I could to prove why I should belong (on this team). I'm going to have no regrets to whatever their decision is."
Ricks will be waiting until the final day () to see if he makes the Eagles -- a franchise that may have to perform some roster gymnastics to keep him around. He might end up as that bubble player they can't afford to lose.