Upon the conclusion of the 2022 season, Alabama football lost three pillars of its defense to the NFL Draft. Safeties Jordan Battle (45 career starts), DeMarcco Hellams (29 starts), and Brian Branch (28 starts) all went into the league and took a ton of experience with them.
There are question marks on the way to 2023. However, there is no lack of talent.
Malachi Moore returns as a senior leader and faces a breakout season. Moore has played at the star (or nickel) position behind Brian Branch for the past two seasons, and he started 2020 as a true freshman at the nickel position. He was one of the best and most promising defenders on this national championship team. As a sophomore in 2021, Malachi Moore was struggling with injuries and his consumption dropped significantly.
Moore was healthier and more committed on both defense and special teams in 2022. He totaled 92 career tackles, four interceptions and 16 pass breakdowns over his three seasons, adding a fumble return for a touchdown and a blocked punt return for a touchdown. Malachi Moore could stay in the star or head to deep safety when he returns for his senior year in 2023. Either way, he’ll be a crucial part of Alabama Football’s defense.
The freshman’s new safety, Caleb Downs, could immediately join Moore in Bama’s defensive backfield. He could be one of the best recruits of the Saban era, which is no small feat. Ranked as top safety in the 2023 class, Downs was widely considered the best overall player in the cycle.
Like Malachi Moore, he has playmaking instincts and the ability to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield. Caleb Downs has yet to show up and prove himself, but he plans to be a valuable addition to the Crimson Tide defense from day one.
Senior Kristian Story could be a viable option at one of the deep safety spots for Alabama football. Story was a reserve throughout his career, stuck behind Battle and Hellams for three years. Still, he’s received plenty of playing time off the bench and always seems ready.
Kristian Story has played in 25 games on defensive and special teams over the past two years, totaling seven tackles. He has the size and physical strength to be a force against the barrel but hasn’t had many opportunities to show his coverage skills.
Junior safety DeVonta Smith could also be in the mix. Smith has played in 19 games in his two years at Tuscaloosa, mostly on special teams.
A pair of redshirt freshmen, Jake Pope and Antonio Kite, joined Alabama Football in the Class of 2022 and are looking to make a leap as a sophomore. Kite can play multiple positions in secondary school. In addition to Caleb Downs, Alabama football welcomes two more safeties to the Class of 2023. 4-star recruits Tony Mitchell and Bray Hubbard will add quality depth to the Bama safe space.
The Alabama high school is arguably the most insecure position group on the roster. I still believe it can be a better unit than what the Tide put in last year. Whatever the depth chart, I see Malachi Moore as the leader and Caleb Downs as the surefire playmaker.