None have completed spring football practice yet, but a few have completed practice in Alabama and kept busy during Sugar Bowl prep. While we’re yet to get a good handle on the Crimson Tide’s #1 Recruitment class, there are some newcomers whose immediate contributions are easier to project than others.
A good place to start is with these bowl practices, where some of the early participants started writing their own stories. We’ll know more once they’re all on campus and have completed 15 spring practices/scrimmages. More importantly, so will the coaches, and they will start to figure out who could play a pivotal role in the 2023 season.
As of now – based on the caliber of athletes coming in and the positions that lend themselves to immediate competition – here are a few signees to watch from 2023 that could make things interesting and play right away. They are listed in alphabetical order and all rankings are generated via the 247Sports Composite.
Malik Benson, WR (juco)
The No. 1 junior collegiate player at Hutchinson CC in Kansas has already made a name for himself. Sugar bowl drills said he had speed and was difficult to mark. That’s exactly what the broad welcoming corps needs after a lackluster and disappointing 2022 season.
The group lacked the speed to take the lead from a defence. That was a role Tyler Harrell was supposed to bring as a transfer from Louisville, but it never materialized. There was some speed in the unit but injuries really prevented some of them from getting on the field consistently. Now Harrell has announced that he is re-entering the transfer portal.
There’s certainly a difference between junior college football and the Southeastern Conference, but the leap has been successfully made in the past. Alabama has to make it work this time. A refresher on talent is in order, although last season’s newcomers are also a solid core group of players to build on.
Kaleb Downs, p
The five-star contender from Hoschton, Georgia is one of the top players in the class of 2023 and I’ve previously called him the crown jewel. This goes beyond his many physical abilities. All of Downs makes him such a valuable asset. He’s what they call a programmer – or in this case, a program continuer.
Downs has a great character and great competitive spirit that some of the greats of the Nick Saban era have in common. Guys like CJ Mosley, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Will Anderson. They bring intensity to the field and are great leaders off it too.
Both of the 2022 team’s starting safeties are gone with the departures of Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams. Also gone is Brian Branch, who could possibly have played safety this year. There’s no shortage of candidates for the two safe starting positions, but considering how much football Downs means, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he could fit into the competition. It’s a tough position as a freshman, but Fitzpatrick was able to carve out a role in his freshman year.
Judge Haynes, RB
Another player who has what it takes on and off the field is Haynes, a senior defender whom the Crimson Tide fought against Georgia to sign. Like Downs, he comes from a footballing family and that means the transition won’t be as difficult for him as it has been for some.
Jahmyr Gibbs is moving to the NFL and Jase McClellan is lined up as the No. 1 running back. McClellan asserted himself as a hard-nosed runner towards the end of the season and advocated for more carries. Roydell Williams is also a tough runner between tackles. He doesn’t have the top explosiveness of some of the other defenders, but he’s more than serviceable. Then there’s Jamarion Miller, who as a rookie showed lightning speed what he could do with limited carries.
Still, it would not be unlikely that Haynes, No. 3, trailing in class, or his 2023 classmate Richard Young, at No. 4, would come through and deserve a contributing role. Alabama has used up to three regular running backs in the past and also played several freshmen in that position.
Justin Jefferson, LB (juco)
Jefferson, Pearl River CC’s Mississippi No. 2 junior college player, has a highlight role enough to make any football junkie salivate. Practical experience shows that he can run at full throttle. He’s fast, which is an advantage any inside linebacker group would love to have.
Jefferson isn’t the tallest linebacker — probably between 5, 11 and 6 feet — but his speed allows him to diagnose plays and get there in time to make a play from sideline to sideline.
Alabama loses both inside linebackers who started most of last season’s games, Henry To’o To’o and Jaylen Moody, despite Deontae Lawson having a ton of game time in the second half of the season. Lawson is in a good position to hold one spot with one competitor for the other. Jihaad Campbell and Shawn Murphy, among others, are expected to compete for second place, but Jefferson will also have a chance.
Kadyn Proctor, OT
The five-star tackle that broke Iowa’s hearts the day before the early contract signing became a huge part of this class. The Crimson Tide bled offensive linemen in the transfer portal with five off the list. Proctor, the tackle prospect #2, was needed.
Alabama hasn’t shied away from playing freshman linemen in the past, and that makes the massive Proctor an intriguing player to watch this offseason. He could play his natural position at tackle or he could sneak in at guard. Despite the mass exodus, Alabama’s offensive line should be pretty solid next season, with JC Latham, Tyler Booker and Seth McLaughlin back and Elijah Pritchett fully healthy. Proctor will be given every opportunity to cement himself in the starting five.
Desmond Ricks, CB
This came as a surprise on the second day of the early signing period. And a big one; The IMG Academy product is a five-star recruit ranked #2 among cornerbacks.
Kool-Aid McKinstry is the lone starting corner returning with Khyree Jackson in the transfer portal and Eli Ricks declared early for the NFL draft. That means the opposite corner point is open, along with the Star Nickel corner position where Brian Branch is gone. McKinstry earned a supporting role as a five-star freshman in 2021, so it’s been done before.
Ricks is 6-1 and 170 pounds and the off-season strength and conditioning program will be instrumental in his development and what is possible for him this season.
(Photo by Kadyn Proctor: Scott Dochterman / the athlete)