Alabama Football: Crimson Tide’s five most important juniors

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /
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Alabama football heads into 2023 with a large collection of talented juniors, most of whom have already contributed to the program in some capacity. A player’s junior season is huge at the University of Alabama, as it is often the player’s first draft-eligible season.

Every year, Alabama’s best juniors depart for the NFL, often being selected in the first round. This spring, Bryce Young, Will Anderson Jr., and perhaps several others will add their names to the long list of Bama juniors chosen in the first round.

Which juniors will make a name for themselves in 2023? How many can play their way into the first round of next spring’s NFL Draft?

Alabama Football Junior no. 5: Kool-Aid McKinstry

Kool-Aid McKinstry is not higher on this list only because he is one of the most consistent players on the team. He is very steady, and therefore should not be responsible for a lot of fluctuation in the team’s success. With that being said, McKinstry is absolutely critical to the function of the Alabama defense. Even in 2022, with the Bama defense exhibiting back-end weaknesses against high-powered passing offenses like Tennessee, McKinstry was usually excellent.

His ability to lock down one side of the field made things significantly easier on the rest of the defensive unit. If Kool-Aid McKinstry continues his consistent play in coverage, it will benefit guys like redshirt sophomore Terrion Arnold, or whoever starts at the other corner spot. Last season, opposing offenses funneled the ball towards Arnold in an effort to avoid McKinstry. That experience helped the youngster, who, ideally, will be improved and much more confident in 2023.

Outside of his coverage abilities, Kool-Aid also has potential as a playmaker. He is a good blitzer off the edge with two career sacks, and has periodically demonstrated that he can force turnovers. He enters his junior year with just two career interceptions, but he has come painstakingly close on several more opportunities. Bama fans will remember that he was robbed of a pick and 80+ yard return in the Tide’s loss to Tennessee.

Lastly, Kool-Aid brings immense value as a punt returner. He was statistically one of the best return men in the nation as a sophomore, but is still seeking that elusive punt return touchdown. Don’t be surprised if he makes some huge plays this fall, both on defense and special teams.