Alabama Football: Setting expectations for trio of junior leaders

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama Football took the podium at SEC Media Days in Nashville, Tennessee roughly two weeks ago. Along with head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide was represented by a trio of juniors that figure to lead the team this fall.

Offensive tackle JC Latham, edge rusher Dallas Turner, and cornerback/return specialist Kool-Aid McKinstry have followed similar career trajectories thus far.

All three came to Alabama as 5-star recruits in the 2021 cycle, and all three were considered the top player in the nation at their respective positions. Latham, Turner, and McKinstry were all named preseason first-team All-SEC, and are all expected to be first round picks in the 2024 NFL Draft.

While some were surprised that no seniors accompanied Coach Saban to Nashville, the inclusion of the three draft-eligible juniors implies that Saban is valuing performance and leadership over seniority in 2023. In the past, Saban has been accused of over-valuing seniority and being loyal to a fault to certain players. In my opinion, these accusations have never held water, and the 2023 Media Day showing was just the latest example.

After starting as a true sophomore, JC Latham suddenly becomes the face of a retooled Alabama offensive line in 2023. Latham played right tackle last season, but is capable of flipping to the blind side if Bama’s younger tackles falter at the position.

He should be one of the best offensive linemen in college football this fall. Latham is valuable not just for his talent, but for his character. Along with second-year offensive line coach Eric Wolford, Latham has played a big role in shifting the culture and mindset of this offensive line. Should he stay put on the right side, Alabama Football will spend a lot of time running behind JC Latham and former IMG teammate Tyler Booker.

Dallas Turner is finally the man on the edge, with Will Anderson Jr. departing for the NFL. Turner and senior Chris Braswell will lead a laughably deep group of edge rushers that features five former 5-star recruits.

Turner has tallied 18 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks through his first two seasons, and looks to make improvements in his consistency this fall. Under new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, the job description of pass rushers like Dallas Turner should be simplified, which should ultimately lead to increased production. Although some were disappointed with his sophomore campaign, it is entirely within reason to expect double-digit sacks from Turner in 2023.

Kool-Aid McKinstry could be the nation’s top cover corner in 2023. The Birmingham product got on the field early at Alabama, and progressed rapidly in his sophomore season. He doubles as a standout punt returner, and was voted to All-American teams on both defense and special teams in 2022.

Opposing teams likely won’t punt to Kool-Aid very often, but his contributions on defense and the way he can effect field position throughout the course of a game make him arguably the most impactful player on the team.

As is the case in most years, Alabama Football has high expectations in 2023. If the season goes well, JC Latham, Dallas Turner, and Kool-Aid McKinstry will all have enormous amounts of individual success that will coincide with team and program accomplishments.

Next. Assessing Bama's 2024 recruiting class. dark

Ideally? Another national title.