In the modern age of college football, every program experiences transfer portal departures in every offseason. In the midst of a coaching change, a mass exodus via the portal is hardly out of the ordinary. While it navigates the biggest and most publicized coaching change in the history of the sport, Alabama Football must work to keep its supremely talented roster intact.
Every returning player is important to keep in the boat, and projected starters are especially critical. Here are the five most important players for new coach Kalen DeBoer to keep on the 2024 roster.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Ty Simpson
While competition is open and ongoing, Jalen Milroe is the starting quarterback for Alabama Football until someone takes the job from him. With that being said, Milroe already appears to be locked in as a returner and a vocal supporter of Coach DeBoer. This is a huge development for Alabama Football to have such a key cog and leader back on the offensive side of the ball.
Milroe’s decisiveness and support for the new regime allows DeBoer to turn his attention to Ty Simpson. Simpson is a talented passer and former 5-star recruit who saw time in six games this past fall. He displayed true dual-threat ability, and looked much improved in his late-season appearances. As Simpson continues to polish his skillset, the gap between him and Milroe may continue to shrink. Many already expected a heated QB competition to ensue this spring. Now, with a new coaching staff in place, both quarterbacks figure to have a clean slate.
Additionally, Simpson appears to be a better fit for what DeBoer has traditionally wanted in a quarterback. He may not overtake Milroe in 2024, but he is the future of the QB room and it is critical that Kalen DeBoer keeps him in Tuscaloosa.
Sophomore running back Justice Haynes
Justice Haynes may be the most gifted running back Alabama has had since 2020 Heisman finalist Najee Harris. Haynes is expected to be a key figure in the Alabama backfield, and will likely compete with Jam Miller for RB1 honors.
With Isaiah Bond and Ryan Williams presumably landing elsewhere, Haynes may be the most explosive playmaker on the new-look Alabama offense. He is also a former 5-star recruit who was sought after by several elite programs, so it would be a statement for DeBoer to keep him on the roster.
Redshirt junior guard Jaeden Roberts
Junior guard Tyler Booker has already indicated that he plans to come back, and Jaeden Roberts doing the same would cement Bama’s interior offensive line as one of the nation’s best. Roberts was a revelation in 2023, taking over at guard midway through the season and giving the entire offensive line a boost.
Left tackle Kadyn Proctor is equally important. The former 5-star started as a true freshman and showed significant amounts of growth and development this past fall. His return and continued improvement would give Bama an All-SEC caliber player on the blindside in year one running Kalen DeBoer’s offense.
Redshirt junior linebacker Deontae Lawson
Redshirt junior linebacker Deontae Lawson is a stalwart and leader in the middle of the Alabama defense. Lawson’s athleticism and communication skills alike would be very difficult to replace at this point in the offseason.
With Lawson and fellow inside linebacker Jihaad Campbell hopefully back in the fold, the Alabama defense would be very solid in its interior.
Sophomore safety Caleb Downs
Caleb Downs was arguably the best true freshman in all of college football in 2023 and may be the most important piece for Kalen DeBoer to keep around. Downs has the capability to be the most impactful defensive player in the SEC next season.
Alabama Football is already slated to lose safety Jaylen Key and cornerbacks Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold to the NFL Draft. Along with veteran Malachi Moore, Caleb Downs would be the leader in the secondary in 2024.
There are several other players that Alabama Football needs to keep on the roster if it wants to compete for a championship in 2024, but these are among the most important in my opinion. Bama still has one of the most talented rosters in the sport. If Kalen DeBoer can keep that roster mostly intact, the championship standard should not dip next fall.