Alabama Football: Replacing Caleb Downs no easy task

Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan
Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

The roster attrition Alabama Football experienced following the retirement of Coach Nick Saban was overstated on a national level, but one transfer portal exit in particular could make a significant impact on the Tide’s 2024 defense.

Caleb Downs was the best safety in college football as a true freshman at Alabama in 2023. He will probably be the best safety in the country once again in 2024, although he will be suiting up for the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

With Downs departing, as well as Jaylen Key exhausting his eligibility and Kristian Story transferring to Kentucky, Alabama Football will look very different at the safety position in 2024.

Graduate student Malachi Moore returns for his fifth season, and is the undisputed vocal leader of the secondary and perhaps the entire defense. Moore, who has typically played the star role, has appeared in 52 career games, notching 144 tackles, 21 pass breakups, and five interceptions. Moore could very well remain at the nickel corner position, but he has been lauded for his versatility throughout his career. He will be a prime candidate to help fill the void at safety. 

Redshirt junior Devonta Smith may be the best true safety on the roster. Smith made waves during fall camp last season before his season was derailed by an injury. He is a veteran presence that will raise the floor of this room and give Bama a reliable option on the back end. 

Sophomore Tony Mitchell didn’t see the field much in year one after off-field issues likely inhibited his development and acclimation to SEC football. Still, he was a highly-touted recruit and already possesses an NFL-ready frame. Tony Mitchell flashes the traits of a vintage Nick Saban safety, and could prove to be Bama’s first difference-maker at the position under Kalen DeBoer.

Sophomore Bray Hubbard could also factor into the safety competition. Hubbard is one of the most underrated athletes on the entire roster, and was a special teams standout as a true freshman in 2023. With the safety room experiencing some unexpected departures, Hubbard will have an even greater opportunity to earn playing time.

Alabama Football brings in several incoming freshmen in the secondary. Among the early enrollees, 5-star DB Zay Mincey and 4-star safety Peyton Woodyard are probably the most college-ready and could immediately compete for snaps at safety. 

There is a lot of talent available in the safety room for Alabama Football, but there is hardly a proven commodity at the position. This lack of experience may push the coaching staff to shop the portal for a veteran safety this spring, just as Coach Saban did last year when he brought in Jaylen Key. 

This is definitely a position group to keep a close eye on throughout spring practice.