Predicting the depth chart for Alabama football in 2023

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Alabama defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) runs the ball against University of Louisiana Monroe at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, AL on Saturday, Sep 17, 2022.

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Peyton Davis

Change has been a theme for Alabama football this offseason, and that may not be a bad thing. Following a season where Alabama did not appear in the College Football Playoff for only the second time since its inaugural year, Nick Saban has flipped the coaching staff most notably at both coordinator positions – replacing the older veteran Bill O’Brien with a coach in his early 30s in Tommy Rees as the team’s offensive play caller, and mutually parting ways with Pete Golding after five years with the program to bring back former linebacker coach Kevin Steele to try and recapture the physicality of some of Alabama’s historic defenses of the past.

The coaching staff is only the beginning of the turnover for the program going into the 2023 season, as the roster will also have the least amount of returning production on both offense and defense in the entire SEC – replacing some of their top starters like quarterback Bryce Young and running back Jahmyr Gibbs offensively and edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. and safety Brian Branch on the other side of the ball. There are many starting spots that have yet to be determined less than three months before the start of the season, so here is our most educated prediction on how those position battles may shake out ahead of next fall.

Quarterback

  • Starter: Jalen Milroe
  • Order: Tyler Buchner, Ty Simpson, Dylan Lonergan, Eli Holstein

This is where things start, and probably end, for the Crimson Tide in 2023, as the QB spot features one of the most important position battles in all of college football. Milroe made some waves this offseason with hosting a workout with the receiver room in Tampa earlier this month, and reportedly “has momentum” in the three man race to win the job, according to ESPN College Football analyst Paul Finebaum.

If Milroe wins the job, he’d give Alabama’s offense its highest possible ceiling because of his elite arm strength and speed. Milroe could be among college football’s most dangerous players if he refines his game.

The latter portion of that statement is a big if, however, as his ability from the pocket is still a work in progress (evident by his 19-37, 245-yard performance in the A-Day game).

Buchner was Tommy Rees’ starting quarterback last year at Notre Dame, and he transferred in to take advantage of the lacking experience in the Alabama quarterback room. In 2022 he was 1-2 as a starter for the Fighting Irish, and he’s showed flaws as a passer.

Simpson is the third man up for the spot, and he is also the most gifted and natural thrower of the three, but he seems to have an uphill battle and will have to show that he is more advanced and accurate than the other two to win this job.

Verdict: Saban and Rees will likely go with the upside and running ability of redshirt sophomore Milroe.

Running back

  • Starter: Jase McClellan
  • Order: Justice Haynes, Roydell Williams, Jamarian Miller

Even after losing one of their top weapons, Jahmyr Gibbs, to the NFL this offseason, the Crimson Tide still has plenty of talent in the backfield going into 2023. Jase McClellan has been waiting patiently for his opportunity as the man at running back for the Tide, and will get every opportunity in his senior season at Alabama. His combination of vision between the tackles and speed earned him carries down the stretch in 2022, eclipsing ten in three of the last four games of the season, and his fit in Tommy Rees’s run heavy offense is nearly perfect – finishing 7th in the conference in yards per attempt with 5.8. Haynes is an incoming freshman, and likely is the future for the program in the backfield – shown in his three touchdown performance in the A Day game. He is small in stature, only 5’9, but is extremely smooth and agile, which made him the second ranked running back and five star recruit in the Class of 2023.

Verdict: He gets the nod at the second slot in the depth chart over junior Roydell Williams, who will get plenty of short yardage opportunities in the 2023 season for the Tide.

Wide Receiver

  • Starters: Malik Benson, Jermaine Burton, Ja’Corey Brooks, Isaiah Bond
  • Order: Kobe Prentice, Kendrick Law, Shazz Preston, Jalen Hale

The first six of this group will all get reps in the rotation for the Tide next season, but Rees’ offense is likely to feature far less four receiver formations than O’Brien’s offense of the past two years because of his run first tendencies.

There’s a combination of athleticism and high upside that could make this group elite for the Tide in 2023. A lot of the unit’s success relies on who will be throwing the ball next season, but expectations should be high after struggling with separation and drops in 2022.

Verdict: No matter what, the 2023 receiving group will have to be better than last year’s unit because they won’t have the luxury of Bryce Young commanding the offense this upcoming fall.

Tight End

  • Starter: C.J. Dippre
  • Order: Amari Niblack, Robbie Outz, Danny Lewis Jr.

The junior Maryland transfer, Dippre, wins because of his size and run blocking prowess, which is important in Rees’ new offense. They will also utilize the depth at the position much more than the past two years under O’Brien.

Verdict: Both Dippre and a player like Niblack could emerge as important pass catchers for the Tide in 2023.

Offensive Line

  • Starters (left to right): Elijah Pritchett, Darian Dalcourt, Seth McClaughlin, Tyler Booker, J.C. Latham
  • Order: Kadyn Proctor, Terrence Ferguson II

The offensive line has some continuity, but also a position battle at both left guard and tackle ahead of the fall. Sophomore Elijah Pritchett will have to fight off five star freshman Kadyn Proctor, who will challenge Pritchett early on in the season, but Prichett gets the nod week one.

Graduate senior Darian Dalcourt, who has spent some time at center the last few years, was outplayed by McClaughlin when he came in for relief last season. However, Dalcourt could still slot in at left guard but will have to hold off redshirt sophomore Terrence Ferguson II.

Verdict: The right side is among the best offensive line tandems in the entire country with sophomore Tyler Booker at guard, and potential first round pick J.C. Latham at tackle.

Defensive Line

  • Starters: ENDs – Tim Smith, Justin Eboigbe DT – Jaheim Oatis
  • Order: ENDs – Jamil Burroughs, Damon Payne Jr., Khurtiss Perry DTs – James Smith, Tim Keenan III

The starting group in Smith, Eboigbe and Oatis seems to be clear, but there always seems to be names that emerge because of the way the defense constantly rotates its line. Oatis is a name to watch after a strong freshman year where his size (6-foot 5, 320 pounds) and blend of unique athleticism flashed in multiple games last year, and Eboigbe looks to bounce back after a neck injury ended his season last fall.

Linebackers

  • Starters: EDGEs – Dallas Turner, Chris Braswell ILBs – Deonte Lawson, Jihaad Campbell
  • Order: EDGEs – Keon Keeley, Jeremiah Alexander, Qua Russow, Quandarious Robinson ILBs – Trezmen Marshall, Kendrick Blackshire, Justin Jefferson, Shawn Murphy

The Tide return edge rushers Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell, who have both showed major flashes in the last two years – especially Turner – who is one of the top returning edge rushers in the entire country. However, the inside linebackers could be a breakout unit in 2023.

Deonte Lawson earned a starting spot down the stretch of last season in his freshman year, and Bama landed Georgia linebacker Trezmen Marshall, who played significant snaps for the Bulldogs in 2022. However, former five star and rising sophomore Jihaad Cambell has extreme athletic upside and size (6-foot 3, 230 pounds) that is too much to keep him off the field for the Tide in 2023.

Verdict: Campbell gets the nod and emerges as the next great Alabama mike linebacker over next season.

Cornerbacks

  • Starters: Outside – Kool-Aid Mckinstry, Earl Little II/Terrion Arnold STAR – Malachi Moore
  • Order: Outside – Trey Amos, Desmond Ricks, Antonio Kite STAR – Earl Little II

This group is highlighted by the top cornerback in the entire country in Kool-Aid Mckinstry going into his junior year, but there is still a lot of talent behind him.

On the other side, sophomore Terrion Arnold looks like the favorite to start initially, but will have to beat out University of Louisiana transfer Trey Amos along with another sophomore in Earl Little II – who impressed in the spring.

At the slot corner, or STAR position as it is famously known as at Alabama, Malachi Moore is the clear favorite to be the day one starter going into his junior season – and helped himself in the Spring – earning MVP honors at the A Day game. Little will also backup Moore in the slot, as he worked on both positions in the spring.

Safeties

  • Starters: FS – Jaylen Key/Caleb Downs, SS – Malachi Moore
  • Order: Jake Pope, DeVonta Smith

The STAR position is the combination of both slot corner and strong safety, so Moore fits that mold uniquely with his versatility in coverage, however must improve as a tackler tp hold that position. At free safety, UAB transfer Jaylen Key and five star freshman Caleb Downs will both compete for snaps initially.

Downs had an extremely impressive Spring, and has the makeup as a prospect to be the next great Alabama safety, however, Key was a sought after transfer that Saban landed after Spring and will relieve pressure off Downs to be great immediately.

Verdict: They’ll both get significant snaps, and Downs will emerge as the guy later into the season. Still, the secondary as a whole projects as one of if not the top unit in the country as a whole, and will be a major reason for the defenses success in 2023.

Kicker/Punter

  • Starters: Kicker – Will Reichard Punter – James Burnip

Reichard returned for his fifth year, but gives the Tide insurance at kicker, which is extremely important given the positions inconsistency in the Saban era. Burnip looks to develop further after improving in his second year as a starter.

Verdict: It is hard to project so many different new faces at multiple positions in June when the season doesn’t start for another two and a half months, but either way, Alabama has a lot to be excited about with its 2023 roster.

Categories: Alabama, College Sports, Local News