Saturday, January 28, 2023
HomeFootball2022 FootballEarly Signing Day Recap and Roster Analysis: 2023 Alabama Crimson Tide

Early Signing Day Recap and Roster Analysis: 2023 Alabama Crimson Tide

Wednesday’s impressive Early Signing Day haul was cause for much optimism within the Alabama fan base, as Alabama addressed every need on what has become a rather long wishlist. In addition, Alabama averaged a -scale 9.89 across 27 signees (PK Conor Talty, like all specialists, is not included in our rankings), the third-highest grade of any Saban class at Alabama, behind 2017 (9.94) and 2019 (9.90).

The following is a look at the players Alabama signed, and how those players are likely to fit into a very preliminary for 2023. Editor’s note: In parentheses following each signee’s name is their listed height, weight, 40-yard dash times and rating, and those already on campus are denoted by displaying their names in blue boldface type, while key walk-ons in the have an asterisk by their names:


QUARTERBACKS
Returning: Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson, Amanni Stewart*, Caleb Carruth*
Gone: Bryce Young
Signed: Eli Holstein (6-4, 220, 4.6, 10.0N), Dylan Lonergan (6-2, 220, 4.7, 9.8N)

Analysis: It’s unlikely all four scholarshipped quarterbacks will remain on the roster heading into the 2023 season, just because that’s the way things work in a limitless transfer environment. The most likely scenario is for Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson to fight it out in spring ball, with the loser of the QB battle transferring elsewhere over summer camp. A lot of things currently unknown will go into that, most important being who Alabama taps to be its next year.

If Alabama retains Bill O’Brien, or hires a similarly-minded coach, the style of play would seem to favor Ty Simpson, while an that utilizes more zone and RPO concepts – think former OC and current Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, or former Florida and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen – would play more to Milroe’s strengths. As for the signees, both Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan are athletic quarterbacks with good scrambling ability, but are much more similar to Simpson than to Milroe.

Alabama also has a pair of walk-ons with decent ability, Amanni Stewart and Caleb Carruth, but this battle won’t get past the players on scholarship. If Milroe or Simpson leave, Holstein and Lonergan will fight for the top backup job and thus, one of them should get significant playing time in 2023.


RUNNING BACKS
Returning: Jase McClellan, Roydell Williams, Jamarion Miller, Jonathan Bennett*
Gone: Jahmyr Gibbs, Trey Sanders
Signed: Richard Young (5-10, 205, 4.5, 9.9N), Justice Haynes (5-10, 205, 4.5, 9.9N)

Analysis: Alabama signed two virtually identical running backs in and Justice Haynes to replace Jahmyr Gibbs (NFL) and Trey Sanders (portal). This will be one of the most intriguing battles on the field in spring and fall camps, because all five of Alabama’s scholarshipped running backs have virtually the same build, and there is no clear leader for the position at this time. No one at this position is particularly big; the most physical of the holdovers is probably Jamarion Miller, and the two veterans, McClellan and Williams, have had durability issues.

Alabama typically plays three running backs with its A-group over the course of a season, as it did this year with Gibbs, McClellan and Williams. Neither Young nor Haynes enrolled early but both have been listed among others that have the option to enroll in January. While the smart money is on a one-two combination of McClellan and Williams, both seniors, with Miller battling the freshman for the third spot, running back is one of the easiest positions on the field for a true freshman to break through. Alabama also has a walk-on with decent ability, Jonathan Bennett, who has played before and remains on the roster.


WIDE RECEIVERS
Returning:
Ja’Corey Brooks, Isaiah Bond, Shazz Preston, Jermaine Burton, Kendrick Law, Kobe Prentice, Emmanuel Henderson, Thaiu Jones-Bell, Tyler Harrell
Gone: Christian Leary, Traeshon Holden, JoJo Earle, Aaron Anderson, Jacoby Boykins
Signed: Malik Benson (6-2, 185, 4.4, 10.0N, JUCO), Jalen Hale (6-1, 180, 4.5, 9.9N), Jaren Hamilton (6-1, 180, 4.5, 9.8N), Cole Adams (5-10, 180, 4.5, 9.7)

Analysis: There may not have been a more disappointing, erratic unit on the 2022 Alabama Crimson Tide team than this one, as no alpha ever stepped up, and there were far too many drops and mental mistakes. Alabama brought in two receivers from the transfer portal, Georgia’s Jermaine Burton and Louisville’s Tyler Harrell, but Harrell couldn’t get healthy and Burton proved to be more of a complementary part than a featured star. Harrell went through Senior Day in November, but has another year of eligibility if he wants to use it, and so far he remains on the roster. Burton decided to come back for his senior season, but his two co-starters, Traeshon Holden and JoJo Earle, are headed elsewhere, along with Christian Leary and one of Alabama’s top-ranked signees of a year ago, Aaron Anderson.

Also departing is Jacoby Boykins, who had turned down multiple scholarship offers to walk on at Alabama. While the starting lineup would appear to be set for 2023 – Burton should get one spot, while Ja’Corey Brooks moves up out of a co-starting role with Holden, and Kobe Prentice retakes the slot position from Earle – Alabama brought in four new players, including a JUCO signee in Malik Benson. Benson’s tape reveals a receiver with a lot of route discipline already baked into his game, good speed and good hands.

JUCO signees aren’t typically signed to sit, so Benson would figure to be the most likely candidate to challenge the expected starters for a job. Isaiah Bond, who has elite speed and who came on later in the year, would be the other. Kendrick Law appears to have a little John Metchie in him – physical, strong hands and unafraid to challenge DBs. Emmanuel Henderson and Shazz Preston both have talent but may be on a longer developmental curve, while veteran holdover Thaiu Jones-Bell has yet to crack the playing rotation.

The true freshmen signees – Jalen Hale, Jaren Hamilton and Cole Adams – all have potential, with Hale probably having the best shot of the three to play as a true freshman. The signing of Benson probably takes Alabama out of the transfer game here, especially if Harrell comes back.


TIGHT ENDS

Returning: Robbie Ouzts, Danny Lewis, Miles Kitselman, Amari Niblack, Elijah Brown, Charlie Skehan*, Jax Porter*, Adam Thorsland*, Robert Ellis*
Gone: Cameron Latu, Kendall Randolph
Signed: Ty Lockwood (6-4, 230, 4.8, 9.8N)

Analysis: We include tight ends within the wide receiver category once the season gets going, but break it out here for a more targeted discussion. Last year’s starter, Cameron Latu, is out of eligibility, as is Kendall Randolph, who played six years as a reserve tight end and offensive lineman. Latu never really shook the tweener label – too big for H, not enough of an inline blocker for Y – but he was athletic, had good hands and was generally reliable.

This is probably the position most in question for Alabama in 2023, aside from perhaps safety, but it would have been far more troubling had Robbie Ouzts not gotten healthy late in the year. His Auburn game tape especially stood out, and it will be interesting to see what role he might have in the Sugar Bowl. Ouzts is better at H than Y, so the big question is whether Alabama will go to the transfer portal for help – Maryland TE C.J. Dippre is choosing between Alabama and Ohio State soon – or rely on some combination of Danny Lewis, Miles Kitselman, Amari Niblack, Elijah Brown and signee Ty Lockwood.

Lockwood will need a bit more size to play Y, so Ouzts would probably have to play up rather than back until Lockwood grew into the job. Lewis, Kitselman and Brown have more of the optimal measurables for the position; Kitselman started the year with Ouzts as a co-starter when Latu had to miss time for an injury, but he fell behind Lewis as the season went along. Brown entered early in 2022 and went through spring practice, but had a poor spring and then disappeared from the discussion entirely as the fall arrived. Amari Niblack is a pure H and may actually be an option at wide receiver; he does not have the bulk yet to play on the line.

Alabama has several walk-ons with potential, led by Charlie Skehan, who started at H for the second offense at A-Day and ended up getting a small amount of action in the fall. Jax Porter turned down at least a couple of FBS offers to walk on at Alabama, but was behind Skehan, Adam Thorsland and Robert Ellis at year’s end. For now, all eyes are on Dippre’s transfer decision.


OFFENSIVE LINE
Returning: J.C. Latham, Jaeden Roberts, Terrence Ferguson, Seth McLaughlin, James Brockermeyer, Tyler Booker, Elijah Pritchett, Graham Roten*, Braxton Wetzler*, Wilder Hines*
Gone: Damieon George Jr., Tanner Bowles, Javion Cohen, Tommy Brockermeyer, Amari Kight, Tyler Steen, Emil Ekiyor Jr., Darrian Dalcourt, Kendall Randolph, Jackson Roby
Signed: RyQueze McElderry (6-3, 340, 5.5, 9.8N), Miles McVay (6-6, 360, 5.5, 9.8N), Wilkin Formby (6-7, 320, 5.3, 9.8N), Olaus Alinen (6-6, 315, 5.2, 9.9N), Kadyn Proctor (6-8, 340, 5.2, 10.0N)

Analysis: For the most part, Alabama’s offensive line played well, especially after Seth McLaughlin took over for Darrian Dalcourt at center. Tyler Steen was more of a blue-collar option at than Alabama has been accustomed to, but the alternative would have been to start Kendall Randolph or Amari Kight at the position.

Aside from Dalcourt’s struggles, the most bothersome aspect of the line was the three-man rotation at guard, which worked really well on the weeks Javion Cohen was playing up to par, and not so well on the weeks in which he was not. Still, Cohen finished his Alabama career without ever being tagged with an allowed sack. He, Kight, and three other reserves – G/T Damieon George Jr., G/C and T Tommy Brockermeyer – all entered the transfer portal at year’s end.

The biggest issue such a mass exodus creates for Alabama is in regard to depth. James Brockermeyer now becomes the backup center by default, and Alabama will probably need him at some point in 2023, because McLaughlin’s durability isn’t a long suit.

Three signees – G RyQueze McElderry, T Wilkin Formby and G/T Miles McVay – are already on campus and will compete at A-Day. This is a good thing, because absent their arrival, Alabama didn’t have enough linemen to split up the for a scrimmage. J.C. Latham was Alabama’s best lineman in 2022 and will play one of the tackle spots, with the other probably going to Elijah Pritchett, who certainly looks the part.

Tyler Booker moves out of his co-starting role with Cohen and will be the team’s top guard, with the other position probably ending up in the hands of either Terrence Ferguson or Jaeden Roberts. As for the signees, RyQueze McElderry is a pure guard, Wilkin Formby a pure tackle and Myles McVay occupies some role in between, but closer to guard than tackle.

Having either McElderry or McVay come out of spring with the other guard spot opposite Booker wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Eventually, Olaus Alinen and will join the mix, and that’s when things will really get interesting. has Proctor rated no worse than Alabama’s No. 2 prospect in this class, and he’s the prototype for a modern left tackle. Alinen (and Formby) have more work to do before they’re ready for SEC ball, but both have great potential.

As for walk-ons, Graham Roten, Braxton Wetzler and Wilder Hines all figure to see time at A-Day if they stick it out, just due to numbers, but once fall gets here, Alabama should have playing rotations made up entirely of players on scholarship.


DEFENSIVE LINE
Returning: Tim Smith, Jaheim Oatis, Jamil Burroughs, Jah-Marien Latham, Justin Eboigbe, Tim Keenan, Damon Payne Jr., Monkell Goodwine, Anquin Barnes, Khurtis Perry, Isaiah Hastings
Gone: D.J. Dale, Byron Young
Signed: Hunter Osborne (6-4, 250, 4.9, 9.8N), James Smith (6-3, 305, 5.1, 10.0N), Edric Hill (6-2, 280, 5.0, 9.8N), Jordan Renaud (6-4, 250, 4.9, 9.9N)

Analysis: This unit underachieved for almost the entirety of 2022, and now the two most consistent players are moving on, DE Byron Young and DT D.J. Dale. The deciding factor in how the defensive line will perform in 2023, at least in regard to personnel, is whether DT/E Justin Eboigbe is able to continue his career after suffering a neck injury, and whether can finally turn the corner. If Eboigbe is back, he will start alongside NT Jaheim Oatis and probably Smith, but Jamil Burroughs came on strongly at the end of the year and will push Smith for a starting role.

If Eboigbe cannot return, Burroughs will almost certainly start opposite Smith, and then the question is who will join Jah-Marien Latham coming off the bench first. Damon Payne Jr. had some good moments late in the year that portend greater things in 2023, but Alabama’s first priority will probably be to find a backup at nosetackle behind Oatis now that Dale has graduated. Tim Keenan looked poised to fill that role after a strong spring in 2022, but the promise never materialized once fall arrived. Monkell Goodwine and Isaiah Hastings both played sparingly, while Khurtis Perry redshirted to gain weight. Anquin Barnes may end up moving to offensive line if he can’t establish himself quickly in spring practice.

As for the signees, enrolled early, but he will be limited to a DE role until he gains weight. Jordan Renaud is in the same boat, and probably needs a little more bulk to play a tackle role. But James Smith needs no such time; he was the top interior defensive tackle available and could easily wind up in the A-group by the time the season kicks off. Given the issues Alabama is facing at the two DE positions, spring and fall camps will both be crucial to the success of the season, and the path is clear for Smith and maybe one other signee to make an early impact.


LINEBACKERS
Returning: Chris Braswell, Dallas Turner, Deontae Lawson, Kendrick Blackshire, Shawn Murphy, Quandarrius Robinson, Demouy Kennedy, Ian Jackson, Jihaad Campbell, Keanu Koht, Jeremiah Alexander
Gone: Henry To’o To’o, Jaylen Moody, Will Anderson Jr.
Signed: Justin Jefferson (6-2, 220, 4.5, 10.0N, JUCO), Yhonzae Pierre (6-4, 220, 4.8, 9.9N), Qua Russaw (6-3, 230, 4.8, 9.9N), Keon Keeley (6-6, 240, 4.7, 10.0N)

Analysis: Even though was Alabama’s best linebacker by far in 2022, it could be less difficult to replace him effectively than it will be to cover the losses of ILBs Henry To’o To’o and Jaylen Moody. Deontae Lawson will move out of a co-starting role with Moody to take one of the spots, likely weakside linebacker, but the middle is going to be a fight. Kendrick Blackshire had the spot nailed down until a midseason injury gave Shawn Murphy a chance to play a bit.

The primary competition for the job will come from the lone inside linebacker Alabama signed this sequence, JUCO transfer Justin Jefferson. Given Jefferson’s high rating and status as an upperclassman, it will be somewhat of a surprise if Jefferson doesn’t play a key role this fall. Ian Jackson also has a chance to make a play for time.

Outside, is slated to replace Anderson opposite Dallas Turner, and Turner could take on an expanded role that would include some ILB assignments in passing downs. Demouy Kennedy had found a role as both an inside and outside linebacker prior to tearing up a knee in the Arkansas game. If he’s healthy, he’ll battle Quandarrius Robinson for the third OLB spot.

Jihaad Campbell and Jeremiah Alexander could play either inside or outside linebacker, but were well behind the other names on this last during 2022. Keanu Koht came to as an outside linebacker with great potential, but has been injured multiple times and needs to find a way to stay healthy.

Alabama signed three outside linebackers this cycle, Qua Russaw, Yhonzae Pierre and Keon Keeley. Russaw could wind up growing into a pure defensive end role; if he stays at outside linebacker, it will probably be in a role not unlike the one Denzel Devall or Anfernee Jennings had. Pierre and Keeley are pure edge rushers, although Keeley has a significantly stouter frame and could eventually take on more assignments on the DE side of things.


DEFENSIVE BACKS
Returning: Ga’Quincy McKinstry, Malachi Moore, Kristian Story, Brian Branch, Eli Ricks, Earl Little II, Devonta Smith, Jahquez Robinson, Jake Pope, Terrion Arnold, Tre’Quan Fegans, Antonio Kite
Gone: Khyree Jackson, Jordan Battle, DeMarcco Hellams
Signed: Brayson Hubbard (6-2, 190, 4.5, 9.8N), Desmond Ricks (6-1, 170, 4.4, 10.0N), Jahlil Hurley (6-2, 170, 4.6, 9.8N), Caleb Downs (6-1, 195, 4.5, 10.0N), Tony Mitchell (6-2, 200, 4.6, 9.8N)

Analysis: A lot will depend on whether Eli Ricks and Brian Branch follow through with moving on to the NFL a year early. Neither has made a definitive statement one way or the other, although both reportedly have first-round grades and will probably opt to exit. If they don’t, then Alabama simply has to replace its two high safeties, Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams. Alabama could do that with existing personnel, moving Kristian Story and Devonta Smith up from their reserve roles, or possibly shifting Terrion Arnold, who played cornerback exclusively in 2022, to one of the spots.

If Ricks and Branch move on, though, things get tougher. The makeup of the defensive alignment would hinge greatly on Malachi Moore, currently Alabama’s dime safety. He can play either high safety or in the box, and where the coaches chose to play him would likely determine whether Story and Smith played high safety and Moore in the box, or whether Moore went up to high safety and Jahquez Robinson or Arnold would come in at Star. Either way, Alabama would need a new dime safety, likely to be reserve CB Earl Little II if the season were to start tomorrow.

As for the others, Antonio Kite played in a couple of games as a reserve cornerback, and Tre’Quan Fegans received good reviews during last year’s two camps. Jake Pope still appears to need a bit of size before he can contribute at safety. Of the signees, Brayson Hubbard was a two-way player in high school and some schools liked him at quarterback; he’s on campus now, and is expected to eventually join the mix at high safety for Alabama.

In-state stars Jahlil Hurley (CB) and Tony Mitchell (S) are big-bodied, physical players who don’t have elite speed, but play with good technique. Mitchell is also a physical hitter. The two studs of the class are undoubtedly Desmond Ricks, one of the top cornerbacks available, and Caleb Downs, who was in the running for the top player nationally, not just the top player of Alabama’s class. Downs has as good a shot to start as any returning player, regardless of experience level, while Ricks could allow Arnold to move positions. Alabama will have to replace a lot of lost experience in Hellams and Battle, but could wind up actually improving with the changes in personnel.


SPECIAL TEAMS
Returning: James Burnip, Chase Allen, Kneeland Hibbett, Reid Schuback*, Upton Bellenfant*, Nick Serpa*
Gone: Will Reichard, Jack Martin
Signed: Conor Talty (6-0, 190, *.*, *.*, PK)

Analysis: Placekicker Will Reichard had another year available, but chose to move on to the pros, and the loss is a substantial one. It was made even more substantial by the fact that Jack Martin, the primary backup at both punter and placekicker, chose to transfer. Signee Conor Talty won’t join the team until the fall, which means Chase Allen, who was Alabama’s kickoff specialist for a time two years ago, will probably come out of spring camp as the kicker. Allen may have displaced Martin as the backup kicker during the 2022 season, according to some reports out of Tuscaloosa, which if so, likely prompted Martin to enter the portal. At punter, James Burnip has the spot nailed down.

Alabama has a better depth situation now at punter, where walk-ons Upton Bellenfant and Nick Serpa had better resumes coming out of high school than Reid Schuback did as a placekicker. Long-snapper Kneeland Hibbett also returns, and Burnip handles the holding duties for kicks.

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