Two Alabama Units Ranked as Most-Talented Position Groups in 2022
Alabama’s defense has drawn strong comparisons to the 2016 unit because of the high number of All-Conference and All-American level players. According to 247Sports, the linebacker and secondary units are two of the top six most-talented position groups in college football heading into the 2022 season.
All-American linebacker Will Anderson has been vocal this offseason about what everyone can expect from the Crimson Tide defense.
“The personality of this defense is just to be mean, play fast, hit people in the mouth, stop the run and get them in third down situations so we can get off the field," said Anderson in March.
"I think this year is gonna be something special,” he said in April. “You guys talk about the 2016 defense's pass rush, I feel like you guys are definitely getting ready to see that again because we have a lot of talented young guys on the edge and the D-line room."
Anderson stuffed the stat sheet last season with 17.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss, leading the country in both. He brought home the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive player and earned unanimous All-American honors.
Dallas Turner became a starter in week six and never relinquished his position. He racked up 8.5 sacks in Alabama’s final seven games and earned Freshman All-American honors. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound outside linebacker has only scratched the surface of what level of player he will be and with another year in the Alabama weight and film room, sky is the limit for Turner in 2022.
Behind them is former five-star recruit Chris Braswell. Anderson, Turner and Braswell form one of the more frightening trios in modern college football.
Henry To’oto’o and Jaylen Moody occupy the two middle linebacker spots. To’oto’o recorded a team-high 113 tackles, 8.5 for loss, four sacks and two pass breakups to earn second-team All-SEC honors. The rising senior has made 37 career starts in his collegiate career. Moody appeared in all 15 games last season as a reserve and special teams contributor. The fifth year senior will step into a starting role in 2022.
In the secondary, Alabama has a vast amount of talent, depth and experience.
Kool-Aid McKinstry and Eli Ricks are the favorites to start at cornerback in 2022. McKinstry appeared in all 15 games, including six starts as a true freshman this past season. The former five-star recruit recorded 25 tackles, one sack, one interception, one pass breakup and was named to the Freshman All-SEC team. Ricks transferred to Alabama in December after spending two seasons at LSU. He has recorded five interceptions in his career and earned third-team All-American honors as a freshman in 2020. Ricks was rated as the No. 1 cornerback on ESPN’s 2023 Big Board.
Khyree Jackson will also be in the mix. He earned significant playing time in the Cotton Bowl against Cincinnati and got the start in the national championship.
The Tide have incredible size and length at the cornerback position with McKinstry, Ricks and Jackson all standing at least 6’1”.
Rising juniors Brian Branch and Malachi Moore will hold down the star and dime positions respectively. The two of them have played significant roles in the Alabama secondary each of the last two seasons. Branch tallied 55 tackles, five for loss, one sack and a team-high nine pass breakups this past season. Moore has forced five turnovers in his career. The Alabama native earned second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-American honors in 2020.
Branch and Moore fly around the football field and have a nose for the ball. They have a high football IQ and their versatility makes it easy to move them around in the secondary.
The Tide return starters, Jordan Battle and DeMarrco Hellams at safety. Battle has appeared in all 41 games, including 31 starts during his time in Tuscaloosa. He registered 86 tackles, three interceptions (two were returned for a touchdown) and three pass breakups this past season, which earned him first-team All-SEC and third-team All-American honors.
Hellams became a full-time starter in 2021 after getting the start in both of Alabama’s college football playoff games in 2020. He finished the season with 87 tackles, 2.5 for loss, three interceptions and three pass breakups.
Alabama will open the season on Sep. 3 against Utah State. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CT.