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Transfer portal primer: A look at Alabama's needs and potential targets

Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. Photo | Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban. Photo | Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

College football’s free agency equivalent is here as the transfer portal officially opened Monday. The upcoming transfer window will run from Monday until Jan. 18 while a second period will open from May 1-15.

After adding five college transfers last offseason, Alabama is expected to be active in the market again over the next few months. Here’s a look at some of the position groups the Crimson Tide could target.

Defensive back 

Alabama could see plenty of attrition in the secondary this offseason. Senior safeties Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams don’t appear likely to take advantage of their extra year of eligibility while juniors Eli Ricks and Brian Branch are projected as early-round picks in next year’s NFL Draft. If all four depart, that would leave cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry as the only returning member of the Crimson Tide’s preferred first-team nickel secondary.

The situation isn’t quite as dire as it appears. Terrion Arnold started seven games at cornerback this season and would be the favorite to line up across from McKinstry if Ricks departs from to the NFL. Malachi Moore has 20 starts over his three years with the program and would likely take Branch’s spot at the Star position. Moore could also serve as a safety, which figures to be where Alabama needs more help moving forward.

With Battle and Hellams out of the picture, Alabama lacks experience in the backend of its secondary. Junior Kristian Story and sophomore DeVonta Smith are currently the next two up on the depth chart. However, freshmen Earl Little II and Jake Pope could be poised to break out next year. Alabama is also bringing in three top-50 defensive backs — Caleb Downs, Jahil Hurley and Tony Mitchell — in this year’s class.

Portal outlook: Alabama already has plenty of talent in the secondary, so any portal addition would preferably have some experience. At the moment, there isn’t an ideal match for the Crimson Tide.

That being said, keep an eye on a pair of freshmen in Texas A&M cornerback Denver Harris and Florida State safety Sam McCall, who have both announced their intention to enter the portal.

Harris, the No. 21 player in this year’s class, considered Alabama before signing with the Aggies. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback recorded 14 tackles and three pass deflections over five games before being suspended indefinitely.

Like Harris, McCall, the No. 68 player in this year’s class, was recruited by Alabama. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound safety played in eight games this season, recording five tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

Offensive line 

All of a sudden, this is a major need for Alabama. The Crimson Tide was dealt a surprise Sunday night as starting left guard Javion Cohen announced he is entering the transfer portal. The junior could be one of four starting linemen to depart this offseason as Alabama is also likely to lose a trio of seniors in left tackle Tyler Steen, center Darrian Dalcourt and right guard Emil Ekiyor as well as graduate reserve Kendall Randolph. Backups Damieon George Jr. and Tanner Bowles are already in the transfer portal, depleting the Tide’s depth even more.

Alabama will return two starters in right tackle J.C. Latham and center Seth McLaughlin. While Tyler Booker has yet to make his first start, the true freshman has seen plenty of action in his debut season with the Crimson Tide, taking part in a combined 206 offensive snaps over 11 games at the left and right guard positions.

Redshirt junior Amari Kight and five-star freshman Elijah Pritchett are candidates to fill the opening at tackle opposite Latham. Alabama is also set to bring in five offensive linemen in this year’s class. Still, an established lineman would likely be welcomed at this point.

Portal outlook: It’s still early, but an interesting option currently is Stanford right tackle Myles Hinton. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound junior announced his intent to enter the transfer portal Friday after starting a combined 16 games over the past two seasons.

Hinton, a John's Creek, Ga., native, was rated as the No. 25 overall player in the 2020 class. Through seven starts this season, he’s earned a 63.1 pass-blocking grade and a 46.4 run-blocking mark from Pro Football Focus.

Defensive line 

Alabama could lose a trio of seniors on the defensive line in D.J. Dale, Justin Eboigbe and Byron Young. Dale and Young took part in Senior Day last month, while Eboigbe’s status is unclear after suffering a season-ending neck injury in October.

Alabama has plenty of upcoming talent on its roster, including junior Tim Smith, redshirt sophomore Jamil Burroughs and true freshman Jaheim Oatis. Oatis has nine starts this season, while Smith has six. Redshirt sophomore Jah-Marien Latham and redshirt freshman Damon Payne Jr. are also solid options while the Crimson Tide is set to bring in three defensive linemen in next year’s class.

Portal outlook: Once again, if Alabama adds a defensive lineman, it would prefer a veteran. However, Texas A&M freshman defensive end Tunmise Adeleye is an intriguing name to monitor.

Adeleye announced his plans to enter the portal last week. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defender was the No. 25 overall player in the 2021 class and considered Alabama before signing with Texas A&M. He’s also a former high school teammate of Jalen Milroe, who could take over as the Crimson Tide’s quarterback next season. Adeleye started the first two games of the season, recording six tackles and three quarterback hurries before missing the rest of the season with an undisclosed injury.

Inside linebacker 

Alabama will likely need to replace both of its starting inside linebackers as Jaylen Moody is out of eligibility while Henry To’oTo’o appears poised to move on to the NFL. Redshirt freshman Deontae Lawson is set to fill one of those spots after making three starts this season. Sophomore Kendrick Blackshire, redshirt freshman Ian Jackson and true freshman Jihaad Campbell will all compete for the other starting spot, while Alabama also brings in junior college transfer Justin Jefferson.

Portal outlook: Looking at the current portal options, Stanford’s Levani Damuni could be an intriguing target. The senior defender led the Cardinal in tackles the past two seasons, tallying 88 last year before piling up 76 this year.

Damuni, 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, would give Alabama the veteran presence it needs in the heart of its defense. The only question is whether the Providence, Utah native would be interested in relocating to the Southeast. Damuni, a former four-star recruit in the 2017 class, chose Stanford over offers from Utah, Colorado, Oregon State, Washington State, Vanderbilt, Utah, and others.

Proven wide receiver 

Alabama saw junior Traeshon Holden and sophomore Christian Leary announce their intention to enter the transfer portal last week. The Crimson Tide could lose at least two more receivers as redshirt senior Tyler Harrell took part in Senior Day while junior Jermaine Burton’s recent success might be enough for him to test the NFL waters.

Alabama will return its leading receiver in Ja’Corey Brooks as well as fellow starter JoJo Earle. The Crimson Tide’s freshman class offers plenty of potential as Isaiah Bond, Kobe Prentice and Kendrick Law were all impressive in their debut seasons. Alabama is also bringing in four freshmen receivers headlined by Rivals100 member Jalen Hale.

Portal outlook: Alabama has turned to the transfer portal for a wideout three times over the past two years, receiving mixed results. Jameson Williams is arguably the top transfer in the Nick Saban era, while Burton and Harrell haven’t quite lived up to their preseason hype. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Crimson Tide go to the well once again for another wideout this offseason.

Alabama already has plenty of talent in the unit but likely wouldn’t mind adding another proven option to the mix. One player currently in the portal who might make sense is Mississippi State sophomore Rara Thomas. The Eufaula, Ala., native leads the Bulldogs with 626 yards and seven touchdowns through 12 games this season. During his debut season last year, he pulled in 18 receptions for 252 yards and five touchdowns.

Some of Thomas’ production can be attributed to Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. However, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver still has nice size and plenty of SEC experience. He also proved himself against Alabama’s defense, recording 73 yards on a career-high eight catches during Mississippi’s 30-6 loss to the Crimson Tide this year.

Elite quarterback 

With Bryce Young all but certainly headed to the NFL, Alabama will need to find a new starter behind center. Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson are currently set to compete for the opening this spring while the Crimson Tide will also bring in a pair of four-star passers in Dylan Lonergan and Eli Holstein.

Each member of that quartet has the talent to succeed as Alabama’s next starting quarterback. However, if an elite passer enters the portal, expect the Tide to be a serious player.

Portal outlook: There isn’t a quarterback in the portal right now who Alabama would consider pursuing. That might remain the case all offseason depending on A) how Milroe and Simpson perform this Spring and B) which quarterbacks decide to test the transfer waters.

North Carolina’s Drake Maye is a name that gets thrown around message boards. The former Alabama commit is in the midst of a breakout redshirt freshman season that has seen him complete 67.2% of his passes for 4,115 yards and 35 touchdowns with seven interceptions while adding 653 yards and seven more scores on the ground.

If Maye enters the portal, Alabama would almost undoubtedly be interested. However, it might take a lot to entice the Huntersville, N.C. native to leave the Tar Heels.