Georgia enters sweepstakes for Alabama All-American Caleb Downs

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Caleb Downs (2) celebrates as he walks off of the field after Alabama’s 27-24 win against Georgia during the SEC Championship football game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, on Saturday, December 2, 2023. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Caleb Downs (2) celebrates as he walks off of the field after Alabama’s 27-24 win against Georgia during the SEC Championship football game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, on Saturday, December 2, 2023. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS — Can you imagine Malaki Starks and Alabama’s Caleb Downs playing in the same secondary? Georgia coach Kirby Smart can, and it might just happen for him.

Downs, a freshman from Mill Creek High School who earned first-team All-American honors for the Crimson Tide this past season, reportedly was “preparing to enter the transfer portal” Wednesday, according to multiple published reports citing sources. The Bulldogs and Ohio State were finalists to land Downs in the 2023 recruiting cycle.

Meanwhile, by all accounts, Smart and the Bulldogs have maintained a good relationships with Downs and his family. Smart made a point to run all the way across the field to embrace Downs after Alabama defeated Georgia in the SEC Championship game Dec. 2.

Smart commented on Downs in the lead-up to that game.

“He doesn’t look like a freshman at all. He looks like a guy that’s been playing for three years,” Smart said. “He’s instinctive. He’s fast. He’s fearless. He’s everything that he was in high school. I’ve seen him play about a hundred 7-on-7 games at our stadium and at our facility when his high school team came over all the time. He’s everything that we thought he was – punt returner, just a football player that is instinctive, great tackler, just what you draw up when you want a defensive back.”

Alabama defensive back Caleb Downs (2) tackles Georgia wide receiver Dominic Lovett (6) during the first half of the SEC Championship football game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, on Saturday, December 2, 2023. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Downs did it all for the Crimson Tide this past season. The 6-foot, 203-pound athlete led Alabama in tackles with 107, with two interceptions and four pass breakups. Downs was also a part-time punt returner for the Tide, returning four, including one for an 85-yard touchdown.

With three seasons of eligibility remaining, Downs would be paired in a Georgia secondary that already features an All-American safety in Starks. Junior Javon Bullard, who played alongside Starks last season, declared for the NFL draft.

Helping the Bulldogs’ cause is the fact that they now employ one of Downs’ coaches from last season. Travaris Robinson, who was cornerbacks coach at Alabama last year, agreed Friday to join the Bulldogs as safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. Robinson and Smart also embraced at the end of the SEC title game.

Georgia already has accepted one of Downs’ teammates through the portal. Jake Pope, a redshirt freshman from Buford, also spurned the Bulldogs for the Crimson Tide out of high school.

Of course, none of that assures that Downs will land in Athens. He is expected to command one of the more significant NIL deals in the history of the transfer portal. And not only are Georgia, Ohio State and virtually every other power-conference school expected to make overtures for Downs’ services, but he could choose to remain in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama is desperate to right its suddenly listing ship.

Downs’ testing the market is the result of Nick Saban deciding last week to retire after 17 years as Alabama’s head coach. The Crimson Tide has since hired former Washington coach Kalen DeBoer. But current NCAA rules provide a 30-day window for members of a college team to explore the transfer portal in the wake of a coaching change.

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