Just How Good Can This Alabama Defense Be in 2022?

Nick Saban has had some great defenses since he came to Tuscaloosa in 2007 and laid a winning foundation the likes of which Alabama has not seen since Bear Bryant. During the Saban era, the two that really come to mind as the best ever are 2011 and 2016. 2018 was on its way but unfortunately is not remembered nearly as fondly after a 44-16 National Championship dismantling at the hands of Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers.

Is it possible that the 2022 unit could be right on par with 2011 and 2016? Well, yes and no. With regards to 2011, college football is simply a different game now than it was 11 years ago. Offenses are scoring at a higher rate than ever, and even last year’s Georgia, which for my money is the best ever, got dismantled in the SEC championship by an elite quarterback and electrifying playmakers.

For the most part, the days of shutting people out and holding every opponent to ten points or less are over in college football. So I do not think it is necessarily fair to just compare straight numbers when it comes to what the Alabama defense does in 2022 vs. what it did in 2011. With that being said, I don’t think it’s crazy at all to say that this could be the most talented and deepest defense Saban has ever had.

Let’s start with the pass rush. Will Anderson is the best player in college football, and his counterpart on the opposite side, Dallas Turner, has a chance to be extremely special as well. Turner is just a sophomore and will surely benefit from the extra attention offensive coordinators will have to pay to Anderson. When Chris Braswell is third in the rotation, you’re in pretty unbelievable shape.

Alabama returns nine starters from the national championship game. They do have to replace Phidarian Mathis on the interior, and based on the depth chart, it looks like it will be a combination of seasoned veteran DJ Dale and young hungry freshman Jaheim Oatis. Certainly not the best interior the Tide have ever had, and we will see on Oatis, but it should be more than formidable.

At interior linebacker, Alabama has to replace Christian Harris next to Henry To’o To’o, and it looks like it will be redshirt-senior Jaylen Moody next to him, who has been waiting for his shot for years now. Moody has been a contributor on special teams and an important part of the team, and elected to return after a brief period in the transfer portal in January. We’ll see just how much that decision paid off for him.

In addition to the pass rush, the secondary is where this team I believe can really separate themselves from other dominant Tide units. After acquiring star LSU cornerback Eli Ricks from the transfer portal, they are as deep as ever in the back half of the unit, with really at least seven guys who would start across the SEC.

Ricks and sophomore Kool-Aid McKinstry could form a scary shutdown duo, and that’s not even accounting for senior Khyree Jackson, who will compete for a starting role. Terrion Arnold should see some playing time as well.

At safety, it just gets silly. Jordan Battle is one of college football’s best, and according to senior bowl director Jim Nagy, some scouts view DeMarcco Hellams as an even better pro prospect than Battle. In addition to this, the Tide have two studs at STAR in Brian Branch and Malachi Moore, and truly can’t go wrong with either.

So back to the original question, how good can this unit be and can they match or equal past historical Tide defenses? In my opinion, absolutely. While they might statistically give up more points simply due to the nature of college football in 2022, if Pete Golding and Nick Saban can put it all together, there is no reason why this can’t be one of, if not the most special defense that Tuscaloosa has ever seen.