COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 02 SEC Championship Game - Georgia vs Alabama
Getty Images

Alabama safety Caleb Downs has entered the transfer portal following a standout freshman season with Georgia emerging as the "clear favorite" to land his services, according to 247Sports. Downs earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors while starring as one of the top defensive backs in the conference for a Crimson Tide team that reached the College Football Playoff.

"Obviously we're not starting from square one of recruiting," Caleb's father Gary Downs told 247Sports. "We know so many of these coaches already. We've been a lot of places. There are certain parameters of things he's looking for."

Though it is outside of a designated window for players to enter the portal, the retirement of coach Nick Saban triggered a 30-day window for Alabama players to transfer. Downs would be a crushing loss for the program and new coach Kalen DeBoer.

Rated a five-star prospect and the top safety in the Class of 2023 by 247Sports, Downs started in the season opener for Alabama and delivered on the hype he generated as a high school prospect. He finished the season with 107 tackles and two interceptions, earning FWAA Freshman All-American and second-team All-SEC honors. 

His coverage grade of 88.9 from Pro Football Focus registered as the best among all safeties in the conference, and he was the first Alabama freshman in program history to lead the team in tackles. Downs also flashed his promise as a punter returner with an 85-yard return touchdown against Chattanooga on Nov. 18.

Why Georgia is considered likely destination 

Georgia just hired Travaris Robinson from Alabama to be co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach after he spent the last two seasons coaching the Crimson Tide's cornerbacks. Robinson is a well-respected SEC coaching veteran, and his relationship with Downs makes UGA a natural landing spot.

Downs played for Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia. It is less than an hour's drive from the Georgia campus in Athens, and Downs strongly considered the Bulldogs out of high school. Plus, there is now a hole for Downs to fill after safety Javon Bullard declared for the NFL Draft.

If things failed to work out between Downs and Georgia, however, there would be no shortage of suitors for Downs. He's already considered one of the top safeties in college football, and with two seasons remaining before he is eligible for the NFL Draft, it can easily be argued that he is the top non-quarterback transfer of the cycle. According to 247Sports, should a move to Georgia fall through, Ohio State is a potential destination to keep an eye on for the superstar defensive back. 

Impact on Alabama

Downs isn't the only high-profile member of Alabama's secondary to head out amid Saban's retirement. Former five-star cornerback Dezz Ricks announced Tuesday that he is transferring to Texas A&M. Fellow corners Trey Amos and Antonio Kite have also entered the portal, leaving Alabama's 2024 secondary in flux as DeBoer gets his first-year staff in order.

DeBoer is reportedly hiring South Alabama coach Kane Wommack to be Alabama's defensive coordinator after the two worked together at Indiana in 2019. Wommack posted a 22-16 record in three seasons with the Jaguars and just led the program to back-to-back bowls for the first time in school history. 

Buffalo coach Maurice Linguist is also reportedly set to join the Crimson Tide's defensive staff in a role that would likely entail working with the secondary. The duo gives the offensive-minded DeBoer two relatively splashy defensive staff hires. But Linguist last worked in the SEC in 2019 as cornerbacks coach at Texas A&M, and Wommack hasn't worked in the conference since his graduate assistant gig at Ole Miss in 2013. Thus, neither is likely to have pre-existing relationships with the current Crimson Tide players from the high school recruiting process.