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Fascinating eligible returnees for the Crimson Tide

With the postseason underway and there may only be one game left in the 2022 season for Alabama football, roster reshuffle for 2023 is becoming an increasingly important topic. Notable college football players are already entering the NCAA transfer portal, NFL draft decisions and opt-outs will be announced later this month, and early signing day is also on the horizon.

Pandemic waivers have further roiled the complicated waters of NCAA eligibility. As a result, Alabama football has a handful of veteran staff who are widely believed to be leaving after this season but have the opportunity to return.

Alabama Football: A few key offensive plays

On offense, senior tight end Cameron Latu could exercise his extra year of eligibility. Latu joined Tuscaloosa in 2018 as an outside linebacker but eventually switched sides of the ball and found his niche as a tight end. He’s been a significant part of the Alabama offense over the past two seasons, totaling 51 receptions for 733 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Should Latu go to the NFL, he will open up opportunities for Alabama’s younger tight ends. Physical student Robbie Ouzts has played an increasing role in recent weeks and true freshman Amari Niblack is a gifted pass catcher who clinched a touchdown pass earlier this season.

Senior offensive tackle Tyler Steen could also exercise his pandemic-year option. Steen came to Alabama via the transfer portal last offseason after spending four years at Vanderbilt. He started 33 career games for the Commodores and then started all 12 regular season games for Alabama in 2022.

While not exceptional, Steen was a reliable left tackle man and helped steady Alabama’s offensive line. Right tackle was a major weakness and instability for the Tide in the 2021 season, but the duo of Tyler Steen and sophomore JC Latham managed to solidify tackle positions this fall. If Steen decides to continue, he could potentially open a starting slot for former 5-star tackle Tommy Brockermeyer.

Alabama Football: Potential defensive returnees

On the defensive side of the ball, senior defenders Byron Young and Justin Eboigbe could be big returns in 2023. Both players entered the Recruit class in 2019 and have become leaders on the defensive end.

Byron Young has been the most productive member of the Alabama defensive line this season. Young has 46 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks and one forced fumble. He brings extensive experience to the Alabama defense, having been on the defensive line rotation since his freshman year.

Young has appeared in 44 career games and has 128 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He would likely be selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he would have the opportunity to significantly increase his draft status should he return next year.

Justin Eboigbe was lost after four games for the 2022 season when he sustained a neck injury that required surgery. He has played in 33 career games and has 59 tackles with 4.5 tackles for the loss. Eboigbe has also recorded two sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. His potential return would be big for an Alabama defense that is set to lose a lot of experience this offseason.

Junior cornerback Eli Ricks is perhaps the most important player on this list. Despite Ricks having very little playing time this season, his potential still sees him predicted as an early-round draft pick.

In two seasons at LSU, Ricks recorded 31 tackles and five interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. He transferred to Alabama for the 2022 offseason, but injuries and other complications kept him out of the lineup for much of the season.

Ricks didn’t get to his first start until the eighth game of the season and suffered another injury just two games later. He hasn’t been able to film much this season, but he’s strengthened the Alabama secondary school while he’s been on the field.

Eli Ricks possesses tantalizing physical tools and natural talent. If he returns and can fulfill his potential for a full season, he could be a top 10 NFL draft pick.

Could Reichard Return for Alabama Football?

Senior Will Reichard has eased the anxiety of Alabama fans everywhere with his consistency as a field goal kicker. Reliable since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Reichard has been one of the top kickers in college football throughout his career.

Perhaps the only blemish on Reichard’s resume is a missed game-winner in Tennessee earlier this season. The backfire ultimately cost Alabama the game and likely a college football playoff spot and a shot at a national championship in Reichard’s senior year. Is that enough to make him want to return for a redemption season?

If he does, Alabama football will have one less question mark in 2023. If Reichard decides to join the NFL, he will still go down as one of the greatest kickers in Alabama football history.

In the modern transfer portal era, essentially every player in the roster has to make post-season decisions. Cameron Latu, Tyler Steen, Byron Young, Justin Eboigbe, Eli Ricks and Will Reichard represent a group of players who would not surprise anyone if they went to the NFL. Each could make a unique and significant impact if they choose to return in 2023.

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