May 21, 2024

ATHENS, Ga. – Envision the prospect of Malaki Starks and Caleb Downs, both showcasing their skills in the same defensive backfield. This intriguing possibility has caught the attention of Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who may see it materialize. Reports suggest that Downs, a standout freshman from Mill Creek High School, is contemplating entering the transfer portal, having earned first-team All-American honors with Alabama last season. During the 2023 recruiting cycle, the Bulldogs and Ohio State were finalists in the pursuit of Downs. Smart has maintained a positive relationship with Downs and his family, even expressing admiration for him after the SEC Championship game in December.

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Despite the competition for Downs, the Bulldogs’ chances have been bolstered by their strong ties with him and his family. Smart, known for his strategic moves, made a significant gesture by embracing Downs after the Bulldogs’ loss to Alabama. Before the championship game, Smart spoke highly of Downs, praising his maturity and on-field prowess, describing him as an instinctive, fast, and fearless player.

Downs, a versatile athlete at 6 feet and 203 pounds, made significant contributions to the Crimson Tide’s defense, leading the team in tackles with 107, securing two interceptions, and breaking up four passes. He also showcased his skills as a punt returner, including an 85-yard touchdown return. With three seasons of eligibility remaining, Downs could join forces with All-American safety Starks in Georgia’s secondary, especially with the departure of Bullard to the NFL draft.

The Bulldogs’ chances have further improved with the addition of Travaris Robinson, who coached Downs at Alabama and recently joined Georgia as the safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. Robinson’s familiarity with Downs and Smart’s coaching philosophy could be a compelling factor.

While the Bulldogs have successfully recruited one of Downs’ former teammates, Jake Pope, through the transfer portal, it remains uncertain if Downs will choose Athens as his next destination. The high demand for his services, coupled with the potential for a significant NIL deal, adds complexity to his decision. Additionally, other powerhouse programs, including Ohio State, are expected to pursue Downs, who may also opt to stay in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama is undergoing coaching changes in the aftermath of Nick Saban’s retirement. The current NCAA rules allow a 30-day window for players to explore the transfer portal following a coaching change, adding a layer of uncertainty to Downs’ future destination.

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