Ohio State Safety Caleb Downs Made A Big Impression on Alabama’s NFL-Bound Defensive Backs In Just One Year

By Dan Hope on February 29, 2024 at 3:43 pm
Terrion Arnold celebrates with Caleb Downs after Downs made a big play at Alabama in 2023.
Troy Taormina – USA TODAY Sports

When Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry was asked Thursday which player he thinks should be on the cover on EA Sports’ new college football video game, his answer showed how highly he thinks of Ohio State’s newest safety.

“I definitely think (the cover athlete should be) between Caleb Downs and Jalen Milroe,” said McKinstry, an All-American cornerback at Alabama who could be a first-round pick in the 2024 NFL draft.

While McKinstry played at Alabama for three years with Milroe, Alabama’s returning starter at quarterback, he played with Downs for only one year before McKinstry entered the NFL draft and Downs transferred to Ohio State. But Downs made an immediate impression on McKinstry in 2023 even though McKinstry had already established himself as one of the best defensive backs in college football.

“When he was a freshman, it was like he had already been there three years,” McKinstry said during his interview session at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He understood how to do everything, he understood his body, he understood how to play, he understood coaching. Ohio State, I feel is getting a great player, and I’m very excited for Caleb.”

McKinstry was far from the only member of Alabama’s secondary who Downs impressed immediately. Fellow Alabama cornerback Terrion Arnold, who is also regarded as a potential first-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, was struck by Downs’ confidence in himself as soon as the five-star recruit arrived in Tuscaloosa last year.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Arnold said of Downs. “Very high football IQ. And honestly, testament to the guy’s character; when he first came to Alabama, we had a whole room, they said, ‘Give us something you’re gonna accomplish while you’re here.’ Caleb walked up there, he said, ‘I’m gonna be the best safety to ever come through here.’ So that just shows you the type of guy he is off the wall. He works hard, he’s a great person, he’s my brother.”

Jaylen Key, who started alongside Downs at safety last season, predicted that Downs will be a future top-five NFL draft pick.

“He's a guy that’s probably generational,” Key said. “His maturity level is through the roof. He's more mature than a lot of sophomores, juniors, probably seniors I've seen throughout my whole career. He's a dog, and mentally, he's already prepared to be in the NFL.”

Key said he was impressed by Downs’ preparation during their year playing together.

“The way he took care of his body, week in and week out. The way he went in to study the playbook and made sure he knew what to do on Saturdays, and it was completely different from any freshman I'd ever seen,” Key said.

“He's a guy that’s probably generational ... mentally, he's already prepared to be in the NFL.”– Jaylen Key on Caleb Downs

On the field, Key says Downs is quick to diagnose plays and brings great intensity to the game.

“He’s definitely a twitchy player that's going to trigger on things before a lot of guys even see it,” Key said. “He's able to come down in the run fit pretty fast. He can cover. He's not afraid of anything … He plays very physical. He comes downhill. When he makes contact, it’s going to be a pop. He makes plays all over the field.”

Even though he will now be wearing scarlet instead of crimson for the rest of his college career, all three Alabama defensive backs at the combine said they’ll still be rooting for Downs at Ohio State and beyond.

“That's my brother for life, so wherever he is, I'm rooting for him,” Key said. “He should be a top-five draft pick in a couple of years. So I’ll root for him wherever he goes.”

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