Updated: Mar 16
By Adam Aniba
This year's draft features some elite cornerback prospects and a few high ceiling safeties. One blue chip defensive back offers the best of both worlds though, experienced at both corner and safety.
Alabama's Brian Branch excelled at multiple positions during his time under HC Nick Saban and has the upside to be much more on the next level.
5'11" 190 lbs | DB | ALA
Late 1st Rd Grade
Career (35 games) 172 TAK (111 solo), 19.5 TFL, 4 SACKS, 3 INTs 23 PD & 1 FR
2022 (13 games) 90 TAK (58 solo), 14 TFL, 3 SACKS, 2 INT, 7 PD & 1 PR for a TD
Branch grew up in Fayetteville, GA and attended Sandy Creek HS, playing receiver and defensive back. Branch recorded 1,475 receiving yards and 17 TDs on offense during his time at Sandy Creek.
On defense, Branch hauled in 14 career interceptions (school record) and 12 passes defended. His efforts led to him being named Georgia 5A Ironman of the Year by the conference coaches as a senior (presented to the top-two way player)
During his senior season, Branch was the 10th-rated player from Georgia and third-rated safety in the nation ESPN. As a 4-star recruit. Branch was heavily recruited, receiving offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Ultimately, the Sandy Creek safety committed to play for the Crimson Tide.
As a true freshman in '20, Branch was active in 12 games (3 starts), registering 27 tackles, 7 pass breakups and 2 interceptions (tied for 3rd among SEC rookies). The defensive back played CB/S and was utilized where he was needed by Saban.
in '21 Branch started at free safety to start the season, totalling 55 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack, 9 pass breakups (team-high) and recorded a fumble recovery during the National Championship Game. After 7 pass breakups as a freshman and 9 as a sophomore, Branch started to emerge as a true ball-hawk, who could also cover the slot when needed.
In 2022 Branch started every game at the hybrid slot/safety "Star Position" for Alabama, which was the same role former Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick (Steelers) played during his time at Alabama. Branch finished second on the team with 14 tackles for a loss, 7 pass breakups and 2 interceptions.
He cemented his role in coverage with a 75.5 QB rating when targeted, but also showed his value when attacking the line of scrimmage with 6 QB pressures and 3 sacks.
Branch was all over the filed last season, even fielding 2 punts, returning one for a 68-yard score (vs ULM 9/17/22). His background as a receiver certainly stands out, especially when challenging 50/50 balls.
Awards & Accolades
'22 Honorable Mention Preseason All-American by PFF
'22 Midseason All-American by CBS
'22 1st Team All-America honors at defensive back from CBS Sports and ESPN
'22 1st Team All-America honors at the flex position by Pro Football Focus
'22 2nd Team All-American by the Associated Press
Versatility is what makes him so special, displays the ability to dominate playing close to the line or in coverage
Displays the ability to mirror pass catchers and instincts to jump routes
Excellent in zone coverage with good play recognition
Displays a non-stop motor and loves to mix it up
Strength is evident (squated 565 lbs. & power-cleaned 335 lbs.)
Tendency to get grabby if out of position
Can get stonewalled at times, when defending the run
Can be over aggressive at times and over pursue the ball as a result
Although excelled when played in space, man coverage needs work
When asked to jam receivers, too often lunges and will require refinement
Branch certainly looks the part of a starting NFL slot corner, but also displayed his value playing a hybrid deep safety role when needed. His ability to anticipate/mirror routes is second to none in this draft class. Also, his physicality as a pass rusher and play vs run, separate him from the other defensive backs in this class.
Viewed as the ultimate Swiss Army knife, Branch instantly adds talent to a defensive back field. The Tide defensive back loves mixing it up at the line of scrimmage, but has to be accounted for in bail coverage as well.
Although Banch measured in just shy of 6'0", his 4.58 forty yard dash time, 34.5" vertical leap and 30 3/4" arm length should solidify him as a top 20 selection.
Branch's versatility is what stands out the most, with his ability to play close to the line as a strong safety, corner, nickel and even free safety. The team that selects the Crimson Tide defensive back, will have the luxury to move him around. Playing the nickel is a premium spot and Branch should thrive in that role early on.
*Games Watched- 9/17/22 vs ULM, 10/1 vs ARK, 10/8 vs Texas A&M, 10/15 vs TENN, 11/5 vs LSU, 11/12 vs Ole Miss, 11/26 vs AUB & 12/31 vs KSU
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