Before the season, Brian Branch’s secondary mate Jordan Battle was my favorite player in the Crimson Tide’s secondary. But as the season wore on, I fell more in love with Branch’s game. He’s versatile, and his instincts are off the chart – the dude is always around the football. And now, we may hear his name called early in April.
- College: Alabama
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 193 lbs.
- Age: 21 yrs. (October 22, 2001)
- Year: Junior
- Draft Projection: Mid-to-Late First Round
Branch hails from Sandy Creek High School in Fayetteville, Georgia, and was a highly decorated four-star recruit. He was named the Georgia 5A Ironman of the Year award as a senior, awarded to the league’s top two-way player. Branch is his school’s career interception leader and played in the All-American Bowl before his college journey began.
He garnered a lot of attention from college scouts and earned offers from Oklahoma, Florida, LSU, and Michigan – amongst many others. The draw of playing with Nick Saban for National Championships may have been what swayed him, and Branch committed to Alabama in the Class of 2020.
As a freshman, Branch started three games and recorded 27 tackles with a pair of interceptions. He also defended nine passes, third-most amongst SEC freshmen. The Tide tried Branch at every position in the secondary after his freshman season, trying to get him more involved. He took over the nickel corner job and raked in 55 tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t miss a tackle in his sophomore season.
The nickel slot corner was his primary duty in 2022, and Branch did not disappoint. It allowed him to showcase his versatility in coverage and tackling. He had 90 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, and seven passes defended. Branch was a leader on the defense, and his play on the field was nearly spotless. More on that later.
Above, I highlighted the ways the Crimson Tide used Branch. He was used primarily in the nickel slot, and in that role, he would often cover TEs and RBs, and then enforce on running plays. Branch was great in zone defense when asked, improved in man coverage, and loves to blitz. He’s best in zone and makes disruptive plays when jumping routes.
Alabama S Brian Branch in the Sugar Bowl is one of the best tapes I’ve seen from this class (12 tackles, 4 TFLs, INT). Really smart, great play speed.— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 17, 2023
Here, he knows the SAF will come down on #2 when the WR sits inside. Becomes a free player, jumps the outside WR for the INT. pic.twitter.com/lRTN07J1lc
One of his strengths is run defense. He’s got an incredible motor, short-area quickness, and acceleration. When he tackles, the ball carrier feels it. Branch has a phenomenal technique and loves to make disruptive hits. His range allows him to fly to a ball carrier from sideline to sideline.
Bama Safety Brian Branch flying downhill to make the TFL.— Kenny G. (@Gritz_Blitz) February 7, 2023
He’s got some of the best instincts I’ve seen from any defender in the class. pic.twitter.com/idXwhPPRaZ
Both of those feed into the fact that Branch is such a smart player. His use required him to play all over and in many roles. He was often a leader and would bark out defensive alignments presnap. Branch has incredible instincts and is rarely out of position when making a tackle or read. He missed only four of his 173 potential tackle opportunities in three years.
I love this from Brian Branch. In what I believe is man match (plz correct if I’m wrong), he identifies mesh early and passes off his initial responsibility flawlessly pic.twitter.com/DBYFuzUc0D— Tyler Forness (@TheRealForno) February 15, 2023
Branch isn’t going to be a guy that rakes in loads of interceptions. He’s adept at disrupting and defending passes, but he’s not the type of defensive back who breaks on the ball well to make timely picks. It’s not a huge weakness, but if you are looking for ball skills in a defensive back, it’s not Branch.
In Branch’s defense, his man coverage improved last season. But it’s an area he has to work on. Receivers could creep up on him and get him out of position when he’s playing off. It can lead to a receiver creating separation and running right by Branch. If a receiver runs a crossing pattern in front of him, it could also eat him right up. It’s an area he needs to work on.
The Wrap Up
Despite the shortcomings, most recent mock drafts have Branch as a guy getting drafted in the first round. His versatility and leadership are in high demand with today’s defenses, and he’s the top safety on most 2023 Draft lists.
As far as IDP, Branch is interesting, and I am not exactly sure what he could be. He’s going to get tackles and give you a safe floor. I’m not sure that he rakes in the number of tackles that will give him S1 numbers. Branch will still be used a lot in coverage and won’t give you many passes defended, interceptions, or turnovers caused. I see solid S2/S3 numbers and a safe player you will start weekly.
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