From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today I’ll be profiling Alabama safety Brian Branch.
#14 BRIAN BRANCH, SAFETY, ALABAMA (JR.) 6000,193 LBS.
Senior Bowl invite/Combine TBD
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Brian Branch||6’0 193||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|40 Yard Dash||10 Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Big strong defensive back with the power to tackle the biggest of ballcarriers
— Good in zone coverage with good awareness on when receivers are going to break on the route
— Great at stopping the run overall
— Played in a scheme that allowed him to be position versatile all over the field
— Reads the quarterbacks eyes well while consistently putting himself in the throwing area
— Good blitzer off the edge as he times the snap well
— Very good at getting his hands on receivers as they get into the route
— Plays run fits well in the run game when playing down on the line of scrimmage
— Very good at covering underneath routes and reacting when the ball is in the air
— His strength when getting hands on receivers is going to allow him to direct targets wherever he would like them
— Great efficiency as a tackler not allowing guys to slip away from him
— Specifically good in man coverage in short/shallow routes
— Plays very hesitant near the line of scrimmage
— As good a tackler as he is, lacks the clean up tackle aspect of defense
— Tends to get outran vertically on routes of 20 or more yards
— Upped his tackle numbers by a mile as a junior but lacks the production in the ball hawk category as he has few interceptions and pass deflections
— Would like to see him chase the ball better and be more involved in runs and plays downfield
— Would like to see him with a little more fight when trying to shed blocks in the run game near the box
— Born October 22, 2001 (age 21)
— Junior prospect from Fayetteville, GA
— Four-star recruit by most major sites
— 18th ranked player in the state of Georgia, and the no. 21 safety nationally by Rivals
— 101 on ESPN300
— Was also rated as the third-rated safety in the nation and the No. 44 overall recruit in the southeast region
— The 10th rated player in Georgia by both ESPN and 247 sports
— Played in the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas
— In 2020 as a freshman, played in 12 games with three starts tallying 27 tackles, half a tackle for loss, adding seven pass breakups, and two interceptions to be tied for third in the SEC in passes defensed among SEC freshmen defenders
— In 2021 as a sophomore, he racked up 55 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, and nine pass deflections, with a quarterback hurry, and a fumble recovery
— In the national title game, he posted three tackles and a fumble recovery against the bulldogs
— Started every game for the tide in 2022 as a junior
— Earned 2022 All-America Team honors by both CBS Sports and ESPN.com
— Second Team All-American by Associated Press
— Named Second Team All-SEC by Associated Press
— Was third on the Alabama defense with 90 on the year
— Finishing second on the team with 14 tackles for loss including three sacks
— Had seven pass breakups, two interceptions, and two quarterback hurries
— Returned two punts for 65 yards including a 68-yard touchdown against ULM
— Mid-Season All-American by CBS
When sitting down and breaking out the tape on Brian Branch, you notice a guy who’s willing to put his face to the fan. He’s a hardnosed, physical, downhill run stopper with the ability to get sticky and cover guys specifically down in front of him. You typically see him break well and react quickly to guys when running those curls, drags, bubbles, and even over routes. There’s one example in the clips below against Texas where Branch gets beat on a go route down the seam, so you see an example of his vertical awareness and his ability to chase guys on explosive routes down the field. He’s a guy you’d like to see more production out of him as far as plucking the football out of the air as well as punching the football out of guys arms.
As stated above, he’s an aggressive dude. More particularly for a defensive back. He keeps his feet pumping and when he diagnoses the play, seeing the ball is coming his way, he then breaks down and lowers the boom on the ball carrier. He’s a very decisive player as he sticks a foot in the ground and goes lighting speed towards the ball, often in the run game, but also in the short passing game where the ball is thrown in front of him.
Here is a good play on the ball by Branch. He really has a knack for when the football is in front of him and he chooses an aiming point whether it be for making a play on the football or launching every ounce of his being into the target that the ball is being thrown to. You would like to see him snag the football out of the air here but overall great awareness to get to that spot and get there in a hurry.
His mentals are a criminally underrated part of his game. His communication before the snap to me is probably the best club in his bag. Here against Kansas State, he’s going to be playing man on Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn. He’s playing at about seven to eight yards in depth to try to keep everything in front of him. That depth allows him to quickly see they’re throwing it to the X receiver, so he plants and makes one of his couple interceptions on the year. His play making ability in general is going to make him some good money in the coming months.
This isn’t going to be a huge speaking point in Branch’s scouting, but worth noting for a multitude of reasons. It speaks to his overall athletic ability and secondly to return the football you must possess good hands and the ability to shift up and down during the return. Is this going to cause his draft stock to rise? Probably not, but for myself more specifically, this is just another positive trait in his already full bag of positives when it comes to his game.
One of Branch’s knocks is his ability to cover those explosive plays in the passing game. Here you’ll see this initially seems to be an inverted look as he is down on the line of scrimmage in what you think looks like man coverage. The higher safety there comes down to the line to cover in zone just ahead of the line, while Branch proceeds to drop into the defensive backfield. It seems he was slow to get there as the inside guy on the trips side of the field runs a simple go ball down the seam. He ends up a good 5 yards behind the receiver so whether that be because the guy was that much faster than him or he just needs to get into a much faster drop, those big plays cannot happen, as he nearly allows six points right there.
A small tweak you would like to see happen in his game is him playing the football more instead of playing the receiver. He can be a little grabby especially moments before the football gets to the target. In some instances, this works but here in this clip you will notice he is more hands on with the receiver than the football. If he can learn (especially in these red zone/short field instances) to make the football his priority instead of waist grabbing the receiver, he is more likely to make the necessary stops needed for his team to win. If Alabama gets a stop on this possession, the game could have ended here.
Branch is a player to me who, really throughout his junior year continually rose his stock because of his ability to consistently make tackles and especially near the line of scrimmage or shortly in front of or behind it. He just has a nose for the ball carrier, but you would like him overall to contest those deep balls a little more. His game is phenomenal when it comes to his closing speed on those short to intermediate routes. He plants his foot and gets directly to the target. He plays close to the line of scrimmage, causing mismatches as far as overloads for the offensive line, shifting the box and the count of bodies there for the offense to account for. You also just want to see him get those much-needed takeaways for his team. He’s way too talented of a player to not be consistently taking possessions away from other teams.
He is also a certified hitman. He is going to have that Ryan Clark effect on teams immediately, making opposing teams not wanting to throw that direction, and making receivers hesitant to want to try to catch the football around the middle of the field. Seeing that their games model each other so significantly, I would say the most appropriate comparison would be Jamal Adams. Guys with strong cores who are extremely efficient tacklers, and even if they don’t rack up a ton of takeaways, they’re going to wreak havoc on receivers as well as forcing a lot of incompletions. There is a decent chance the Steelers address the safety position at some point in the offseason, although I don’t think it’s realistic that the Steelers take the position in the first round. Whichever way the Steelers handle the Terrell Edmunds situation is going to be the driving force in how or when they do address this position.
Projection: Mid to Late First Round
Depot Draft Grade: 8.7 – Year one Quality Starter (1st Round)
Games watched: VS. Texas (2022) VS. Utah State (2022) VS. Texas A&M (2021)