Alabama football had a few highly rated draft-eligible juniors on this team.
None decided to opt out of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, choosing to finish the season strong against Kansas State.
Brian Branch, a defensive back, has been the most valuable player in the Crimson Tide’s secondary.
He’s had to play everywhere and cover much ground versus elite offenses. The native Georgian got flagged for pass interference a few times, but he’s achieved more positive plays than negative ones. Branch made second-team All-Southeastern Conference by the Associated Press, second-team All-American by the AP, and first-team All-American honors from CBS Sports, ESPN, and Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot, 193-pounder finished third on the team for total tackles (78) and second in tackles for loss (10).
Branch has two sacks, seven pass breakups, an interception, and two quarterback hurries. He returned a 65-yard punt for a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe, marking his first career score for the Tide. As a former four-star, Branch is one of the highest rated prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft. The versatile defender is not focused on his draft grade, though, he is more locked in on the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Kansas State. Branch discussed his excitement for the bowl matchup Tuesday.
“This was not something I asked for advice about, I knew I was playing this game,” Branch said to reporters in explaining why he needed no advice to opt out or not. “No matter what, this is what I wanted to do. I take pride in this, and I want to finish the season strong.”
Branch has not thought about going pro after the Sugar Bowl.
“My mindset is on this game and this game only for now,” he said. “As for the NFL, that is going to come but I am focused on Kansas State.”
He is also excited about Alabama’s secondary for next year. Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams will depart for the NFL Draft following the Sugar Bowl, opening both safety spots for 2023. Eli Ricks could declare for the draft and open a spot a cornerback; however, he could return for a senior season. If the Tide returns Branch for next year, the secondary could be electric.
“Next year’s secondary is probably going to be better than this year’s,” Branch said. “I feel like more of my teammates will be more comfortable, and I expect big things from the secondary.”
Branch and the Tide are ready to get win No. 11 on New Year’s Eve.
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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith.
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