They’ve searched far and wide and spent premium draft picks to find one, but no matter how hard the Las Vegas Raiders try, a safety that’s equal parts great tackler and cover man continues to elude them.
Enter a prospect like Brian Branch.
The Alabama defensive back is an explosive tackler who can be an eraser defending the run and worked extremely hard to improve his cover skillset and it showed in 2022. Operating out of the nickel/slot, the 6-foot, 193-pound junior displayed the ability to stick and cover shiftier slot receivers along with matching up with bigger possession-type receivers and tight ends. That answered one of the major concerns and questions about Branch’s game.
Starting every game in 2022 in the star-studded Roll Tide defense, Branch stood out as a fiery defensive back that’s fearless when it comes to attacking the line of scrimmage and beyond. He is a wipe-out type defender when tasked with run defense and his impressive 14 tackles for loss this past season is a testament to that.
Tale of the Tape: Brian Branch
- School: Alabama
- Position: Safety
- Height: 6-feet
- Weight: 193 pounds
- 2022 Stats: 90 total tackles (58 solo), 14 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 interception, 7 passes defensed
- Career Stats: 172 total tackles (111 solo), 19.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 23 passes defensed
But how is a nickel/slot cornerback projected to be a standout safety in the pros? Branch’s athleticism and agility is off the charts as he moves just as well laterally as he does in a straight line. Branch’s speed and football intelligence gives the talented defensive back the ability to play at either single high or split safety sets as an enforcer-type.
This is some clutch coverage from Brian Branch to secure the win for @AlabamaFTBL pic.twitter.com/az7izUEvuK— SEC on CBS (@SEConCBS) November 13, 2022
As such, he’s a well-rounded prospect who scouts really need to dig into to find weaknesses.
But does that mean he’s without flaws? No. Like every prospect, Branch has his shortcomings — small as they may be.
While he does possess high football IQ and acumen, there are times where Branch doesn’t pull the trigger fast enough. It seemingly showcases he doesn’t trust what he’s seeing. That can lead to two concerning things: Unnecessarily grabbing receivers when in coverage and lackluster “take-on” skills when engaged with a blocker in run support.
Both can scuttle even the most talented of defenders, however, they can be improved with further coaching and fine-tuned technique.
Strangely enough, Branch’s impressive athletic profile can also result in him getting to the play too fast, resulting in him arriving to the ballcarrier too high. When that happens, he becomes more of a wrap-up tackler than the striker he’s known for.
Branch is also more adept in zone coverage than in man. He’s a read-and-react type who uses his speed and agility to break on either the ball or receiver. While he did improve his ability to take the ball away, Branch has a tendency to swat the ball away rather than trying to intercept it for a takeaway.
That all said, there’s no denying Branch’s versatility, however, as he can play the box or deep safety role as well as the nickel/slot corner.
Projections: Is seventh overall too high to take Branch? Because he likely isn’t going to be on the board when the Raiders pick again at No. 38 overall in the second round. Branch is projected to go early or in the middle of the first round and isn’t expected to slip into the second stanza. If he participates in the NFL Combine, he’ll likely solidify his status as a first-round prospect with measurables and timed speed.