The 2023 NFL Draft is another week closer, and this week we’re looking at Alabama safety Brian Branch. Branch is listed at 6’0, 194 lbs. The 2023 draft class is a relatively weak one for safety, but many believe Branch to be the best it has to offer.
The Packers desperately need help at safety. If they don’t find a serviceable starter in free agency, a safety could be what the Packers decide to spend their first-round pick on. If Green Bay ends up receiving another first-rounder from an Aaron Rodgers trade, I feel confident one of the picks will be safety help.
S Brian Branch, Alabama
- Hard hitter
- Man coverage skills
Branch is profiled as more of a box safety for a reason – he’s an excellent, violent tackler. He almost never gets run over, instead usually stopping his target dead in their tracks. He lights people up. He’s a good open space tackler, too. But despite being labeled by many box safety, which often comes with a negative connotation, Branch is skilled and experienced in coverage.
Branch was asked to do almost everything in Alabama’s defense. His twitchy, sudden movements, the way he’s always bouncing on the balls of his feet, make him a dangerous tool for blitzes and stunts. He played both as a single-high safety and as run support in the box.
He was asked to play a surprisingly amount of slot, man coverage, a very valuable skill for a safety and especially for one who can play near the line of scrimmage. Branch has some impressive plays on film in coverage, keeping up with receivers and swatting down passes like a cornerback.
Branch’s experience with multiple roles on defense and his versatile skills make him a player that could be used as a chess piece on almost any defense. Branch has the feel of a day one starter in the NFL.
- Boxed out against bigger receiving targets
- Play recognition
- Shedding blocks
Though they aren’t very frequent, Branch’s worst plays on film come when he gets caught in traffic. He’ll sometimes be swallowed up by a blocking tight end, and too often relies on aggression rather than technique when getting around blocks. This aggression can be the catalyst for his highlight-worthy plays, but also the ones where he whiffs right past a screen pass with tunnel-vision eyes on the quarterback.
Branch is typically very good at reading outside run plays but sometimes seems unsure of what he’s seeing when the play is inside. He seems like a player who could fall victim to play-action easier than some.
I haven’t seen much yet from other safeties in this supposedly weak class. I’m happy to say Brian Branch is much more impressive than I was expecting. For Green Bay, a team that was a bottom 2 or 3 run defense in the NFL last season, I think Branch could be an instant game-changer for their defense. Branch looks like what we all thought Darnell Savage could be. I think Branch could slide into almost any role that Joe Barry and the Packers wanted him to play.
Could Branch just be another lie, another illusion of the Swiss army knife the Packers need to take their defense to the next level we have all patiently, patiently, patiently waited for it to reach for years? Yes. I am starting to believe the Packers are cursed at safety, and that I’m cursed to watch Kirk Cousins throw over the heads of sprinting safeties caught with their pants down or completely turned around on a deep passing play.
On the other hand, there’s just so much good. Oh, and it’s a horribly desperate need for Green Bay.