Considered by most to be the top safety prospect in the draft, Brian Branch isn’t exactly a safety. Nor is he a corner. If we’re being totally honest, Branch is a cornerback who plays linebacker... And he’s been the lynchpin to Nick Saban’s defense the last couple of seasons.
After joining the Tide back in 2020, rumors from the summer were that he was already making waves and might wind up being the starter at star, or nickel, as a true freshman. An undisclosed absence (most assume Covid) forced him to miss a couple of critical weeks going into the season, though, and he wound up as a reserve DB.
By the end of the season, though, an injury to Malachi Moore paved the way for Branch to get the final few starts in the playoffs, and he performed extremely well.
Going into 2021, Branch again rotated with Moore for the starting Star position, but ultimately, his impressive tackling and instincts won out, and he locked up the job for the next two seasons.
The thing about Branch is that he was often asked to do what should be impossible for one person to do. If a slot receiver ran deep, Branch covered him (this includes speedsters such as Ainias Smith of Texas A&M and jumbo slots like Jonathan Mingo of Ole Miss).
But then if a team had an amazing receiving threat at TE? Branch covered him too, be it 6’6” uber-athlete Kyle Pitts, All-American Brock Bowers, or do-it-all star Michael Mayer.
On top of those varying coverage responsibilities, Branch also had to be able to step up and play linebacker in the run game, routinely taking on offensive linemen and lead blockers to set the edge and blow up blockers to make tackles in the backfield.
Being able to do all of that, and do it all well, meant that Alabama could stay in the same formation without having to substitute to combat rushing or passing formations, and Branch could be trusted to lock down the opposing offense’s usual favorite mismatch weapons.
His combination of amazing tackling (only missed 4 tackles in three years), extemely quick feet, and instinctual ability to take on and navigate around/through blockers make him a modern defensive back built in a lab to combat the most prevalent offensive schemes in college football.
And, sure, he could play safety. He could probably play outside cornerback as well, though the 4.58s forty yard dash might give some pause there. But, ultimately, Brian Branch is one of the best defensive players in the draft for his unique ability to keep his defense from having to substitute for sub-packages.
For the most part, he’s expected to be a round 1 draft pick. The mid-teens is probably as high as he’ll go, but anywhere in the second half of the 1st round seems likely. If he falls the second round, then the team with the first pick better be sprinting up to the podium as soon as Day 2 begins.