It was a long Thursday night from Brian Branch as he sat in the green room only for his name to, surprisingly, never be called in the first round. Of course, nobody picked any other safeties either, so he was still tops on the board at his position.
Now, the Detroit Lions have traded up to make sure they get him and will pair him with Jahmyr Gibbs and Jameson Williams.
Not long ago, Minkah Fitzpatrick was selected 11th overall out of Alabama as a do-it-all defensive back who excelled in the slot. He went on to become more of a pure safety, and, well, he became arguably the best safety in the NFL.
Brian Branch will look to follow in his shoes as a guy who played the Star, or nickel corner, for Nick Saban’s defense.
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.