On Day 2 of the 2023 NFL draft, one of the first players likely to hear his name called as the newest member of an NFL franchise will be Alabama safety Brian Branch — who one anonymous pro coach said “has the instincts you look for” in the secondary.
“Brian Branch has the instincts you look for at the position, and all kinds of versatility,” the coach told Heavy’s Matt Lombardo. “Love that you can line him up at safety or in nickel.”
Lombardo was dumbfounded as to how Branch fell out of the first round and projected an early second-round selection for the safety.
“Branch was the consensus No. 1 safety in this year’s class, and almost inexplicably fell out of a first-round that saw three cornerbacks come off the board,” Lombardo wrote. “Last season, Branch notched the most productive campaign of his collegiate career, logging 90 tackles with 7 pass breakups, a pair of interceptions, and 14.0 tackles for loss. Branch is a bit of a Swiss-Army Knife both in coverage, and a player who can be weaponized near the line of scrimmage in run-support. It would be surprising to see him slide much past the first handful of picks in Round 2.”
Brian Branch an Option For Two AFC East Teams
Branch is unlikely to fall into the 40s in the second round of the NFL draft, but ahead of the draft on February 23, the Draft Network’s Jack McKessy projected the Alabama safety to a pair of AFC East teams: the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
“Branch could step in immediately as the Bills’ new starting strong safety, aiding their defense as a whole thanks to his ability to not only defend the pass but defend the run and line up anywhere Buffalo needs,” McKessy said of Branch going to Buffalo.
“Branch could step in and take that group of young talent to the next level,” McKessy said of going to the Jets. “He could win as a nickel defender over opposing slot receivers, add support as an elite run defender from anywhere and help out in pass coverage from deeper alignments as well. The Jets have been a very popular landing spot for Branch in some of our mock drafts here at The Draft Network and elsewhere, so this fit for him shouldn’t be a surprise.”
Buffalo have the 59th pick in the second round, while New York has the 43rd. The Jets are a much likelier landing spot after New York opted to add talent to its defensive front instead of the secondary, not to mention Lombardo’s prediction of Branch being one of the first second-round picks off the board.
Recent Super Bowl Contenders Also Brian Branch Options
Two recent Super Bowl contenders/champions were also listed as potential Branch options — though one, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, isn’t likely to be one anymore after the retirement of Tom Brady. The other, the Cincinnati Bengals, does still figure to be though.
“Brian Branch fits right into the problem the Buccaneers currently face,” McKessy said of Tampa Bay. “He’s a super versatile defender that can fit in anywhere in a secondary that has five different players set to hit free agency in March.”
As for the Bengals, Branch could also step in and start according to McKessy.
“Branch could step in and fill the hole left by Bates’ departure as an immediate starter for Cincinnati’s defense,” McKessy wrote. “In addition, he could provide some potential depth to the rest of the secondary because of his versatility. If someone like nickel Mike Hilton went down with an injury, for instance, Branch could slide down to replace him. Branch would be the second straight versatile defensive back they’ll have drafted if the Bengals do decide to go that route after they took Dax Hill in the first round last year.”