As mock draft season begins to shift into gear, there’s become a bit of a consensus already on what the Detroit Lions might want to do to help their roster.
After finishing 9-8, yet missing the playoffs due to being doomed early and late by a defense that was ranked 32nd in the league, folks are beginning to think that the team may be looking to fix that side of the football.
Already, most mocks have the Lions focusing on their defensive front with a lineman, or the secondary with a cornerback. One spot that has not been brought up at all is safety, perhaps given the Lions have players at that position.
Pro Football Focus shifted gears with that narrative, though. In a new mock draft by Marcus Mosher, Detroit’s first-round picks at six and 18 were revealed. Not. surprisingly, Mosher had the team going with Clemson defensive tackle Bryan Bresee with that pick, which has been a common outcome.
His surprise came at 18, with the Lions scooping up Alabama safety Brian Branch to add to the team’s secondary. Branch has not been on Detroit’s radar to this point in other mocks, but that could be set to change in a major way given his athleticism and versatility on the back end, as Mosher wrote.
“Another safety for the Lions? Yep. Kerby Joseph was fantastic as a rookie, but they could always use another to pair with him for the next few years. And Branch is so much more than just a typical safety. He can play in the slot, in the box or even at cornerback. This would be a gamble on talent, as Branch is one of the best 10 or 12 players in this class,” he wrote in the piece of Branch.
Branch certainly has plenty of fans, and that might only become more of the case as the pre-draft workout period gets underway in the next few months. If he tests well, he could certainly work his way up the board for a team like Detroit that needs plenty of help.
Safety Kerby Joseph had a great rookie season for Detroit with four interceptions and 83 tackles on the year. The team will bring back veteran Tracy Walker off his ACL injury, and could also elect to keep free agent DeShon Elliott at the position.
Branch would be an intriguing option at not only safety, but perhaps cornerback if he manages to show well at that position, too. For a team like Detroit in need of weaponry, he could become a good name to remember.
Branch’s Career Stats & Highlights
While the cornerback class has been called deep, Branch could be an intriguing piece given his ability to play inside and out, as well as be position versatile for a backfield.
At Alabama, Branch had fantastic numbers in three seasons of work, putting up 172 total tackles, four sacks, three interceptions and 23 passes defended. He is very athletic and has solid closing speed, which he always showed when he was on the field for the Crimson Tide.
Branch was voted a second-team AP All-American as well as a second-team All-SEC player for Nick Saban and his defense. Theoretically, such a player with production and pedigree would be a major fit in the NFL.
Defensive Back a Major Need for Lions
No matter whether the player plays safety or cornerback, defensive backfield will be a big need for the Lions this offseason given how the team struggled last year.
Detroit finished 30th in pass defense, allowing 26 touchdowns and over 245 yards per-game on average. Worse, they allowed a total of 4,179 yards through the air. That points to a group that simply didn’t get much going all season long.
Jeff Okudah, who posted 73 tackles and one interception was the most consistent player of the group, and by the end of the season, he was struggling to find consistency as well. The Lions have solid pieces like Jerry Jacobs, but not nearly enough depth at the position, which proved itself to be the case most of the year.
Free agent Amani Oruwariye could be on the outs after a very tough season in 2022, and Mike Hughes may not have done enough to stick around as a must re-sign player. That could lead the Lions to prioritize the spot heavy in the draft.
Branch could theoretically fit in for Detroit, and be a fit at either position for the team.