With the 45th pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions secured a versatile defensive back in Brian Branch from Alabama. The 14th selection in the second round, Branch immediately fills a need in the Lions’ defensive backfield, drawing comparisons to Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. This versatile player is set to make an impact under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, offering a safety net in case Gardner-Johnson departs after his one-year contract.
The Ultimate Plug-and-Play Defensive Back for the Lions
Branch is a plug-and-play defensive back possessing every essential ingredient to excel early in his career. Although he primarily handled nickel coverage at Alabama, his range and instincts suit single-high or split safety looks. Fast, quick, and strong, Branch can match up against shifty slots, bigger possession receivers, and pass-catching tight ends. Urgent and football-savvy, he has playmaking angles but may play it safe in off-man coverage. With room for improvement and no glaring weaknesses, he’s among the safest draft picks.
Strengths That Make Branch Stand Out
Branch boasts exceptional football intelligence, range, and instincts. He’s fast, fluid, and strong for his size, exhibiting smooth and agile footwork. He can mirror and match patterns from off-man, displaying reactive quickness and burst to hound routes. A ballhawk, Branch undercuts passes with explosive bursts, reads receivers’ eyes, and tackles blockers fearlessly. His run diagnosis and pursuit abilities reveal his leverage and angle mastery.
A Versatile Contributor to Alabama’s Secondary
A true junior prospect, Branch has been an essential component of Alabama’s secondary since his freshman year. His versatility allowed him to play multiple positions, including deep safety, strong safety, nickel, linebacker, and even the end man on the line of scrimmage in blitz packages. This instinctual defender’s short-area quickness, acceleration, and high motor make him a constant presence around the football. Although he excelled at various positions, Branch was most comfortable and productive playing the nickel/hybrid linebacker role.
Play Recognition and Athleticism
In the box, Branch’s play recognition and athleticism enable him to cover any spot on the field. Against the run, he demonstrates good closing speed and efficient tackling. His violent tackling and physical presence set the tone for the defense. In zone coverage against the pass, he reads the quarterback’s eyes, jumps routes, and deflects passes, making him a disruptive force. Branch also has the range to intercept deep passes and can pressure the quarterback as a blitzer.
Room for Improvement in Man-to-Man Coverage
Branch’s primary area for improvement lies in his slot play in man-to-man coverage. Receivers occasionally beat him on vertical routes, creating separation and opportunities for big plays. In slot-man situations, they can also break across his face and get open. Off-man alignments in the slot are where Branch seems most uncomfortable and has the most room to grow.
A Versatile Leader for the Lions’ Defense
In Brian Branch, the Detroit Lions have drafted a versatile defensive back who can make plus-level plays in every alignment. His intensity and passion for the game make him a potential influential team leader, giving the Lions a valuable addition to their defensive unit.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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