Brian Branch Rated as the No. 1 Safety on ESPN’s Big Board
Alabama has produced eight defensive backs that were drafted in the first round since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 and Brian Branch could be the ninth. In a recent article, ESPN NFL Draft Analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Branch rated as the No. 1 safety and No. 20 player overall on his Big Board.
The junior defensive back has played the nickel spot each of the last three seasons but projects as a safety at the next level. Branch has a versatile skillset. He is active in run support, an effective blitzer, and plays the game with a physical nature that reflects that of a linebacker. He has the ability to matchup with tight ends and slot receivers in man coverage.
“Safety, cornerback, whatever -- Branch can play wherever you put him on defense,” said Kiper Jr. “I wrote about him last month, pointing out that versatility. He plays primarily in the slot for Alabama, and I think he is most likely to end up as a free safety in the NFL. He has 23 pass breakups over three seasons, including seven in 2022. He also has three career picks and is a good blitzer when asked to crash down. The versatility helps a lot here, and Branch should be an instant starter as a rookie.”
Branch developed a knack for playing some of his best football on the biggest stage. He first gained national recognition as a true freshman when he earned the start against Ohio State in the National Championship Game in 2020. Branch lined up against future first round picks Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave and finished the game with three pass breakups.
The following season Branch worked as a reserve before becoming the starter again in the Iron Bowl. He played a vital role on the Crimson Tide’s defense in its four-overtime victory over Auburn. In the College Football Playoff semifinals against Cincinnati, Branch played one of the best games of his career, highlighting all of the qualities that will make him a coveted prospect in this year’s draft.
Branch entered his junior campaign as the full-time starter. This season, he registered 78 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, two sacks, seven pass breakups and an interception. He was named a first-team All-American by CBS Sports.