Brian Branch Remains One of College Football’s Underrated Stars
The Preseason All-SEC teams were released on Friday, with a league-high 19 Alabama players on it, but one name was noticeably left off. Junior defensive back Brian Branch remains one of college football’s more underrated players. Four Alabama defensive backs were listed between the three All-SEC teams and Branch wasn’t one of them.
Branch, a former 4-star recruit has earned significant playing time since his freshman season at the nickel spot. He played in 12 games, including three starts and was impactful player in the Tide’s secondary in 2020.
The Georgia native was a standout in the National Championship game against Ohio State, registering four tackles and a season-high three pass breakups. He showcased the ability to play his best football in the biggest moments. Branch finished the year with 27 total tackles, seven pass breakups and two interceptions.
Heading into his sophomore campaign in 2021, Branch played every position in the Alabama secondary during fall camp.
“We’ve played him at star, corner, money, and safety, so he’s played every position in the secondary,” said Nick Saban. “We need to put him in a place and get him some reps at that position, so he can feel good about playing fast. When he is confident, he’s a real playmaker.”
Safety Jordan Battle also spoke highly about Branch just before the start of the season.
“We love Brian Branch, man. He’s very versatile,” Battle said. “He has a great future ahead at Bama, and he’s gonna continue to do great things.”
He earned the start in the Tide’s season opener against Miami as the nickel, registering five tackles, including one for loss and a pass breakup. Branch spent the next five games working as a reserve on defense before earning extended playing time against Texas A&M because of an ejection to Malachi Moore. He led all Alabama players in tackles with 11, including two for loss.
Branch assumed starting duties again in the Iron Bowl and would go onto to start each of Alabama’s final four contests. He totaled four tackles, including one for loss and played a vital role in holding Auburn to 10 points in regulation. His efforts on defense helped keep the Crimson Tide offense in the game so they could send it into overtime.
The following week he registered three tackles and two pass breakups in a win over Georgia in the SEC Championship game. He was excellent in man coverage guarding All-American tight end Brock Bowers. Against Cincinnati in the College Football Playoff semifinals, Branch played the best game of his career up to this point. He was all over the field, totaling a team-high eight tackles, two pass breakups and half a sack.
Branch finished the season with 55 total tackles, including five for loss and a team-high nine pass breakups. According to Pro Football Focus, he did not miss a single tackle in 2021.
His production through two seasons speaks for itself. The junior defensive back has thrived whenever his number was called.
A versatile defensive back, Branch projects as a safety at the next level. He plays with incredible strength, consistently showing the ability to shed blocks from tight ends. Branch is aggressive in run support, as a blitzer and from depth.
He has incredible instincts, identifying plays quickly and attacking. Branch plays with a high football IQ and ton of confidence on the field. He can guard tight ends and wide receivers in man coverage.
At 6-oot and 194 pounds, Branch packs a significant punch with his hits, equivalent to having another linebacker on the field. Battle called him and DeMarcco Hellams the hardest hitters in the secondary.
The junior will have an opportunity to prove himself again on the field in 2022. Branch was on the first-team defense during spring practice and is poised to keep his spot when the Tide kick off the season on Sep. 3 against Utah State.