One name that appears to be getting drafted in a similar range to the Baltimore Ravens' first-round pick is Brian Branch. Does he fit the Ravens, what does he bring to the NFL, and what is his best NFL comparison?
Baltimore Ravens NFL draft Profile: Alabama CB, Brian Branch
Brian Branch did not immediately play, but in his true freshman season, he was starting in the slot when Alabama won both of their playoff games in 2020. From there, he entered 2021 as the starter. His career took off in 2022, though.
Brian Branch went from 22 stops to 43, per PFF, and his yards per coverage snap dropped from 0.98 to 0.58. Branch left Alabama after three years with 1.682 snaps, and 992 in coverage. He played 1,241 of those snaps as a slot, and 300 in the box. He had 40 snaps at cornerback, and 101 as a free safety. Branch got an invite to the NFL combine.
He is not the biggest player and has overall average athleticism compared to his peers at safety. Still, it is hard to call him a safety, though it is hard to say he is a cornerback as well.
How Brian Branch translates to the NFL
Brian Branch played the slot at Alabama, and it is hard to see him anywhere but the slot in the NFL. He does not have the speed or length to convert to cornerback. The biggest issue he brings from the slot is burners taking him deep on the slot fade.
He is certainly not rangy enough to play free safety, and while he can tackle, he is not the best at taking on blocks. Branch is at his best in the slot and near the line. Near the line, he can play with his instincts more and not worry about the trash around him. This allows him to scream off of the edge and blow up running plays, screens, and all kinds of plays that lead to the flats.
In the slot he is shifty enough in the short areas to stick with receivers, but he is best when he plays zone and has his eyes on the quarterback. He is great at passing off wide outs, and sticking in his zone, and he can make plays on the ball, baiting quarterbacks to try his zone.
When you get over the reality that he is not overly athletic, and not overly strong, and that pushes him exclusively into the slot you see a good player.
NFL Comparison for Brian Branch
The best NFL comparison for Brian Branch is Jimmie Ward. They have similar physical and athletic profiles. Ward also happened to be a former first-round pick. At times Ward played safety, but he was always better in the slot. He is smart, and his versatility can be utilized there, but that is his best role. Ward also makes physical stops in the run game that highlight the comparison.
Should Baltimore Ravens draft Brian Branch?
Two things that come to mind when thinking of Branch. First, he is from Alabama, so we have to consider the Ravens taking him. Second, they are moving Kyle Hamilton out of the slot and into the strong safety role because of the loss of Chuck Clark. They already liked a versatile safety playing the slot and found something in that. That does make it more likely. Is an outside cornerback more likely here? Yes, but it does fill a need and a role that made the rest of the secondary better.