Why the Slide?: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

Our “Why the Slide” series parallels and grew out our “Why Undrafted” series. The latter was created a number of years ago in response to your questions about why certain well-known prospects went unselected in NFL drafts. For both series, I reach out to sources with NFL teams to find out why their organizations passed on drafting a given player, and/or, what were the reasons for other teams to pass on that prospect. The positive response to “Why Undrafted” and questions from readers about why prospects were drafted lower than the media expectations led us to create the parallel series “Why the Slide?”

Both series are back this year. Feel free to email me requests for Why the Slide? and Why Undrafted? at [email protected]. I can’t promise to get to all of them, but I will do my best and definitely will respond to the email.

Throughout the leadup to the 2023 NFL Draft Alabama defensive back Brian Branch was a consensus first-round pick. Branch had been all over the field for the Crimson Tide in 2022, showing superb instincts alongside phenomenal tackling in the open field. For his final collegiate season, he totaled 90 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and seven passes broken up. Branch was the consensus top safety prospect, plus he had thrived as a nickel corner. Some NFL team sources called Branch the best tackling defensive back they had scouted in decades. Thus, it was a surprise to many when Branch was not selected during the opening night of the 2023 NFL Draft.

In speaking to team sources, the the biggest factor that caused Branch to slide was his 40 time, which was close to 4.6 seconds. That is a slow time for a pro defensive back and gave teams real questions about Branch’s ability to run with fast NFL receivers. Hence, he slid to Round 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Detroit Lions ended Branch’s slide when they moved up three spots in the second round to select him. Detroit is an excellent landing spot for Branch, who will be a great scheme fit for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. As a rookie, Branch won’t be forced to play right away because the Lions have a very good veteran in C.J. Gardner-Johnson who can play that safety/nickel corner role. However if Branch plays well, he could be a starter in the nickel with Gardner-Johnson or Branch could play at safety while the other one lines up against slot cornerbacks.

In the long-term, Branch can serve as the nickel corner and a safety in base sets with Kerby Joseph manning free safety. Gardner-Johnson is only signed for one season, so Branch could take over his role in 2024. Even if Gardner-Johnson gets re-signed, they both could be starters because NFL teams play their nickel defense on around 70 percent of their snaps, and some games are playing nickel the entire time. The Detroit defense struggled to defend the run last season, and Branch will be a definite upgrade to address that issue. While Branch is probably disappointed he slipped out of the first round, he ended up in a great landing spot that should benefit him for many years to come.

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