“There is some great talent at safety in the second round. Brian Branch ran a 4.58, but he’s an absolute star,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “I think he’s a playmaker who is going to have a great pro career. He’s going to end up out-playing his draft slot.”
Branch, a solid tackler, played in 35 games over three seasons for the Crimson Tide. He was moved around the defense to win matchups. He had 90 tackles (58 solo) along with three sacks and 14 tackles for loss last season. He was productive playing close to the line of scrimmage.
“I feel like I’m versatile,” Branch said. “I can play anywhere in the back end. I’m comfortable playing everywhere in the back end and able to do it at a high level.”
Branch has tried to mirror his game after former Alabama star Minkah Fitzpatrick, who’s a five-time All-Pro safety with the Steelers.
“I love his game,” Branch said. “The way he’s able to play every position in the back end and able to do it at a high level, I think I’ve been able to do that my years at Alabama.”
Branch has met with the Steelers and would love to play with Fitzpatrick. The Steelers have the 17th pick in the first round.
“Coach Mike Tomlin is definitely a player’s coach,” Branch said. “I love that about him. He connects with players.”
Branch has highlighted his versatility to teams during the interview process.
“I think versatility is a great selling point to the NFL,” Branch said. “Let them know wherever they need me, I can play. Just being able to go out there and work on it, I feel like it’s going to enhance my game in the long run in the future.”
Branch became comfortable with moving around the defense at Alabama.
“I feel like if a team utilizes me to blitz a lot, I can blitz,” Branch said. “If a team wants me to cover their slot receiver in man coverage, I can do that. If a team utilizes me to drop into zone, I can do that as well, and also be back at safety and call the defense, be the quarterback of the defense. I feel like I can do all of that.”
Studying receivers and how offenses try to expose defensive backs on film is a major part of Branch’s preparation.
“Tuesdays, I start off with watching the whole game film from the opposing team,” Branch said. “Wednesday, I’m watching the receivers – strictly the receivers, their tendencies and what they like to do. Then I say Friday I like to strictly watch third down.”
Battle was a highly touted 4-star recruit coming out of St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He started four games as a freshman before taking over at strong safety as a sophomore. After a solid junior season, he returned for his senior season.
“Just being very smart on the field,” Battle said of his strengths. “Trying to dissect the offense. Trying to know what they’re going to give me before the ball even snaps.”
Battle played in 54 games for the Crimson Tide. He had six interceptions and 16 pass breakups.
“Playing the ball, just playing the ball in the air,” Battle said. “I’ve got to work on attacking the ball. Sometimes my angles on tackles and running my feet through tackles. Those are some of my weaknesses.”
Some of the other top safeties include Georgia’s Christopher Smith (strong safety) and Boise State’s JL Skinner (free safety).
Smith, who played at Hapeville Central Academy, was named first-team All-American by the Associated Press.
He had a knack for hard tackles and big plays for the Bulldogs. He had the 73-yard interception return for the only touchdown in the 10-3 win over Clemson to start the 2021 national title run. He also returned a blocked field-goal attempt for a 96-yard touchdown in the win over LSU in the SEC Championship game Dec. 3.
Florida’s Rashad Torrence II (Marietta High), Florida State’s Jammie Robinson (Lee County), Florida’s Trey Dean III (Dutchtown) and Mississippi’s Otis Reese (Lee County) also are top safety prospects from Georgia.
AJC’S 2023 POSITION-BY-POSITION DRAFT SERIES
WIDE RECEIVERS – Past few drafts have spoiled NFL teams looking for wide receivers | Top 10 WRs
RUNNING BACKS – Running backs Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs may have to wait to hear their names called | Top 10 RBs
TIGHT ENDS – Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer heads a dee TE class | Top 10 TEs
QUARTERBACKS – Bryce Young’s small stature no longer an issue in the NFL | Top 10 QBs
OFFENSIVE LINE – Skoronski’s short arm length being scrutinized for left tackle | Top 5 C,G, &OTs
DEFENSIVE LINE – Is Jalen Carter the real deal or a potential bust? | Top 5 DTs, DEs
LINEBACKERS – Dutchtown’s Will Anderson expected to go in the top 5 of NFL draft | Top LBs
CORNERBACKS – Former Georgia standout Kelee Ringo one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL draft | Top CBs
SAFETIES – Friday
SPECIAL TEAMS – Saturday
The Bow Tie Chronicles