Wagoner: Branch Has Big Plans for NFL
Branch Has Big Plans for NFL
Friday, April 13, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Nobody has ever questioned whether Alan Branch has the size or athleticism to play in the NFL. In fact, it’s those two qualities that have him projected to be a first-round pick in this month’s draft.
And while his size, speed and agility can be measured in numbers, it’s the intangibles that have some questioning whether Branch will be a star in the NFL or another in a line of busts drafted solely on physical skills.
Since declaring for the draft soon after Michigan’s season came to an end in a Rose Bowl loss to USC, the massive defensive tackle has seen his stock climb as high as a possible top three pick and subsequently watched it tumble down the board.
But one person who doesn’t doubt Branch’s willingness and desire is Branch himself. And he has said as much at every opportunity.
“Just look at the film,” Branch said. “I’m not a mean and nasty guy right now, but when I get on the field, I am a different person. That’s why I love the game so much. It balances me out. I am a laid back guy, I don’t get emotional off the field, but once I get between those lines I am fired up and emotional and yelling.”
While Branch might not be mean and nasty, he is certainly one of the most physically imposing prospects in this year’s draft. At the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Branch measured 6’5 ½, 324 pounds.
For the Wolverines, Branch was used almost exclusively as a two gap tackle toward the end of his career. But Michigan used a variety of defensive schemes that allowed Branch to move around and gain experience all across the line. By the time his career with the Wolverines was over, Branch had played nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end in both 3-4 and 4-3 defenses.
Along the way, Branch racked up 61 tackles with 18 for loss and nine sacks.
“I love all of the positions,” Branch said. “As long as I am on the D line I feel comfortable. When I learn defenses, I try to learn all three. I feel anywhere along the defensive line is home for me.
“I think my versatility is what a lot of teams get with me. I’m big, but I have a lot of explosiveness coming out of the gate. I can keep up with a lot of people so I feel if you get me on your team you get a diverse player that can play more than one spot.”
Still, the questions have persisted about Branch’s desire. While the physical traits are all clear, Branch had a tendency to take plays off for the Wolverines. That means he could fall from a near certain top six pick to the middle to late part of the first round.
But while many question Branch’s desire, he says he is getting as much as he can out of his body on every play.
“I feel like I am getting the most out of it,” Branch said. “When you are an athlete and you are going 100 percent every play, you are going to get the best out of that athlete regardless.”
There are plenty of teams in the draft in search of a dominant defensive tackle. The consensus is that Branch is, at worst, one of the top two available at his position with some believing he is the best.
Branch’s versatility makes him a fit in just about any defense, but it appears teams like Arizona and Washington at the top of the draft could have interest in his services. As for the Rams, Branch would make an excellent fit as a run stuffing nose tackle in their base 4-3 defense.
That’s an area where the team could certainly use a boost after finishing near the bottom of the league in run defense in 2006.
“I am (always) going to do my position,” Branch said. “I am going to help other guys on the field. I am going to take the double team so the linebackers can stay open and do their jobs.”
At 324 pounds, Branch believes he is at his ideal weight, but he has the ability to carry more or less weight depending on where the team needs him. In his freshman season, Branch tipped the scales at 375 pounds, but has dropped as low as 300. He believes somewhere in between those areas will make him the best player he can be.
No matter where Branch lands on draft day, he believes the team that picks him won’t regret it.
“I’m a great run stopper,” Branch said. “I have great explosiveness. I can hold at the point of attack. I do pretty well stopping the run. I’m a pretty good athlete so I feel I am able to do well on the pass rush or stay on the inside and make the quarterback jump out for the defensive ends.
“I am comfortable playing anywhere in any defensive line scheme.”