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Draft Coverage

2023 NFL Draft preview: 5 safeties that could interest the Lions

Brian Branch of Alabama is considered one of the top cornerback prospects in this year's draft. He's also one of the top safeties.

And to juggle the lineup a little more, one prominent publication has projected Branch as a nickel corner in the first round of his mock draft.

Versatility is a valuable trait. Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell speaks often about the value of players who can play more than one position.

Someone else who values it is Branch. He complied impressive statistics in the 40 games he played at Alabama. He wants to bring his versatility to the NFL – at whatever position teams want him to play.

"I can play anywhere in the back end," Branch said in his Combine interview. "I'm comfortable anywhere in the back end, and able to do it at a high level.

"I think my versatility is a great selling point for the NFL. Let them know – wherever they want me, I can play there."

Following is a preview of the 2023 safety draft strength, the Lions' depth and draft priority at the position, and five prospects who could interest the Lions.

View photos of the top safety prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Safety draft strength: It's an average year.

Lions' safety depth, draft priority: The Lions are solid at safety if Tracy Walker III returns from an Achilles injury to team with 2022 rookie Kerby Joseph and free agent signee C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Five prospects who could interest the Lions:

(40-yard dash times are from Combine and Pro Day workouts as available.)

1. Brian Branch, Alabama:

6-0, 190. 4.58 40.

Three-year player, 40 games, 111 solo tackles with 19.5 tackles for loss.

Bottom line: Branch also has the ability to play cornerback. He had four career interceptions and 27 passes defended – nine in each season.

2. Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M:

6-2, 198. 4.52 40.

A three-year player, 28 games played. Had 164 career tackles with 97 solos, eight passes defended and 14 tackles for loss.

Bottom line: At 6-2, used his range to make 14 career tackles for loss.

3. Christopher Smith, Georgia:

5-11, 192. 4.62 40.

A five-year player (2018-2022), with 57 games played, Smith had six career interceptions – three in each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Bottom line: The fifth season was his best – 45 solo tackles, three interceptions and eight passes defended.

4. Jordan Battle, Alabama:

6-1, 209. 4.55 40.

Played 54 games in four seasons. He had six interceptions, and returned three of them for TDs – two of them in 2021.

Bottom line: Credited with 252 career tackles, with 141 of them solos.

5. Ronnie Hickman Jr., Ohio State:

6-0 1/2, 203.

Three-year player, with five games played in 2020 and 13 in each of 2021 and 2022. All 26 starts were in his last two seasons. Had 82 solo tackles, with 26 in 2022.

Bottom line: After spending his rookie season as a lightly used backup, Hickman moved into a starting role in 2021 and took advantage to start his last two seasons.

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