Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes identified Alabama defensive back Brian Branch as a potential versatile player for the Lions' defense and traded up three spots from No. 48 to No. 45 to make sure they got their man.
Branch primarily handled the nickel cornerback spot in Alabama's defense, but he can play either safety spots as well. An AP All-American this past season, Branch started all 13 games and recorded 90 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and seven passes defended. He's arguably the most versatile defensive back in the class.
"I value (my versatility) a lot," Branch said via Zoom after being selected by the Lions. "I work at it. All phases of the game. I do it because I'm trying to get on the field any way I can get on the field. Whether it be corner, nickel or safety, just anywhere they want. That helps me a lot."
Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talked at the Combine about wanting players in his secondary who are versatile with the ability to play both safety and nickel cornerback. Recently signed veteran C.J. Gardner-Johnson is a great example of that. Branch is in that same mold.
"He can add value to me," Branch said of Gardner-Johnson. "Being a rookie and coming in to this league I can learn from him. He's done this and he's one of the greats to do it. Just being able to play alongside of him that means a lot to me. I take it as an advantage ... being able to learn from him."
His athletic traits don't jump off the paper but watching the film he's a smart player who is always around the football and knows how to play the game from multiple spots. He's a young player who can impact a defense in multiple ways.
He played 624 snaps in 2021, finishing the year with 37 receptions allowed from 382 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus statistics. This past season he was even better, producing an 89.5 PFF grade while allowing 36 receptions on 416 coverage snaps.
The Lions have a number of recently acquired veteran players in their secondary, which should benefit Branch as he adapts his game to the NFL.