As we’ve done in previous offseasons, we’re taking a look at those Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2019 offseason. We’ll focus this on the players who weren’t on the team’s practice squad last year, the mostly unknown players that fans don’t know much about.
Marcelis Branch/FS Robert Morris – 5’9/3 193
At 5’9, 193 pounds, size and by its logical extension – strength – might seem to be an issue for Branch. But it’s hard to match the work ethic and time in the weight room Branch spent in college, letting him play bigger and stronger than size suggests.
One day, Branch showed up to the RMU weight room wearing a Superman shirt and promptly benched 405 pounds. That’s not something on the resume of every corner. Neither is his versatility. He spent his first three years in college at corner before being moved to free safety his senior season. In that linked interview, he says safety is the spot he feels most comfortable at.
One piece of information I couldn’t figure out in researching Branch is how he became a Colonial. On the surface, it isn’t a local story, a WPIAL kid, an obvious connection. Branch was born in Homestead, Florida and attended Miami Southridge High School. His Rivals page tells you very little; they didn’t even give him a star ranking and only RMU appears as schools who were interested in him.
Regardless, he made his impact as a true freshman. He was named his conference’s freshman of the year and an FCS freshman All-American after starting nine games, forcing five turnovers with 58 total tackles. Other names who joined him on that latter list? New England Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts, Carolina Panthers’ cornerback James Bradberry, and the Steelers very own Javon Hargrave.
Branch went on to start all 11 games his sophomore year, creating two more turnovers, but redshirted his junior season for an assumed injury, though I couldn’t find any information on it.
Healthy in time for Week One of 2015, setting a career high in tackles with 63. By his senior year, at safety, he picked off a pair of passes, and his tackles increased, cracking the 70 mark for the first time. 42 starts littered his career, the most by any player in Robert Morris history. He was named the school’s Male Athlete of the Year after his senior season, thriving for a team that never had a winning season during his time there.
Despite a successful career, the 4.61 40 he ran at his Pro Day made him easy to write off. The other numbers though were impressive for any corner, not even an FCS player: 38 inch vert, 10’4″ broad, and his 23 reps on the bench – a reminder of his weight room work ethic – would’ve topped any DB invited to Indy’s Combine.
Atlanta scooped him up following the 2017 draft. His time there was largely nondescript, at least in what you might be interested in, but here’s a great rep of him working as the Falcons’ gunner, making his tackle for just a one yard gain.
The Falcons cut him after camp and though never re-signed him to the practice squad, brought him back on a futures deal at the start of 2018. It ended the same way. Carried through camp, waived outright at the end. Aside from one workout with Tampa in October, he spent this past year on the street.
I go back to that work ethic though. We talk plenty about Antonio Brown and how things are (maybe) ending but we have to remember with how it started. With an insane work ethic no one could top. Branch isn’t going to reach Brown’s level, that much is obvious, but when you work like he’s apparently done, when you live in the gym, it’s easy for coaches to take notice. Expect him to play free safety for a Steelers’ roster starving for a couple of those. And don’t count him out.