Steelers Land Versatile Defensive Back In Post-Super Bowl Mock Draft From CBS Sports

Does the belief that defenses win championships remain true in today’s NFL?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly banking on that with the league’s highest-paid defense featuring T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick entering the 2023 season.

So, too, is CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson, who paired the Steelers with a versatile, high-end defensive back in his latest post-Super Bowl mock draft, which dropped Monday morning.

That defensive back? Alabama safety/cornerback hybrid Brian Branch, a name Wilson has paired with the black and gold once before this offseason. 

“Brian Branch isn’t the first name you hear about when the conversation turns to Alabama’s defense, but maybe he should be,” Wilson writes regarding the selection of Branch at No. 17 overall to the Steelers in the first round. “He’s a sure tackler, can blitz off the edge, and is solid in coverage. And if Nick Saban trusts him, that’s all you need to know about his NFL prospects.”

After previously listing Branch as a cornerback all season, CBS Sports pivoted in recent weeks, listing Branch rightfully as a safety, where he spent most of his time at Alabama. But, he’s capable of playing nickel and has excelled as a hybrid safety/linebacker playing closer to the line of scrimmage with the Crimson Tide.

His versatility and run defense will certainly be something that intrigues the Steelers brass, and with safeties Damontae Kazee and Terrell Edmunds due to hit free agency, maybe the Steelers see Branch as a do-it-all replacement at the position.

While at Alabama playing the star role under Saban — a position Fitzpatrick played at Alabama before becoming a first-round pick — Branch was a highly productive, versatile piece. He finished his carer with 172 total tackles and four sacks, three of which came in his junior year in 2022. It was by far Branch’s most productive season as he racked up 90 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two interceptions. He also had seven pass deflections last fall for the Crimson Tide.

Here’s what Steelers Depot’s own Chandler Stroud had to say about Branch in his draft profile:

“Branch is a player to me who, really throughout his junior year continually rose his stock because of his ability to consistently make tackles and especially near the line of scrimmage or shortly in front of or behind it. He just has a nose for the ball carrier, but you would like him overall to contest those deep balls a little more. His game is phenomenal when it comes to his closing speed on those short to intermediate routes. He plants his foot and gets directly to the target. He plays close to the line of scrimmage, causing mismatches as far as overloads for the offensive line, shifting the box and the count of bodies there for the offense to account for. You also just want to see him get those much-needed takeaways for his team. He’s way too talented of a player to not be consistently taking possessions away from other teams.”

In today’s NFL, teams need versatile defenders that can wear multiple hats and allowed defensive coordinators to play the numbers game against certain personnel and looks. Branch will allow teams to do that at the next level, thanks to his run defense and overall abilities playing in the box and in space.
Add in his physical presence and it’s no secret why he’s in the first-round conversation. Is that a fit in Pittsburgh? We’ll see what happens in free agency with guys like Edmunds and Kazee.
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