Alabama safety Brian Branch could be a target for the Pittsburgh Steelers come Day One of the NFL Draft. A productive safety in the SEC, Branch can play all over the field and has talked about how he would love to be paired with fellow Alabama product Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Yesterday, Branch met with reporters and spoke about how much it would mean to him to play with Fitzpatrick, and said he’s even had dreams about it.
“[It’d be] Huge,” Branch said about being paired in the secondary with Fitzpatrick. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of, I have visions of, when I sleep and just being able to play along a player like that is big to me.”
Both Fitzpatrick and Branch played under head coach Nick Saban at Alabama and both put up some really good numbers when wearing Crimson Red. Fitzpatrick recorded 171 tackles, nine interceptions, and 35 pass breakups in his three years at Alabama while Branch totaled 172 tackles, four picks and 27 pass breakups.
Steelers had coach Mike Tomlin took a liking to Fitzpatrick during the pre-draft process in 2018 and may be doing so with Branch this year as Tomlin and the Steelers met with Branch on day one of the NFL Combine. Branch told reporters how much he loves Tomlin and how he would love to play for him.
“I met the Steelers, I want to say day one, and Coach Mike Tomlin is definitely a player’s coach and I love that about him. And he connects with his players and being able to play for him would be huge.”
Given the Steelers need at cornerback, and with Branch logging snaps in the slot, Branch was asked if the Steelers talked to him about playing anywhere specifically on defense, but instead he said Tomlin and the Steelers just wanted to know where he would feel comfortable.
“They pretty much just asked where would I want to play and where I would be comfortable at.”
Branch, listed at 5’11 1/2″ and weighing 190 pounds, would be on the smaller size for an outside corner but given his ability to play safety and slot, seeing 569 snaps in the slot 136 in the box and 25 snaps as a deep safety, his size shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Branch continued to play up Steelers links as he said that Troy Polamalu was one player whose game he liked growing up.
“I like Troy Polamalu’s game and Kam Chancellor’s game.”
Branch is a great prospect from a school that is known for producing tons of high level NFL talent. Pittsburgh may have a need at safety this offseason if Terrell Edmunds and/or Damontae Kazee leave in free agency. If that is the case it wouldn’t be surprising to see Branch, guy who it seems Tomlin likes be the Steelers’ pick at 17 if he is still on the board.
Even if Edmunds and/or Kazee are re-signed Branch could still be an option for the Steelers. An AP Second Team All-American this season, his ability to play in the slot could be appealing to Tomlin and the Steelers with their current slot cornerback being Arthur Maulet who can definitely be improved upon.
A versatile defensive back like Branch who can move around the defensive backfield would light up Tomlin and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s eyes as they can not only play Branch as a slot but possibly bring back the three safety look the team loved to use during the second half of the season.
The links between Branch and Pittsburgh are there. It will certainly be fun to watch if he is available at pick 17 on draft night if the Steelers decide to write his name on their draft card.