The Pittsburgh Steelers have filled a lot of holes this offseason, but one position where they could still look to add is a slot corner and depth at the safety position behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and the newly re-signed Damontae Kazee. While the team could still bring back safety Terrell Edmunds, they could look to kill two birds with one stone and bring in someone who could fill their needs at safety and corner. In the latest mock draft by CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson, he has them doing just that by selecting Alabama S/CB Brian Branch at No. 17 overall.
“The Steelers got interior offensive line help with Nate Herbig, and made some defensive moves with linebackers Elandon Roberts, Cole Holcomb and cornerback Patrick Peterson. Still, offensive tackle and edge rusher could be the play here, but with a run on both positions in the first half of the round, Pittsburgh instead targets S1. And even if they bring back Terrell Edmunds, Brian Branch is special; he can play in the slot, near the line of scrimmage or deep centerfield. And if Nick Saban trusted him at Alabama, that’s all you need to know about his NFL prospects. He ran a 4.58 at the combine, but he plays much faster than that,” Wilson wrote.
Adding Branch would bring another real chess piece for Pittsburgh’s secondary. He played the same Star position at Alabama that Minkah Fitzpatrick did during his time with the Crimson Tide and offers the same versatility that Fitzpatrick did coming out of school. Last season, Branch had 90 tackles, 14 of which were for a loss along with three sacks and two interceptions. He had 172 total tackles in his career at Alabama with three career interceptions.
At the NFL Combine, Branch, who had a formal meeting with the Steelers, talked about his fit next to Fitzpatrick and said one of the players that he models his game after is former Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu. While you obviously can’t expect a Fitzpatrick/Polamalu level talent, especially not right off the bat, Branch’s ability to move around and wear a variety of hats for the Steelers’ defense is likely going to be attractive to the team. The odds are the team invests a pick at No. 17 or No. 32 in the cornerback position, and while Branch is pretty limited to playing inside, the Steelers have two cornerbacks in Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson who are more comfortable and better off playing outside. Bringing in someone who can start immediately in the slot would fill a major need for this Steelers team.
Drafting a guy to primarily play slot corner in the first round is going to bring upon questions of value and whether the positional need really merits a first-round selection. But Branch’s versatility makes him more than just a traditional slot corner, and I’m sure getting mentored by Peterson, Fitzpatrick and other leaders on Pittsburgh’s defense will be good for his game. If the “big three” cornerback trio of Joey Porter Jr, Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez are all off the board by No. 17, as they were in this mock draft, Branch could certainly be the pick, and it would be a lot of fun to see how he’s utilized in Pittsburgh.