Every spring there is an influx of underclassmen that enter the NFL Draft and are considered the top players at their respective positions. This year is no different, with most of the key positions being dominated by juniors. One of those juniors is defensive tackle Alan Branch of the University of Michigan.
Branch has been a key player for the Wolverines since his arrival in East Lansing in 2004. The New Mexico native didn't just enjoy success there, however, as he was the Most Valuable Player of his squad during his junior and senior seasons at Cibola High School. During his senior year he logged 72 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. Over his high school career, Branch accumulated more than 200 tackles, 15 of which came behind the line, as well as six sacks, four forced fumbles, two recoveries and an interception. If you don't think he is an athlete, he also took back five punts for touchdowns during his time in high school and also was an all-district basketball player for his school.
As a freshman with the Wolverines, Branch played in all of his team's games while registering five tackles and two sacks. As a full-time starter in 2005, he racked up 31 stops, 10 of which went for losses, and five sacks. His success continued as a junior, as Branch lead a devastating Michigan front seven by logging 25 tackles and two more sacks. After announcing that he would forego his senior season experts tagged him the top tackle in the draft class - rightfully so.
Branch commands a ton of respect from his opponents, which is made obvious when you see how often he is double-teamed. The extra attention thrown his way allowed teammates LaMarr Woodley (16.5 sacks) and David Harris (103 tackles) to make more plays.
At 6-foot-6, 331 pounds, Branch is a mountain of a man and is stronger than most as well. He constantly gets a good push and does a nice job keeping everything in front of him. His height also gives him an advantage when getting in the passing lanes, making it even tougher for opposing quarterbacks. The scary thing about Branch is that he is still developing, which is bad news for all offensive linemen in the NFL.
Another thing scouts really like about Branch is his versatility. In three-man fronts, he can play the nose tackle or as an end and he can play tackle or left end in four-man fronts as well. He's also a very smart player on the field and, unlike former teammate Gabe Watson (a fourth-round pick in 2006), who was often criticized for such, Branch gives his all on every snap while playing until to the whistle.
There aren't too many bad things you can say about Branch. While he gets a good push up the middle, he could do a better job getting to the quarterback. He isn't one of the fastest players at his position, either, though he is quick. While he will take on anyone that gets in his way, he was never an "unblockable" force.
As we said earlier, Branch is widely considered the top defensive tackle in
his draft class. With several teams in the top half of the first round having
a need for an interior presence, it's hard to imagine him falling out of the
top 15 or even the top 10.
Teams that should take a liking to Branch include the Arizona Cardinals (fifth overall), Washington Redskins (sixth overall), Houston Texans (eighth overall) and Miami Dolphins (ninth overall). A myriad of teams would dive at the chance to draft him after the ninth pick, but it is pretty tough to imagine he could slide past the Buffalo Bills at No. 12 overall.
About Francis Duffy
"Fran Duffy has been involved in sports since he was a child. A Philadelphia native, Fran is obviously a die-hard fan of the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers and Sixers. Fran is desperately waiting to see his first major championship from one of his hometown teams. He is a Broadcasting major at Temple University and has experience on the radio as well as in television production. Fran also currently works with Temple football's video-operation's team and is an avid fantasy sports player. Looking for more experience in writing, Fran joined KFFL in the spring of 2005."
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