The Detroit Lions got their first “steal” of the 2023 NFL Draft by selecting Alabama defensive back Brian Branch with the 45th overall pick. For many, Branch was the best safety prospect in this year’s class and a bonafide top-20 talent in this draft.
Here are my quick thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ fourth selection in the draft.
What a defensive back turnaround
Here’s a look at last year’s secondary depth chart for their Week 1 game.
CB: Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs (PUP)
CB: Amani Oruwariye, Will Harris, Bobby Price
Nickel: Mike Hughes, Chase Lucas
Safety: Tracy Walker, DeShon Elliott, Kerby Joseph, JuJu Hughes, Ifeatu Melifonwu
Here’s what it looks like eight months later (new additions bolded):
CB: Cameron Sutton, Jerry Jacobs
CB: Emmanuel Moseley, Will Harris, Mac McCain, Jarren Williams
Nickel: C.J. Gardner Johnson, Chase Lucas
Safety: Tracy Walker, Kerby Joseph, Brian Branch, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Saivion Smith
That’s five new additions with four likely to see the field significantly in 2023.
So... much... versatility
At this point, the Lions have so many versatile bodies—Sutton, Harris, Gardner-Johnson, Moseley, and now Branch—that it’s quite hard to predict where they will fit all of these players on game day. But that’s an extremely nice problem to have. It gives defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn all sorts of subpackage options for nickel, dime, and anything else he wants to draw up.
That said, because Detroit has so many of these versatile options, don’t expect too much out of Branch in Year 1. He’ll likely take on a subpackage role his rookie season, and he already made clear in his introductory Zoom that he’s more than willing to carve out a special teams role, if that’s what it takes to get onto the field.
Lions got themselves some play-makers
During a press conference earlier in the month, Lions cornerbacks coach Dre Bly noted that what they wanted was ball production out of their defensive backs—something that was sorely missing in the past two years in Detroit.
“One of the things (Lions coach) Dan (Campbell and A.G. (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) talked about was having high ball production guys, guys that make plays,” Bly said. “It’s just not a lot of guys, in my opinion, at defensive back throughout college and the league, I wish they could make a little more plays. And so it’s either in you or it’s not in you.”
Branch is that dude. He had nine pass breakups in back-to-back-to-back seasons in the competitive SEC. While he only had four interceptions over those three seasons, he also got dirty in the run game, tallying a whopping 14.0 tackles for loss in 2022.
That’s the kind of production the Lions have been looking for in the secondary.