WE SUCK AGAIN
All dat force
Join Date: Apr 2005
Making the case for Branch
Making the case for Alan Branch
Falling fast down draft boards, the ex-Michigan defensive tackle serves as a reminder for why scouts should focus on game film
By Mike Beacom
April 22, 2007
The four months that exist between the close of the college football season and the NFL draft can be a miserable place to live for a football player.
Scrutiny is the vulture that rips apart the flesh of the highly touted prospect, needling and prodding in search of weak spots. And, the bigger the prospect, the bigger the magnifying glass he is under, and the more examining NFL teams need to do in order to justify their sizable investment.
But these past few months weren’t supposed to be so cruel to Alan Branch, a 6-foot-6, 330-pound defensive tackle out of the University of Michigan. Branch left college a year early because he was told he was a can’t-miss top-10 pick, the kind of player defenses build around for a decade. His football film was testimony to that.
But what someone like Branch has accomplished on the field often has little to do with why his stock falls this time of year, and no prospect in the 2007 NFL draft class has fallen as far as Branch has. The reasons are trivial, but then again no one has ever said that pro football’s evaluation process was a fair or perfect system.
Argument One: Branch has stress fractures that have league sources concerned
Several reports surfaced last week, one from a longtime NFL reporter, about the presence of stress fractures in Branch’s lower legs. Branch’s camp questions those reports, however. His agent, Ben Dogra, asked three NFL teams this week about the report. All three told Dogra they were not concerned, he says.
“We can’t comment on it because we don’t know anything about it,” says Dogra, who admits that Branch did have shin splints (considered common for larger linemen) while at Michigan, but that they never kept him off the field. “Could he play if both of his legs were fractured? It all just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Approximately 40 prospects were asked to return to Indianapolis in late March for a second medical examination. Branch was not one of them.
Argument Two: Branch took too many plays off at Michigan
Several analysts have suggested that after reviewing game film from last season, it became apparent Branch was not playing at 100 percent on every down. Usually such a tag is reserved for prima-donna skill-position types, but in the case of Branch, it indirectly suggests he is somewhat of a lazy player.
Not true, he says.
“It’s funny to me. Being a 335-pound guy who averages 60-65 plays a game … my gas tank isn’t infinite, (but) I go hard every play.”
Branch was a big reason why Michigan’s defense allowed only 43.4 rushing yards per game, and five scores. Without his presence, the Wolverines would not have experienced that level of success.
Says Pro Football Weekly draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki, “He rarely left the field in college. … Did Branch take some plays off? Yes. Show me a defensive lineman his size who does not take off plays, especially one that consistently took as many snaps as Branch did.”
Adds Dogra, “He played 80-85 percent of the time. He’s the one guy (Michigan) didn’t rotate.”
Argument Three: Branch does not take care of his body, and could be someone who eventually eats himself out of a job
This label comes from pre-draft workouts, from which at least a few scouts have walked away disappointed. Some suggested Branch looked sluggish during Michigan’s pro day on March 16. According to a report filed by Gil Brandt, a former NFL personnel whiz and an analyst for NFL.com, “Kansas City defensive line coach Tim Krumrie worked Branch hard during the position drills, and the scouts there said Branch did not look like he was in very good shape.”
It is obvious why this is a concern for someone carrying as much weight as Branch. Remember Gilbert Brown? Wisconsin-based Burger Kings used to advertise the Gilbert Burger, a triple Whopper with all the fixings. Late in his career, on the few occasions when he could find his way below the 400-pound mark, Green Bay would roll Brown out onto the field so that he could eat up a minimum of two blockers (not literally … at least, we don’t think literally) on every down he was able to play.
Branch, however, is no Gilbert Brown. Not even close. He is only slightly heavier than Tennessee’s Albert Haynesworth, and it’s fair to point out that when linemen are paid in dollars instead of in the form of a scholarship, it’s easier to get them to listen to staff nutritionists. Even so, Branch is barely outside of the realm of ideal playing weight for a defensive tackle, if he is at all.
“He is large,” Dogra says, “and yet he ran as fast, if not faster than most of the defensive tackles that were 20 and 30 pounds lighter than him.”
Argument Four: Branch does not have enough of a mean streak to play the DT position in the NFL
After conducting sit-down interviews, several scouts suggested that Branch was too mild-mannered. Defensive tackles are supposed to own the same gritty demeanor that coaches expect out of their interior offensive linemen.
“I’m not soft-spoken on the field,” Branch admits.
Dogra makes a comparison. “We represent Brian Dawkins,” he says. “Brian is one of the softest-spoken guys you’ll meet, but when he puts that helmet on …”
Nawrocki’s best argument to support Branch is something scouts seem to be overlooking. Branch is still, in many ways, developing — as a defensive tackle and as a big-bodied individual. That statement can’t be said of every DT prospect, and certainly not somebody as accomplished as Branch.
“I think a lot of evaluators underestimate how much he has grown in a short amount of time and how much he is still growing into his body and getting comfortable playing at 330 pounds,” Nawrocki says. “He was a tight end in high school and returned punts. He still has time to finish maturing physically. He's still learning how to use his body. He will become more coordinated and play with more balance in time.”
What Branch claims should matter most to teams considering him on April 28 is who he is as a football player. He does not run from being called a soft-spoken guy because he says he is one — off the field. And he doesn’t worry about making every tackle so long as he is playing a role in making every play.
“If I’m doing my job and the linebackers are getting all of the tackles and I don’t get any, that’s fine with me,” Branch says.
“There are different kinds of defensive tackles,” he adds. “Some make plays, some fill holes. I feel I can do both.
“I’m the type of player that can hold down the line where a team has more freedom with the linebackers — have them flow or cheat outside or blitz. I’m a defender a team can depend on.”
Any regrets about leaving early now that he has seen how ugly the next level can be?
“The only thing I regret about leaving early was that I didn’t get to beat Ohio State,” he says.
Now that sounds like an answer scouts should make note of.