ALLEN PARK — The Lions moved up in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday night to select defensive back Brian Branch who played at Alabama.
Detroit made the deal with the Packers to move up three spots to grab Branch who was their fourth pick of the draft and second on the defensive side. He will join Alabama teammate RB Jahmyr Gibbs who was drafted 12th overall on Thursday. The Lions gave up their 159th pick in the fifth round in the deal.
Even though he wasn’t selected in the first round, Branch stayed in Kansas City calling it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He said it was tough getting passed over. “But I’m happy to be a Lion, that’s the main thing right now,” Branch said via Zoom from Kansas City.
Branch, who is 6-foot and 190 pounds, was a star at Sandy Creek High School in Georgia, the same school that Lions Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson attended. He won the Georgia 5A Iron Man of the Year Award as a senior for his play on both sides of the ball.
At Alabama, the defensive back played in all 15 games in 2021, starting seven times and leading the Tide with nine pass breakups (also recording 55 tackles, five for loss). Branch broke out as a second-team Associated Press All-American as a junior, starting all 13 games (90 tackles, 14 for loss with three sacks, two interceptions, seven pass breakups).
He said playing for coach Nick Saban at Alabama gives him an edge.
“It’s prepared me a lot. I have a bit of an advantage because of the system I was in, I was almost in a pro-style system. Coach Saban taught me a lot of things. I’m happy he was my coach and I’m ready to play at the next level,” Branch said.
He’s versatile enough to play any position in the defensive backfield.
“I value it a lot and I work at it all phases of the game. I’m trying to get on the field anyway I can get on the field whether it be corner, safety, nickel – anywhere they want me,” Branch said.
He was teammates with running back Jahmyr Gibbs who was selected by the Lions with the 12th overall pick.
“Gibbs is a generational talent. … He did a lot of things I feel like his running style is like nobody I’ve ever seen, he can get in and out of holes, cuts easily and him being able to be a receiver sets him apart,” Branch said. “The sky is the limit for Jahmyr.”
As a true freshman at Alabama Branch played in a dozen games with three starts (27 tackles, two INTs, seven PBUs) in their 2020 national championship season.
Branch’s NFL prospect bio by Lance Zierlein reads: “Plug-and-play defensive back with every ingredient necessary to become a high-performing starter early in his career. Branch has primarily handled nickel coverage at Alabama but has the range and instincts for single-high or split safety looks. He’s quick, fast and strong with the ability to match up with shifty slots, bigger possession receivers and pass-catching tight ends. He’s urgent and has a mind for the game. He takes playmaking angles into the throwing lane but does have a tendency to play it a little safe from off-man coverage. There are areas where he can improve but no real weaknesses, which could make him one of the safest picks in the draft.’’