Defensive lineman Andre Branch of Clemson participates in the broad jump during the 2012 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Moving right along, we are up to the 6th different pass rushing prospect being previewed before the draft. This time it's Clemson Senior DE Andre Branch. Like Chandler Jones, he got overlooked when jkvandal did his post-combine post on the pass rushers, but we've got his combine numbers and can do the calculations. He had a 10' broad jump, 32.5" vertical jump and put up 19 reps in the bench press. Add those up and you get an explosiveness number of 61.5. That puts him behind everyone listed except Shea McClellin (who will get his very own preview tomorrow). He also had 17.5 sacks and 33.5 TFLs in his 46 games at Clemson. That puts his plays/game stat at 1.11, which puts him in the middle of the pack compared to the prospects in that earlier post.
I covered Clemson a couple of times in 2011. Once during the season and once for their bowl game. I wrote up the same comment for Branch both times, which you'll see below. Some context to my comments: I had reviewed another DE just before Branch who was similar in stature, but didn't have the ability to play LB.
Another Merriman-sized defender, however Branch actually plays some pass rushing LB in the Clemson defense and projects as being capable of playing 3-4 OLB. Consistent run defender, but not great against bigger OTs. Another reason to make him play OLB and try to make those big guys move their feet. His closing burst is nowhere close to what Merriman had. Great student. (1st round)
6'4 1/4, 259 pounds | Defensive end | Clemson
Pass rush: What keeps Branch from being a top-level pass rusher is first step. He's not the quickest off the line of scrimmage. Is purely a speed rusher. Favorite move is the dip. Gets low around the edge. Once he gets going, Branch plays fast and has good counter moves to work inside or out. Doesn't play with a lot of power, however.
Plays with confidence in the rush game. When Branch knows he's better the offensive tackle he's against, he can be dangerous. That was evident against in his first game against Virginia Tech in 2011 when he had four sacks. He's a hot and cold player, though. Sacks came in spurts. Had 6.5 of his 10.5 sacks in 2011 in three games.
Pursuit: Plays with good pursuit and can work sideline to sideline. Branch's pursuit and on-field speed may get him looks at linebacker. Plays with good effort. Isn't a lazy player.
Run defense: If he's used as a linebacker, Branch could be excellent in the run game. He's fundamentally sound in open space and breaks down nicely. Strictly moving forward from his defensive end spot, Branch has trouble against the run because he'll overrun the play. That happens due to him being more of a speed rusher and not a power player.
Strength: Is much more of a speed player than a power player. Will need to get stronger in his lower half to drive blockers back instead of relying on getting outside. Has good upper body strength to make tackles. Has a hard time beating double teams.
Tackling: Really gets after it to chase down the ball carrier. Closes in a hurry. Has to learn how to wrap up better so he can take down his opponent in one-on-one situations.
Technique: For Branch to become more consistent, he'll need to learn how to use his hands better and Is much better than most ends in this year's draft at dropping back in coverage. Clemson had specific plays that called for Branch to play with his hand down but drop back in coverage. In doing so, Branch showed solid footwork and didn't take many false steps. Keeps good balance when he's dips his shoulder and comes around the edge.
Final word: Branch was the leader of a talented Clemson defense in 2011. He's one of the better speed rushers in this year's draft, but doesn't offer a lot as a power rusher. Because of that, he'll need to be put in the right scheme that can take advantage of his abilities. He should be able to transition nicely to linebacker because of his range. Branch played the Bandit position at Clemson, which asked him to play with his hand down and in the two-point stance.
I also have additional notes I've picked up that weren't in my little blurb from the college football season or the Mocking The Draft review. First off, apparently he had some back issues that didn't keep him off the field but need to be checked out before the draft. I'm sure NFL teams did this, but we don't know the results of those tests. At his height and weight he comes off as a bit lean and may turn off some 4-3 teams, which could cause him to slip but probably not far. The MTD report mentions the bandit position, but to further explain it's a kind of linebacker position but ends up having the player play with his hand down. That means that he did drop into coverage fairly often and he looked to have natural athleticism in that role. My feeling on Branch is that he's a kind of safe pick that you know can play the part, but may never be an impact guy. However, he's good enough that he'd stick around for a while being good and useful, but not great.