In my Mock Drafts I have projected the Patriots to select Clemson defensive end Andre Branch with their first selection. That being the case I decided to take a more in-depth look at him and watched some film from this past season. Here are some things that stood out to me about Branch.
The most obvious thing that stood out to me about him is that he is a pure speed rusher. He does not not have the upper body strength to take on tackles and double teams in college, let alone the NFL. He will need to continue to develop his strength to be a complete player. He seems to be a classic example of a one trick pony, although he does that one trick fairly well.
His speed rushes can be very effective. He does a great job of getting off the ball and getting a jump on his man initially. If he is met by a blocker on his inside he uses great technique in dipping his inside shoulder underneath the block while still getting around the edge to the quarterback without losing speed or balance.
A problem he has is when he is making his rush and the tackle is in good position, too often he allows the tackle to lead him too far upfield and he essentially is removed from the play. Every once in a while he will fake upfield and make a cut back move on his man, but he rarely gets results with this. Most of the time that move just ends with him dancing with his man. Although that move does not work much, it does illustrate one of his strong points, he is relentless. He will not quit on a play.
Outside of his obvious pass rushing abilities he did show the ability to play standing up and drop into coverage, a quality Bill Belichick looks for in his 3-4 outside linebackers. In a limited sample of Branch doing this he seemed to display the agility and speed necessary to deal with a back out of the backfield, doing a good job of breaking down and taking down the back in the open field. Sometimes he seemed to lack the patience to slow his feet, break down and make a proper tackle, instead he occasionally just lunges at runners legs and they bounce right off. Another staple of Belichick’s 3-4 OLBs is the ability to set the edge, something Branch also needs work on, too often the run got well outside of him.
After watching the tape on Branch I do feel like he would be a good player for the Patriots to select, and in fact he really reminded me of watching Mark Anderson who the Patriots lost in free agency to the Bills. Though I would say Branch looks to be a better athlete than Anderson with his ability to make plays in space. If Branch falls into their lap at the end of the first round, and Belichick feels confident that Branch is the type of player that will work hard in the offseason to add some upper body strength, he should pull the trigger on him.