The name Andre Branch showed up in the Mock Monitor last week, a new one in the weekly guessing game that is the Falcons' draft process this season. Branch, a 6-foot-4, 259-pound defensive end from Clemson, has to add his name to the list of the Clemson defensive linemen selected in the last five NFL drafts. Four of the five players were taken in the first two rounds of the draft and Branch figures to be included in that list as well this year.
This week, Craig Vanderkam of Sideline Scouting provides us with the Branch backdrop to our Draft Spotlight series.
Branch's top-six performances among defensive linemen in the 40, the broad jump and the 20-yard shuttle at the recent NFL Combine were particularly impressive and have helped vault the pass rusher into first-round consideration in this year's draft. Vanderkam sees Branch as a versatile pass rusher and is strong enough against the run to stay on the field as an every-down lineman. It will be a long wait for the Falcons into the second round at No. 55, but if he's available, he thinks the Falcons would be getting a steal in Branch.
"Branch has probably worked his way into late first round consideration this offseason and would be a steal if he's still available at No. 55," Vanderkam said. "Today's NFL is all about quarterbacks and pass rushers. His ability to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up at linebacker will make him attractive to every team, and a lot of teams would have to pass on Branch for him to still be available with Atlanta's first selection."
He closed out his redshirt senior season in 2011 as a first-team All-ACC performer with 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. He ends his career at Clemson with 17.5 sacks and recorded at least one tackle in 41 consecutive games. Scouts love his blend of speed and power as an outside rusher and his overall athleticism, a characteristic strongly desired in today's pass rushers. Vanderkam likes Branch's ability to defend the run and sees in Branch a player with the tools to continue what he started in college.
With the potential departure of long-time sack artist John Abraham from the Falcons, the franchise may be on the market for a young player with the tools to develop into a player of Abraham's caliber. Branch is a similar size to Abraham and fits the Falcons' profile of smaller and quicker defensive ends. Although the comparisons to Abraham are there for Branch, he sees a different NFC South pass rusher as Branch's NFL clone.
"When Branch plays to his full potential, I see glimpses of Charles Johnson of the Carolina Panthers," Vanderkam said. "Johnson is a good run defender and developed into a dominate pass rusher after a couple of seasons."
Branch is projected as a first or second-round prospect right now and some draft analysis websites like NFLDraftScout rank Branch as high as the fourth among all available defensive ends available. Many describe Branch as a player with abilities that are only beginning to scratch the surface. Blessed with a near-perfect frame for the NFL pass rusher, Branch, with the right scheme and coaching, could blossom into a steady performer in the NFL
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