The Atlanta Falcons have a bundle of players they are looking at, and perhaps most importantly for the future of this team is the defensive end position. A player that has been worked out by the Falcons only a few short days ago, Branch would be a tremendous weapon for rushing the passer if the Falcons were able to add him in the draft.
The problem is adding him in the draft. The Falcons would love to have him fall to them at their No. 55 overall pick, but could he? Branch is projected as a late 1st round pick, and it would be a shock to see him fall to an area where Atlanta could possibly take him. Given how valuable pass-rushing defensive ends are in today’s NFL, it makes it even less likely.
However there are some signs that point to the possibility of him falling in the draft. First is actually his pass-rushing ability. Branch had 10.5 sacks for Clemson in 2011, and was a dominant force. He has excellent speed for a 6-4 259 Lb. defensive end witha 4.7 40-yard dash time. However he doesn’t excel in the run game, as he often has a tough time setting the edge against the offensive line and gets pushed back in the run game far too often. He also doesn’t have elite strength and can get pushed around in the passing game by bigger stronger tackles and offensive linemen.
Here’s the thing. Branch is a fine player, and he has the necessary strength and size to be a very productive player in the NFL. There is no defensive end in the NFL that gets a hit, hurry, or sack on the quarterback every single snap, and every end gets pushed around or caught off-balance every once in a while. Branch’s true value doesn’t lie in playing every down in a game, or doing everything. Branch works best when he is allowed to work one-on-one against an offensive player and use his great speed to get in and create havoc in the backfield or the pocket. Teams like Atlanta would not want to use him in the run game, and although it is possible it is just not his strength. Given new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s tendency to mix 4-3 and 3-4 fronts, Branch could just as easily play defensive end as outside linebacker for the Falcons, or a mix of both. A guy like Nolan, if given the opportunity to work with a weapon like Branch, could fully utilize his tools and strengths for the betterment of the team. If the Falcons had the opportunity to draft Branch, and that’s a big if, he could be a valuable tool for the Falcons to get after the opposing teams quarterback.