Branch one of the better pass rushers in the draft this year. At 6-4, 260 pounds, Branch is tall and lean with the kind of build that could add weight without affecting his game. He played linebacker in college but has experience as a down lineman and can play either a defensive end or blitzing linebacker in a 3-4 defense. At the Combine, Branch ran a 4.7 40-yard dash so he has tremendous speed, especially for a defensive end.
Against the pass Branch looks like a natural. He has excellent pass-rushing instincts to couple with a very quick first step. He needs to add some strength to battle offensive tackles at the next level and can have trouble disengaging at times against more powerful tackles if he doesn’t beat them with his first step. With his 34-inch long arms he can disrupt a passing game just by putting his hands up, which he will do consistently if he isn’t pressuring the quarterback. He is very athletic and has a very good jump, adding even more height to an already tall frame. He had a 32.5 vertical jump at the combine. Couple that with his 6-4 frame and you have what can be a monster, especially on special teams blocking kicks.
Branch, because of his speed, can also drop back into coverage, though he will need lots of work to learn route reading and other skills that go along with covering a running back or tight end. For the Giants, he can come in at linebacker or defensive end on passing downs giving the Giants a tremendous pass rush but he also has the athleticism to give whatever team drafts him options.
Branch is less adept at defending against the run. He often has trouble following the ball on rushing plays and lacks the overall power to take on offensive linemen in the trenches. The power can come with hard work but right now Branch looks to be relegated to being a situational pass rusher. He can sometimes look like he is taking a play or two off when he is not getting consistent pressure on the quarterback but I don’t think he has a motivational problem. He does have some back issues and those can be a detriment to linemen in the NFL so his stock could drop as a result.
It may take a few years before Branch is ready to become an every down defensive end but with the Giants he wouldn’t need to be. The Giants have built their defense on the strength of their defensive line and their ability to get to the quarterback and adding Branch to a mix of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Jason Pierre-Paul would be a huge boost, especially if the situation between Umenyiora and the team grows to irreconcilable proportions.
Branch, who was slated for the middle of the first round on some draft boards has seen a bit of a fall lately and could be available for the Giants with the last pick of the first round. Defensive line is a need for the Giants after the loss of Dave Tollefson, the Osi Umenyiora contract situation, and the health of Osi and Tuck. I would not be surprised at all if the Giants went with the best player available at one of their several need positions and Branch could hear his name called to end the night on Thursday.