The Jacksonville Jaguars had high expectations for defensive end Andre Branch when they used a second-round draft pick on him in the 2012 NFL Draft, but his production during his rookie season unfortunately did not live up to those high expectations.
Branch does not deserve all of the blame for his dismal rookie season, however, as he was playing in a defense that did not best utilize his skill set as a pass rusher. At 6’5”, 260 lbs. Branch is undersized to be an every down end in a 4-3 defense, which is the role that former Jaguars general manager Gene Smith drafted him to play.
Now entering his second season, the Jaguars may have a defensive scheme that better suits Branch’s pass rushing skills. For now, Branch is still behind veteran Jason Babin on the depth chart at the LEO position in the Jaguars new defense, but Branch has a similar skill set to Seattle Seahawks pass rusher Bruce Irvin who excelled in that role under new Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars hope that Branch can emerge in his second year and make the aging and expensive Babin expendable.
The LEO position is a hybrid pass rushing specialist who often stands up like a 3-4 outside linebacker to rush the passer and also has the athleticism to drop into coverage. In that role, Branch’s prime responsibility will be to get to the opposing quarterback much like he did in college at Clemson.
For too long the Jaguars pass rush has been a major hole that they have desperately tried to fill with high draft picks and expensive free agents. If Branch can emerge in 2013 as a legitimate pass rusher, then the Jaguars will have one less hole to fill next offseason as they continue their rebuilding process.
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