ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29: Tevin Washington #13 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets is sacked by Andre Branch #40 of the Clemson Tigers at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 29, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The 2012 season will feature a new defensive philosophy and I am very, very excited about it. However, the attention to detail for personnel is required for such a package, specifically at OLB. We already have a defensive end that can also rush from the outside as a linebacker in Robert Mathis. I believe he will be very effective, but with Philip Wheeler yet to re-sign, the Colts will likely be adding another play maker that can bring that outside rush dynamic.
If you're familiar with Andre Branch, you know he fits the above description to a tee. Hailing from Clemson, Branch has worked as your every day DE, long and tall, but lacks the bulk and strength, which makes him a perfect candidate to make a comfortable switch to 3-4 OLB in the NFL. He even dabbled in such a role while at Clemson. Furthermore, Branch played tight end and linebacker in high school, so the athleticism is obviously there.
While at Clemson, he was a solid contributor throughout his collegiate career. In 2010, he racked up 55 tackles, 7.5 for a loss and five sacks, providing Clemson with an explosive defensive end tandem that also featured Da'Quan Bowers. Bowers left in 2011 and Branch really came into his own, scoring 10.5 sacks.
Straight line speed (Top performing 4.70 at the Combine.) sets Branch apart on the field, allowing him to explode off of the edge. He can excel standing up or when starting from the ground, but isn't a dominant presence versus the run. As previously mentioned, he lacks the bulk (would need to add more weight to be a NFL DE) to consistently contest the run and shed double teams. Versatility against the pass is primarily what Branch will bring to the NFL.
He does have a strong wrap when he reaches the ball carrier and closes quickly while pursuit. Smaller backs are his forte and he could struggle with NFL-quality backs. Branch's athleticism is superb though, using fluid hip and hand movements to set the edge against the run. Branch also uses his long arms and quick burst to win at the line, subsequently using his balance and agility from side-to-side to catch the quarterback.
All-in-all, Branch is a very effective edge rusher and showed his goods as a senior. While his skill set is unique and in demand, transition obstacles will be standing in Branch's way. His development is sure to come and he has a lot more talent in him, but his game and technique will need to develop and it could take some time.
That considered, I like Branch a lot. I think he would be perfect for the Colts if he slips into the third, but that's probably wishful thinking. In Pagano's scheme, Branch would stand out on the edge and with some added weight, could arguably be equally effective in 4-3 fronts. He also would profit from playing with two big-time, veteran defensive ends.
Has a lot of untapped talent. And is the kind of athlete you would expect to mature into a solid three down player in the NFL as a 43 DE.
A finesse, active edge rusher whose light came on as a senior, proved his worth as a pass rusher and drastically elevated his draft standing. Still must prove he can stay healthy, play consistently and transition to the NFL game. Might require some patience.