3 loy-key options for Steelers that are flying under-the-radar in the NFL Draft

2023 CFP National Championship - TCU v Georgia
2023 CFP National Championship - TCU v Georgia / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages
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2. Brian Branch, DB, Alabama

The Steelers went through a bit of a rebuild at the safety position over the last calendar year. After signing Minkah Fitzpatrick to a long-term extension last summer and bringing in Damontae Kazee, they let Terrell Edmunds go this offseason and replaced him with Keanu Neal.

They also let Cameron Sutton walk, who signed a lucrative deal with the Detroit Lions. While he played more outside last year, Sutton had plenty of experience playing in the slot, taking over for Mike Hilton after he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Even though many expect the Steelers to use one of their early draft picks on an outside corner, they could also use help in the slot.

Brian Branch from Alabama could be an unexpected but intriguing option for the Steelers’ first-round pick. Branch earned playing time for the Crimson Tide as a true freshman in 2020 and started both playoff games en route to a national championship. He then took over as the starting “Star” in Nick Saban’s defense, a role formerly filled by Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Despite his size (5’11”, 190 lbs), Branch might be the best pound-for-pound, if not overall, tackler in this draft class. According to Pro Football Focus, he only missed four tackles in his college career, good enough for a 2.3% missed tackle rate. 

Given his size and consequent role limitations, many expect Branch to be a late first-round pick, despite having some of the best tape in the class. Like Fitzpatrick, Branch can play all over the defense. In today’s NFL, where Nickel is the new Base, he would essentially be an every-down player.

For the Steelers, Branch could lock down the slot, allowing Fitzpatrick and Kazee to continue roaming the back end of the field and Neal to be used in more of a linebacker role. While he may not have the aggressiveness or physicality of Mike Hilton, Branch is not afraid of contact and is certainly prepared to succeed at the NFL level.