Andre Branch played on the same defensive line as two 2011 second-round picks (Jarvis Jenkins and Da'Quan Bowers) and another expected high pick in this year's draft (Brandon Thompson). He has the best first step and speed-edge rush of the group, as Virginia Tech found out when he saddled them with four sacks during their contest with Clemson last year. Branch is athletic enough to convert to 3-4 OLB in the pros, but he has to round out his game before that can happen.
Branch's scouting reports tell a story of a player that needs to be more consistent, but also one that flashes elite abilities:
Pass rush: Inconsistent initial burst off the snap. Has enough explosiveness to cross the tackle's face and shows good flexibility to dip under the blocker's reach and turn the corner. Long arms and quick hands, though he hasn't yet shown the pass rush repertoire to take advantage of his natural tools. Good closing speed. Can chase down the quarterback and shows good lateral agility and balance to flatten out and chase the ball-carrier to the sideline.
Run defense: Lacks the bulk and strength to consistently hold up at the point of attack at this time. Comes off the snap too high and relies on his arm length, initial punch and good lateral agility to shuck and elude blockers. Too often is blown off the ball in short yardage situations.
There is no doubt that Branch is a gifted athlete. He has a fantastic get-off and rare speed to turn the corner or dart back to the inside. Branch has worked on some pass-rushing moves, but his speed rush is his bread-and-butter. He does well in pursuit against the run and works his way across the field. Branch was at his best when he was going upfield rather than holding his ground at Clemson, but he will want to improve his ability to anchor at the point of attack when runs come straight at him. Still, Branch has a lot of raw speed and athleticism to attack offensive linemen.
Branch's best fit in the NFL could be at outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He may lack the strength and physicality to consistently beat NFL offensive tackles in a 4-3 over four quarters. Branch's speed and finesse style could be better suited for playing in space. He has the athletic ability to be a dangerous edge rusher if he lands with the right team and coaching staff.
Branch was a bit of a one-year wonder in college, and there could be some bust potential with him.
In a draft without an elite pass rusher, Branch may be able to stake a claim to being the best one available, which should at least get him on the field in obvious passing situations. He might be slow to enter the starting lineup because of the need to work on anchoring in run defense and learning to play more as an outside linebacker. He'll never be an elite two-way player, but Branch could be among the league's sack leaders with a good pass-rush partner on the other side of the defense.
He may be a bit raw, but as many had him going late in the first round, he's a solid value at this point for the Jaguars. Branch has loads of speed and upside, and could be a game-changer if he reaches his ceiling.
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