NFL Combine: Alabama's Branch a big Minkah fan

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Whenever NFL Draft analysts talk about Alabama safety Brian Branch, the first name they mention when making a comparison to a current NFL player is Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

That comparison goes beyond the fact that both starred at Alabama and were asked to do many of the same things in Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban's defense.

Branch models his game after that of Fitzpatrick, a three-time All-Pro in four seasons since joining the Steelers via a trade with the Dolphins in 2019.

"I love his game," Branch said of Fitzpatrick. "The way he's able to play every position in the back end and able to do it at a high level, I think I've been able to do that my years at Alabama."

The comparisons are real.

Both played three seasons for Saban before entering the NFL Draft, playing as true freshmen.

In 35 career games, Branch had 172 tackles, 23 pass breakups, three interceptions and four sacks. For Fitzpatrick, it was 171 tackles, nine interceptions, 24 pass breakups and five sacks in 42 games.

And like Fitzpatrick, Branch was used all over the Crimson Tide defense. In 2022, Branch played 569 snaps in the slot, 136 in the box, 14 as an outside corner and 25 as the deep safety according to Pro Football Focus.

And despite being just a shade under 6-foot and weighing in at 190 pounds here at the NFL Scouting Combine, Branch had just four missed tackles in his entire college career.

"I feel like I'm versatile. I can play anywhere in the back end," Branch said. "I'm comfortable playing everywhere in the back end and able to do it at a high level."

His tape shows that, even if he didn't light the Combine on fire with his on-field workouts.

Working out with the cornerbacks instead of the safeties, Branch was credited with running 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash, while posting a 34.5-inch vertical leap and a standing broad jump of 10-5.

He didn't post the "Wow" numbers of some other players at the position, but when the football pads come on, Branch is arguably as good as any defensive back in this draft.

"He's just a really good football player," said NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell.

Fitzpatrick had the best of both worlds when it came to the draft. His game tape was excellent, while his workout numbers were almost identical to those of Branch – with the exception of his time in the 40. Fitzpatrick ran a 4.47-seconds 40 at 6-foot, 204 pounds.

As a result, he went with the 11th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to the Miami Dolphins, who would trade him a year later to the Steelers.

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Branch, who came into the Combine as a top-20 draft consideration, would love to be paired with the player with whom he is compared.

"I met with the Steelers I want to say Day 1, and coach Mike Tomlin is definitely a players coach, and I love that about him," Branch said. "He connects with players, and being able to play for him …

"Huge. It's something I've dreamed of, have visions of when I sleep. Just being able to play alongside a player like that is big to me."

• The measurements that were so important to Alabama quarterback Bryce Young are finally in. And while he was shorter than the 6-foot he was listed at in college, he came in heavier than advertised 190 pounds at which he was listed in school, as well.

Young measured 5-10 ⅛ and 204 pounds.

The height is identical to that of Arizona's Kyler Murray, the top-overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, while his weight is just three pounds less than that of Murray here four years ago.

Unlike Murray, however, who has rushed for 2,204 yards while also throwing for 13,848 yards with 84 touchdowns and 41 interceptions in his four NFL seasons, Young is considered a much better pocket passer and not much of a scrambler.

Young, however, did not work out with the quarterbacks at the Combine on Saturday. He'll do that at the Alabama pro day.

• Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson put on a show with his on-field workout here Saturday. Richardson measured in at 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds. Despite that classic size, he posted a 40.5-inch vertical jump and a 10-foot, 9-inch standings. Both are records for quarterbacks at the Combine.

Richardson then ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds – officially. Richardson declined to run another 40, standing on that excellent first run.

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