This scheme versatility and pass rush ability could help him to be selected as early as the late second round of this year's draft.
He uses his hands well and sets the edge nicely when working in the run game. His ability to rush the passer is his shining trait and the primary reason for his value.
While not explosive off the snap, Branch possesses good initial quickness and flexibility to evade the pass blocker. His lateral agility and balance allow him to flatten out and beat backs to the sideline, demonstrating the type of overall athleticism that will be sure to attract teams operating out of the 3-4 alignment looking for outside linebackers.
Branch is coming off a strong 2010 season in which he recorded 55 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in his first season as a starter. The sack total was second only to Bowers and a potential preview of what is to come. To take the next step, however, Branch will have to demonstrate much greater consistency, as three of his five sacks came in two games against inferior competition (South Florida, Presbyterian College).
At 6-4 and roughly 260 pounds, Branch is closer to former Tiger standout Ricky Sapp (6-4, 252) than a clone of Bowers (6-3, 280). Sapp's troublesome knees pushed him to the fifth round (Philadelphia Eagles). If Branch can make his senior campaign his most productive one and remain healthy, a significantly higher final grade is possible.
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.
Explosion: Possesses a legitimate blend of explosive speed and power which could result in much improved play with greater technique. Can beat lethargic offensive tackles off the snap with his burst. Good upper body power to stack and shed, as well. Some untapped potential in this area.
Strength: Can't hold up to the double-team, but has enough strength to occasionally set the edge. Good strength for the pull-down tackle, flashing the explosiveness to knock ball-carriers to the ground based on impact, alone. Will have to add another 10+ pounds to remain as a full-time defensive end for most four-man fronts.
Tackling: Shows some intriguing natural athleticism in this area. Has the agility and balance to break down in space and make tackles of smaller, elusive ball-carriers. Good straight-line speed and possesses a legitimate closing burst. Has to do a better job of wrapping his arms around the ball-carrier securely, as NFL-caliber backs may be able to run through his explosive hits. Needs to be more consistent with his effort and angles in pursuit.
Intangibles: Signed with Clemson as an outside linebacker and still plays the position occasionally for the Tigers (Georgia Tech). Operates as the "bandit" end (right end) in most alignments, however. Earned the "12th Man Award" in 2009, as he finished among team leaders in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks despite not starting a game... Enjoyed his most productive game (season-high seven tackles) against eventual national champions Auburn..."
However, when he does get off the ball on time, he always extends his long arms well, can gain initial leverage and anchor on contact. Uses his length well to control blocks, is a coordinated kid through contact who maintains balance and exhibits violent hands.
Can stack and shed on the outside, will fiercely rip off blocks and has the range in pursuit to make plays off his frame. Is also very disciplined playing on the backside. Locates the football well, closes the back door from the backside and doesn't get caught taking himself out of plays. Plays his outside contain with good integrity.
Possesses a good initial burst off the edge and has the ability to consistently threaten the corner. Likes to get to the edge and work through contact. Extends his long arms well and did a better job at the end of the year dropping his pad level into contact and incorporating his outside club in order to slip blocks and close around the corner.
However, despite being sudden to slip, has a tendency to get upright and take away from his power/balance when trying to close. Likes to work the initial outside shimmy and break off a hard inside move and try to threaten the C-gap at times. When he gains a step, he has the ability to fight his way upfield despite his higher pad level.
Did a much better job as a senior dropping his pad level and dipping under tackles when trying to reach the corner, which really opened up his pass rushing arsenal in 2011.
Impression: 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."
Is a strong wrap tackler when he has a bead on the target, but is hampered by stiff hips (struggles to break down or change direction) and marginal eyes and instincts.
Is not stout at the point, does not play with pop in his hands and needs to develop his counter moves.
Has tweener traits, and power element is missing.
Never has been the most talented defensive end on the line thanks to the presence of Ricky Sapp, Da'Quan Bowers and Malliciah Goodman, and is a see-ball, get-ball reactor who requires a simple assignment and clear path.
Has some upside but has yet to distinguish himself as a worthwhile investment as a pass rusher or linebacker-conversion candidate."
Branch's hand usage is very impressive and allows him to play both the run and pass. It permits him to control the offensive lineman and disengage when necessary. He has a nose for the football which is enhanced by the space he creates by locking out the blocker.
Overall, Branch has a ton of upside but needs to make more plays on the field. He needs to develop a better pass rushing arsenal and be more aggressive. This season he will have the opportunity to step out from Da'Quan Bowers shadow and produce. His draft stock could soar with a strong season.
Bold Statement: Andre Branch will have a breakout season with 12+ sacks for the Clemson Tigers
Games Viewed: Florida State ('10), Maryland ('10), Boston College ('10), South Florida ('10)
- Branch has a good quick burst off the line of scrimmage
- However, he has poor snap awareness impacting his ability to quickly get off the ball
- He does a nice job using his hands to lock out the defender and locate the football
- His ability to stack and shed allows him to be a major contributor in stopping the run
- Branch has good weight distribution and strong lower half
- His strong lower half and hand usage allow him to hold at the point of attack
- Branch plays the run with patience and integrity
- However, he is to hesitate and lacks aggressiveness
- He has limited array of pass rush moves"
Tall player with long arms can disrupt passing lanes; good athlete who was also a solid prep power forward with a 35.5-inch vertical leap; can play in reverse and could get looks as a 3-4 OLB; has a quick first step and the ability to plant and change direction; also has strong hands and uses them well to disengage from blockers;
Has a good motor and is relentless pursuing the ball, but lacks explosive closing speed; also doesn’t always come off the snap with authority and still needs to polish pass-rush moves."
Has some collegiate experience playing outside linebacker and dropping into coverage, but has primarily played RDE ('bandit') at Clemson the past two seasons, including opposite 2010 NCAA sack leader Da'Quan Bowers... Plays with a good base and low center of gravity, good flexibility and body control to evade blockers and turn the corner...
Good straight-line speed and short area quickness, changes direction well and moves well laterally, good closing speed... Long arms with strong, quick hands, can control linemen and gain initial leverage to create space for himself, can be violent and disengages well, is physical at the point of attack, works through contact...
Has solid power for the bull rush and can beat linemen with good inside moves and disrupts passing lanes when he can't reach the quarterback... Plays the run well; very good stack and shed type player with strong upper half, can push the pocket...
Disciplined in backside pursuit, holds the edge reasonably well and maintains outside containment, doesn't take himself out of plays... Plays with a strong motor, relentless in pursuit, breaks down reasonably well in space and has the blend of speed and power to deliver some big hits, flashes a mean streak...
Has all the physical tools to be a force at the next level, is a similar prospect to former Clemson product Ricky Sapp, who fell to the fifth round only because of knee issues; Branch will be drafted much higher... Has a lot of untapped potential, and produced more playing out of the shadow of Bowers.
Negatives -- Average and inconsistent burst off the edge, isn't explosive off the snap, can be slow to react to the snap and can't consistently threaten the edge... Needs to add an additional 8-12 pounds of bulk to be considered a three-down defensive end in a 4-3, can't consistently hold up at the point, and struggles versus double teams...
Plays a little high at times, rises up and allows linemen under his pads, causing him to be slower to shed and lose a step... Will miss some tackles, will take some bad angles in pursuit, and needs to wrap up better instead of going for the big hit... Doesn't have much in terms of pass rush arsenal and needs to develop counter moves...
Gauged the eye of a Florida State offensive lineman during a play in 2010, had many analysts calling for a suspension; was similar to Brandon Spikes' eye-gouging of a Georgia player in 2009, which led to a first half suspension his next game... A bit of a tweener who has yet to established himself as a definite 4-3 or 3-4 prospect."
He runs in the 4.7 range of the 40-yard dash and has been clocked as fast as 4.65 from that distance.
He has the agility to be a rush linebacker in a 3-4 defense at the next level and the size to be an end in a 4-3 scheme.
He can get his hands up and knock down balls at the line or drop back and break up passes.
Branch had the physical tools to go pro after last year, but a made a smart decision to return to the Tigers.
He should continue to improve his pass-rushing moves, aggressiveness, and first step off the ball."