The Top Safety Prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft Will Visit the Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings traded down in the 2022 Draft with the Detroit Lions in order to snag safety Lewis Cine with the No. 32 pick. Now, this year, it seems the Vikings may be interested in another top safety prospect.
This time, though, they aren’t messing around; they are going after the best safety in the class. That safety is, of course, Brian Branch out of Alabama, and Aaron Wilson reported on Monday that he has visits with seven NFL teams, including Minnesota. Other teams listed include the Houston Texans, Washington Commanders, Las Vegas Raiders, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, and a private workout with the Buffalo Bills.
Branch played three seasons with Alabama, including their most recent national championship season in 2020, and he is an extremely versatile, hard-hitting safety that can drop back into coverage or play in the box.
In those three seasons, the safety recorded a total of 172 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 23 passes defended, 3 interceptions, and a fumble recovery. 2022 was easily the safety’s best season, breaking out with 90 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 7 passes defended, and 2 interceptions. Each of these totals placed him among the top 10 in the SEC during this past season.
Considering the Vikings just drafted a safety in the first round last year, it may seem a bit confusing that Minnesota would target the position once again. However, we have to keep in mind that Harrison Smith is entering his age-34 season, so he may be entering a post-football life soon.
Additionally, we have no idea what the Vikings actually have in Cine due to his season-ending leg fracture suffered right as he was beginning to get more snaps with the team. Because of that, it makes sense for the Vikings to grab some additional depth at the position, especially in a prospect as talented as Branch.
Back in February, Branch was featured on our Vikings Draft Thermometer series, and here are some of the strengths in his game that were discussed there:
There is a lot to like about Brian Branch’s game from what I saw of him in Alabama’s secondary. He’s an extremely quick athlete, and he’s certainly one of the hardest hitting defensive backs in this draft class. That type of player brings an “it factor” to a defense, and an attitude that feeds off everyone else in that unit. He exudes confidence with his playstyle, and it’ll be contagious on his teammates at the next level.
Furthermore, he backs up this confidence with terrific play and versatility. Branch can line up in multiple places of a defense, including nickel corner and even into the box as a de facto linebacker. This allows him to impact plays in multiple ways whether it be blowing up runs in the backfield or making pass breakups in the secondary.
This versatility should be the main selling point for Vikings fans when it comes to branch. Minnesota is in need of an immediate slot corner, on top of their need for future depth at safety, and Branch can take out both needs in one draft pick. Earlier this offseason, Pro Football Focus named Branch both the best slot corner and the best tackler in this draft class.
When it’s all said and done, the biggest reason Minnesota may not select Branch in the first round is that he could go much earlier than 23rd overall. There’s a reason teams in the early first round (Commanders, Falcons, Raiders, Lions) have their eyes on him. He’s a talented prospect and should immediately be able to impact a defense at the NFL level and certainly worth keeping an eye on for the Vikings.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.