Sidelined for the Senior Bowl by an injury, Andre Branch took advantage of his next best chance to impress NFL coaches and scouts with what was widely hailed as a standout performance on Monday at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Last fall’s ACC leader in sacks, Branch racked up impressive ‘top performance’ list numbers in the 40-yard dash, broad jump, 20-yard shuttle and three-cone shuttle during his workout.
Brandon Thompson held his own by making one of the top showings in the bench press.
Meanwhile, Rennie Moore’s string of average numbers did little to elevate his draft status.
The NFL Combine wraps up today with workouts by defensive backs, including Clemson’s Coty Sensabaugh, who is considered to be a player with much to gain from the competition.
Branch posted top-six performances (among defensive linemen) with his 4.70 showing in the 40-yard dash, his 120-inch broad jump and his 4.25 time in the 20-yard shuttle. He also made the top 15 with a time of 7.19 seconds in the three-cone shuttle.
Branch also had a 32.5-inch vertical jump.
SB Nation’s Atlanta Falcons blogger noted that Branch’s 40-time was particularly impressive:
“At 6'4", 259 pounds, it would be easy to unfairly label Branch as a 'tweener'. While I agree he has the versatility to be used in both 4-3 and 3-4 looks, make no mistake he's a 4-3 DE at heart. At the combine he ran an extremely impressive 4.70 in the forty, some 0.08 faster than top 15 lock Quinton Coples. If you couple this speed with his quick feet and strength you see a player who has the ability to become a force in the NFL.”
In its analysis, NFL.com describes Branch as “a tall, physical and athletic defensive end who could be moved to outside linebacker for a 3-4 team. He possesses the pass rush ability to regularly beat NFL linemen and disrupt the passer, either standing up or with his hand on the ground. 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.”
Strengths (from NFL.com): “Branch is an athletic big man who has great flexibility, which he uses to dip around lineman and get in the backfield. He has an uncanny ability to defeat blocks and move around lineman, and the burst to close once there. 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.”
Weaknesses (from NFL.com): “Branch is less effective defending the run than he is against the pass. He will play high at times and can get overpowered by two blockers, all the more reason why there are growing discussions of moving him to linebacker at the next level.”
Branch finished the Combine competition with 79.0 overall grade, and he was measured at 6-4, 259, with 34-inch arms and 9-inch hands.
Thompson solidified his standing as one of this year’s top-rated defensive tackles, with an overall 84.5 rating.
His bench press – 35 reps – ranked fifth among all defensive linemen, and he posted solid numbers in other categories, as well, with a 31-inch vertical jump, a 100-inch broad jump, a time of 4.71 in the 20-yard shuttle and 7.97 in the three-cone shuttle.
He was measured at 6-2, 314 pounds, with a 33.5-inch arms and 10-inch hands.
In its analysis, NFL.com notes: “Thompson brings value to the NFL in that he can play both defensive tackle or nose tackle at the NFL level. With his size and athletic ability, Thompson has been disruptive for Clemson. He plays stout against the run and will plug the hole well for an NFL team. He is able to find the ball as a defender and is effective after the snap in making plays in the backfield. He doesn't bring a ton of pass-rush ability, but he will be able to serve as a strong presence up front. He has the talent to warrant a late first or early second-round pick.”
He was described as “an incredible run defender inside…consistent in his play and uses his feet to make plays happen against the run. He comes off the ball quickly and is able to fill gaps well at his size.”
The primarily reservations about Thompson have to do with his ability as a pass rusher.
From NFL.com: “Though he is stellar against the run, he is limited against the pass, only occasionally making things happen as a rusher.”
Moore failed to make the splash he had hoped for during his Combine workout, and finished with an overall 51.5 grade. He ran the 40 in 5.12 seconds, had 21 reps in the bench press, a 30.5-inch vertical jump, a 109-inch broad jump, and a time of 4.53 in the 20-yard shuttle.
He was measured at 6-3, 268 pounds, with 32.75-inch arms and a 9.75-inch hands.
NFL.com notes that while Moore did nothing eye-catching during his workout, he probably didn’t hurt himself, either:
“Moore is a good athlete and does enough of the little things right when working against the run to bring value to a defense at the next level…He could be selected in the late rounds of the draft…Has a built upper body and can use his hands to keep blockers off him. He is quicker than he is explosive off the ball. He isn't going to bull rush, but he can gain an edge with his speed and footwork. Moore is technically sound with his feet and hands.”
NFL.com noted that Moore’s chief weakness is that he’s “not a very powerful lineman. He struggles to hold the edge of the defense to keep runs inside, and he won't be very strong at the point of attack against NFL linemen. He does not have the versatility to rush from the linebacker position in the 3-4, so he will need to add weight on an underdeveloped frame to give himself a chance at the next level.”