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Steelers Add Defensive Chess Piece In Latest CBS Sports Mock Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers have filled a lot of holes this offseason, but one position they could add is a slot corner and depth in safety behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and newly signed Damontae Kazee. While the team could still bring back safety Terrell Edmunds, they could try to kill two birds with one stone and bring in someone who could fulfill their safety and corner needs. In the latest mock draft from CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson, he lets them do just that by picking Alabama S/CB Brian Branch at 17th overall.

“The Steelers got help on the inside offense in Nate Herbig and made some defensive moves with linebackers Elandon Roberts, Cole Holcomb and cornerback Patrick Peterson. Offensive tackle and edge rushers could still be the game here, but with a run in both positions in the first half of the round, Pittsburgh are aiming for S1 instead. And even if they bring Terrell Edmunds back, Brian Branch is special; He can play in the slot, near the line of scrimmage, or in deep centerfield. And if Nick Saban trusted him in Alabama, that’s all you need to know about his NFL prospects. He ran a 4.58 at the combine, but he plays way faster than that,” Wilson wrote.

The addition of Branch would bring another real pawn to Pittsburgh’s secondary school. He played the same star position in Alabama as Minkah Fitzpatrick during his time with the Crimson Tide and offers the same versatility as Fitzpatrick did after school. Last season, Branch had 90 tackles, losing 14, along with three sacks and two interceptions. He had 172 total tackles with three career interceptions in his Alabama career.

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At the NFL Combine, Branch, who had a formal meeting with the Steelers, spoke alongside Fitzpatrick about his fit and said one of the players he models his game for is former Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu. While you obviously can’t expect Fitzpatrick/Polamalu-level talent, especially right off the bat, Branch’s ability to move around and wear a variety of hats for the Steelers defense will likely be attractive to the team. Chances are the team will invest a No. 17 or No. 32 pick in the cornerback position, and while Branch is fairly limited to playing inside, the Steelers have two cornerbacks in Levi Wallace and Patrick Peterson, who feel more comfortable and play better outside. Bringing in someone who can start the slot right away would fill a huge need for this Steelers team.

Drafting a player who primarily plays slot corners in the first round will raise questions about value and whether positional necessity truly merits a first-round pick. But Branch’s versatility makes him more than just a traditional slots corner, and I’m sure his game will benefit from being mentored by Peterson, Fitzpatrick, and other leaders in Pittsburgh’s defense. If the “big three” cornerback trio of Joey Porter Jr., Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez are all off the board but in 17th place, as they were in this mock draft, Branch could certainly be the pick, and it would be a crowd It’s fun to see it being used in Pittsburgh.

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