Bargain Hunting: Dolphins Add to DL Rotation with Andre Branch
Background & Stats:
A first team All-ACC pick out of Clemson, Andre Branch was a second round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars made this selection after Branch totaled 77 tackles and 10.5 sacks in his senior campaign as a Tiger. Now, he is the newest member of the Miami Dolphins.
Branch acted mostly as a rotational pass rusher in Jacksonville and should continue to leave his mark in a similar manner in Miami. He started 12 games out of the 51 played during his four-year tenure as a Jaguar, while accumulating 90 tackles, 14 sacks, 11 passes defensed, and five forced fumbles. Branch recovered three fumbles as well.
Branch’s calling card has always been his combination of impressive measurables and athleticism. This is simply a massive human being. He is tall, at 6’4”, complimenting his height with great size, at 259 pounds. However even beyond this, he has been blessed with phenomenal athleticism. He was one of the top performers at his position in both the 40-yard dash and broad jump at the 2012 NFL Combine. While these attributes don’t always translate to strong play on the field, Branch has largely been able to utilize them to his advantage.
The defensive end was chosen by the Jaguars because of his talent in rushing the quarterback in college and, despite the fact that the same level of production has yet to be displayed in the NFL, he still has the talent to be a factor in this area. He can be disruptive with his bull rush, and can get to the quarterback with a pure speed rush on occasion as well. Watch the play below for the perfect example of his potential:
Interestingly, Branch fell out of the first round of the draft due to a widespread belief that he was weak against the run. However, his presence in run defense has seemed to be one of his biggest strengths since arriving in Jacksonville. Specifically, he is consistently able to set the edge. This play depicts his stability against the run:
Even with his newfound success against the run, Branch’s role is simple: spell the starters and use his athletic ability to make plays in the backfield.
Unfortunately, despite the various strengths of Branch described above, he has largely been a disappointment. While his improvements against the run are a welcomed sight for the Dolphins, he isn’t nearly as dominant as scouts expected him to be against the pass. He largely gets his sacks as a result of stunts or due to the play of his teammates. SB Nation’s Big Cat Country described him as a “clean up” pass rusher, because “someone else does the creating and he picks up the prize.” This play depicts this idea:
For someone of his athletic ability, this shouldn’t be the case. He should be able to put pressure on the quarterback regardless of the scheme or the talent surrounding him. The fact that he doesn’t is definitely worrisome; it could speak to a lack of football IQ or the inability to perform pro-level pass rushing moves. Either way, Branch has been a relative disappointment since entering the league.
How He Fits in Miami:
Luckily, the Dolphins do not need Branch to play spectacularly in order to justify the signing. This is simply another move made with hopes of improving depth along the defensive line. With Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams already on board, Branch won’t be expected to be much more than he was as a Jaguar. He is essentially taking over the role of Derrick Shelby (prior to Shelby being forced into a larger role due to the injury to Wake).
In fact, Branch is even better suited to succeed as part of the Dolphins’ defense. With the talent around him, and the attention of the opposing offense focused elsewhere, he should have plenty of opportunities to become a force along the defensive line. It is simply a matter of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph putting Branch into a position in which he can perform to the best of his abilities.
The addition of Branch makes a ton of sense for Miami. It provides depth, youth and athleticism to the position. With Wake and Williams on the wrong side of 30, it makes sense to have a young player waiting in the wings for an opportunity. One would’ve thought that Dion Jordan would be an attractive option at this point in his career, but we all know how that has played out. With uncertainty behind their obvious starters, Miami can’t be blamed for bringing in Branch, even if he has underachieved up to this point.
The Dolphins have obviously missed on some opportunities this offseason. They lost out on Alex Boone, Adam Jones and C.J. Anderson; each would’ve been a huge acquisition for Miami. Instead, they have chosen to play it safe. They continue to make decisions that are financially conscientious and that fill the team’s specific personnel needs. The signing of Branch is just the latest example.
Vance Joseph and Adam Gase should be able to use Andre Branch to keep veteran Cameron Wake fresh, and to keep the defense guessing. It doesn’t hurt that Branch will almost certainly learn as he gains experience and plays behind Wake and Williams. In addition, Suh might become Branch’s best friend as he continuously occupies multiple blockers and opens up some space for the players on the outside to operate.
This move certainly isn’t going to draw too much attention, but it is one of the better decisions that have been made by the Dolphins’ front office. Earlier in the offseason, we discussed some of the mistakes that Miami could ill afford to make if they wanted to improve in the first season under Gase. One of these mistakes was losing Derrick Shelby. While I still believe retaining Shelby would have been in the Dolphins’ best interest, Branch can perform many of the same functions as Shelby in this defense. That alone makes this signing understandable on both sides, as the Dolphins get their necessary rotational pass rusher, and Branch gets a fresh start in a defense better suited for his abilities.