Alan Branch slipped out of the first round and was made available to the Cardinals because they traded up from 38th overall to 33rd overall to get him. He's a player that I personally had targeted since the Combine and that Arizona obviously held in high regard.
However, since he was considered a top-10 guy heading into the draft and ended up a top-33 guy, he carries some baggage along with his massive 6'6", 324 pound frame.
You can teach someone technique and stay on them so that they don't gain too much weight (something Branch has struggled with), but you can't teach them to be as big, agile, and quick off the snap as he is (recorded 15 tackles for loss during his three year career at Michigan, even intercepted a pass).
Last season, the Wolverines held their opponents to 43.4 yards rushing per game. An awful lot of running in the Big 10 is done between the tackles, so it's safe to say that Branch contributed significantly to that gaudy statistic, which was the best in the nation.
He occupies a lot of space and bodies in the middle. With him and Kendrick Clancy, along with Gabe Watson (another former Wolverine) anchoring that part of the field in the tackle rotation, the Cardinals should be able to improve against the run after ranking in the bottom half of the league in 2006.
Adds youth, size, and toughness up the middle. Those are three things that were lacking last season.
Showed up to the Combine out of shape, getting winded towards the end of his position drills. Failed to atone for that performance at Michigan's Pro Day. You can sometimes forgive a player for getting a little slack during a long college off-season. Once. Not twice. This is the primary reason that he slipped.
Plays too high and doesn't use his hands well to get leverage on the offensive lineman at the point of attack. He played on a defense with a lot of talented players and most likely allowed his technique to slip and be covered up by his size, natural strength, and skill of his team mates.
While he has plenty of upper-body strength (33 reps in the 225 pound bench press at the Combine), he lacks lower body strength and has trouble getting a push into the backfield if he doesn't beat his opponent off the snap.
Branch is a very charming and charismatic guy that just wants to play football. He let himself go during the off-season because he's not a "workout warrior" and probably wasn't convinced that a poor showings at the Combine and his Pro Day would affect his stock as much as they did.
Strength and Conditioning Coach John Lott and former and current team mate Gabe Watson need to get on his back and on his case. Watson needs to show him the ropes and Lott needs to show him the weight room.
In mini-camps, OTAs, and throughout training camp, Defensive Line Coach Ron Aiken needs to work with Branch on his technique. The tools and the ability are there, the expertise is not. Once the ability and the expertise combine, watch out.
As it stands now, Branch is already in the tackle rotation when Arizona lines up in a 4-3 defense. He could move his way into the starting line-up by the beginning of the season if he gets to work and stops slacking off. The more he learns and the more he conditions, the better his odds of hearing his name called when the announcer introduces the starting defense on opening weekend.
When they line up in a 3-4, that's when it gets complicated. He's too big and too slow to play end and he's probably too tall and definitely doesn't have the lower body strength or the leveraging ability to play nose tackle. The nose tackle in the 3-4 is there to occupy blockers and clog the middle to keep the linebackers clean much like any tackle in any defense, but it's a different technique and a different mentality.
At this point, Branch has neither the technique nor the mentality.
All in all, though, the Cardinals did manage to take a guy with top-15 talent in the second round. Time will tell if it was truly a good move, but they look awfully smart right now.