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Emptying the Notebook: Deion Branch

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Deion Branch

We start with Branch because he's truly our WR #1. One of my lessons I'm taking from 2007 is stick to your guns. Thus, I still fully believe that Branch will be a hell of a receiver in this system - eventually. Dave at USSMariner talks a lot about evaluating a player based on their skills rather than their results; that, to me, is very instructive in the case of Branch. Branch has yet to have a sustained period of dominance, yes, and if he were in a traditional 2 WR offense, I don't think he could rise above being a very good #2 receiver, but within this timing, spread system, given his agility and ability to change gears, plus his above average hands, he could be a monster. Yep, a monster - as in a top 10 receiver in overall productivity for a 3-5 year period.

The key for him to do that, though, is a steady collection of good receivers with complimentary abilities. Foremost, the Hawks need a seam stretcher. One of the major reasons Branch has been kept in check is that teams can sit their safeties shallow. Bobby Engram is an underneath receiver, and Marcus Pollard has very little ability, as in virtually none, as a deep threat. If D.J. Hackett can return sometime in my lifetime, he'll provide that vital seam stretching ability and allow Branch to square off against corners and linebackers. That will do wonders for Branch's RAC ability. Teams have been able to bottle up Branch by having a man on him in man coverage and a safety nearby working a zone somewhere between Branch and Engram. Branch must then beat two men after making a reception, and that's not within his abilities. Allow me to create a quick diagram to demonstrate what I mean:

In the first diagram we have Engram doing his business on an underneath route. The second has Hackett doing a post route over top. In both, Branch runs a hook route. The defense is a simple cover 2 man, about the most common defense in the NFL. In the first Engram picks up the linebacker but not the safety, therefore Branch must beat 2 DBs, one in front, one behind. In the second diagram, Hackett picks up the safety, therefore Branch must only beat a single DB and a trailing linebacker. Very few linebackers in the NFL have any shot of catching Branch in the open field. Until Seattle has someone to pull the safety away from Branch, though, he's likely maxed out as a very good possession receiver.