Could Colts Bring in (Tyvon) Branch at Safety?
The Indianapolis Colts will actively be in the market for a starting caliber safety this offseason. With the NFL Draft offering few enticing options in a relatively weak safety class (besides Alabama’s Landon Collins of course), the Colts could look towards free agency.
While New England’s soon-to-be free agent in All-Pro safety Devin McCourty would make a great deal of sense for the team, he’s more than likely going to be franchise tagged by the Patriots. Beyond him, there really aren’t many attractive options at safety.
The Oakland Raiders just released 7-year veteran safety Tyvon Branch. The former 4th round pick of the Raiders in 2008 out of the University of Connecticut just turned 28 years old, and despite only playing 5 games the last two seasons, was once considered one of the best young safeties in the league not long ago:
Like the Colts very own recently released Ricky Jean-Francois, who just signed with the Redskins, it looks like it won’t take very long for potential suitors to now line up to obtain Branch’s services:
Could the Colts be one of them?
The team already knows they want to re-sign veteran Mike Adams, which is likely, given that there’s mutual interest between the two sides. However, the million dollar question is, who exactly is going to be playing alongside him in 2015 at the other safety spot?
Sep 8, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) is hit by Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch (33) after a throw at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
While the injuries are definitely worrisome for Branch, they seem to be more of “freak” injuries, rather than chronic occurrences. Branch missed all but 3 games in 2014 due to a broken foot, which was preceded by all but 2 games in 2013 because of a fractured fibula.
Before the injuries, Branch was highly regarded as one of the best young safeties in the league. He was an elite in-the-box safety for the Oakland Raiders and was consequently rewarded with a lucrative 4-year, $26.6 million dollar extension in July of 2012. However, injuries have cost him the majority of the past two seasons, and the Raiders decided that they would rather save $3 million in cap space by releasing him then try to see if Branch can make a full recovery.
However, what was another team’s so-called “trash” could turn out to be the Colts “treasure”. Before his season-ending broken foot last season, Branch had a +0.9 overall grade according to ProFootballFocus (subscription) in his 3 games played. While that admittedly isn’t necessarily great, it’s still a significant upgrade to then-Colts starting safety LaRon Landry, who had an overall grade of -1.6 during the same 3 game stretch. It would be quite the upgrade all things considered.
Digging even further, per ProFootballFocus, Branch was 6th best among all safeties at 7.2% in “Safeties Run Stop Percentage” through his 3 games played in 2014, which measures the percentage of a player’s run defense snaps, where he was responsible for a stop. In fact, within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage, Branch’s run stop percentage increased to 14.9% which was 3rd best overall at safety through 3 games, just one spot behind the Seattle Seahawks always hard-hitting All-Pro safety in Kam Chancellor.
Sep 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch (33) during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Jaguars 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Despite the injuries, Branch has proven to be an exceptional starting caliber safety. It’s never been an issue of talent or natural ability for him, just whether he can actually stay on the field at this juncture. Still, before the injuries, Branch was consistently one of the best in-the-box safeties in the league, and even as 2014 showed in his 3 games played, that still holds true when healthy.
It may not be prudent for the Colts to necessarily sign Tyvon Branch and do nothing else given his prior injury history in recent seasons in order to safely address the position. However, there should be no real issue with the team signing him and penciling him in as their opening day starting safety next to Mike Adams if he’s healthy. Even though, they may still need to add some insurance behind him in perhaps re-signing a reliable backup and proven spot-starter like Sergio Brown just in case.
Given alternatives, Branch would be a solid free agent addition for the Colts, as he’s proven to be one of the best in-the-box safeties in the league when healthy. Fresh after getting pummeled by New England Patriots powerback LeGarrette Blount yet again in this year’s AFC Championship Game, the Colts could certainly use a hard-hitting safety to play alongside Mike Adams to shore up their run defense. Perhaps, the Colts should seriously consider bringing in Branch as a strong bounceback candidate as their new starting safety.
Aug 16, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Oakland Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch (33) tackles New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) during the second quarter of a preseason game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports