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Big Cat Country grabs an instant contributor with Alabama’s Brian Branch at No. 24

The Jaguars continue adding pieces to their defense to compliment their offense with a versatile defensive back.

Alabama v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Each offseason in the lead-up to the NFL Draft, the writers at SB Nation’s team blogs take part in the ultimate mock draft. With the Jacksonville Jaguars owning the 24th overall pick in the 2023 Draft, the Jaguars are in an interesting spot where they could go a lot of different places.

With the 24th pick in the 2023 SB Nation NFL Mock Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select...

Brian Branch, defensive back, Alabama

With where the Jaguars are picking in the draft, there’s a range of players they could focus and lock in on depending on who falls and who gets snapped up, but Branch offers a versatile defensive back who can come in right away as a “starter” for a Jaguars defense that is trying to play catch-up to their offense.

Branch played all over Alabama’s defensive backfield, be it as a deep safety, strong safety, nickel corner and even as a pseudo-linebacker or pass rusher lined up on the edge. For the Jaguars, however, his immediate impact could be at the nickel corner position, and he could eventually transition back to safety a season or two down the road if need be.

While some might think spending a first-round pick on a nickel corner seems like a pass on value, you have to remember with how the modern NFL operates on offense, defenses are in a formation with five defensive backs a lot of the time. It’s one area the Jaguars struggled big time with in 2022 as well. When teams got pass-happy and the pass rush wasn’t getting home, the inside of the field got picked on quite a bit, especially after Darious Williams was shifted to the outside corner position.

At 6’ and 190 pounds, Branch is about the perfect size for an inside corner and has excelled at playing man-to-man in the slot in Alabama’s defense. While his 40 time leaves something to be desired at only 4.58 seconds, he does a great job in short areas and locking on targets on the inside of the field. He’s also a willing run defender who can be a violent tackler to boot.

DraftKings Sportsbook’s odds suggest they believe the Jaguars will take a cornerback in the first round, with +150 odds. The next-closest odds are +225 for the Jags to grab a defensive lineman or EDGE with the 24th overall pick.

The biggest criticism for Branch is he might not have a true classic position, but he is someone who can be an impact player and contributor to a defense in multiple ways for a long time in the NFL.