Brian Branch was easily tabbed as a draft steal for the Detroit Lions (No. 45 overall, in the second round). Then the rookie defensive back started to pay that off by taking the starting nickel corner roleduring training camp, and moving marquee free agent signing C.J. Gardner-Johnson to safety.
Branch openly said he was looking forward to the challenge of taking on Patrick Mahomes in the season opener. It felt like a "don't play with fire, or you might get burned" kind of thing, but it was also good to hear Branch embrace the challenge.
Trailing 14-7 in the third quarter last Thursday night, the Lions needed someone to make a play. A fortuitous carom off the hands of Chiefs' wide receiver Kadarius Toney helped, but Branch was closing in the play and he was rewarded for the effort as he made a nice interception.
Of course he took it to the house, 50 yards untouched.
Brian Branch among fastest ball carriers in the NFL for Week 1
As shown by Next Gen Stats, Branch's pick-six was a game-changing play, taking the Lions' win probability from 16 to 39 percent. He also reached a max speed of 20.74 MPH, which only three defenders reached all of last season.
Not bad for a guy who ran a 4.58 40 at the NFL Combine, and registered just a 5.27 Relative Athletic Score. It's not news, but there's definitely a difference between football speed/athleticism and speed/athleticism put on display during what's essentially a track and field exhibition in Indianapolis.
With the Buffalo Bills-New York Jets Monday night game left in Week 1 as of this writing, per Next Gen Stats of course, Branch stands as the fifth-fastest ball carrier in the league for the week.
1. Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill (47-yard reception)-21.66 MPH
2. Hill (35-yard touchdown reception)-21.52 MPH
3. Packers RB Aaron Jones (35-yard touchdown reception)-21.48 MPH
4. Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle (35-yard reception)-20.99 MPH
5. Lions DB Brian Branch (50-yard INT touchdown)-20.74 MPH
A game-turning play that also put his all-around football ability on display. A pretty good debut moment for Branch.