The Green Bay Packers, who desperately need an outside linebacker to line up opposite of Clay Matthews, had a scout in attendance.
"They love Branch," a source told Packer Report last week.
Branch rested on his testing numbers from the Scouting Combine, including his 4.70-seconds timing in the 40-yard dash. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan ran Branch through outside linebacker drills, with Branch — a linebacker in high school — reportedly looking smooth in coverage and perfectly capable of making the transition.
"I just wanted to show my versatility today," Branch told reporters. "It's pretty stressful because you want to be great, but at the same time this is what you live for."
Branch tallied 10.5 sacks and 16 tackles for losses as a senior. As a junior, he had five sacks, 7.5 tackles for losses and — tellingly — seven pass breakups.
According to another source, the Packers came out of the Senior Bowl with Illinois' Whitney Mercilus and Alabama's Courtney Upshaw among a handful of players on their first-round wish list. Both could be gone when the Packers are on the clock with the 28th pick, meaning Branch could be in play in the first round or a potential trade-back if they think he could last into the second.
Outside linebacker prospects were the main attraction for Packers scout Brian Gutekunst.
Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon ran his 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds, much better than his 4.80 from the Combine. Vernon (6-2, 261) recorded six sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses as a true sophomore in 2010. He missed the first six games of 2011 as part of the Nevin Shapiro scandal and registered only 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for losses but declared for the draft, anyway. A source said he looked good in linebacker drills, and it looks like he'll go early in Day 3 of the draft.
During linebacker drills, Vernon was paired with Bethune-Cookman's Ryan Davis, who is making a meteoric rise up draft boards.
Davis won the FCS Defensive Performer of the Year award from College Football Performance Awards. He ranked 10th in FCS with 12 sacks, seventh with 21.5 tackles for losses and first with eight forced fumbles.
Davis (6-3, 260) ran in 4.79 and 4.80 with a 33-inch vertical jump and did defensive line and linebacker drills. According to a source who watched the workout, Davis looked smoother and had better hips than Vernon during the linebacker drills.
"He made himself some money," the source said.
One non-Combine invite was Miami tight end Chase Ford (6-6 1/2, 258). He ran the 40 in 4.76 seconds. A junior-college All-American, Ford arrived at Miami being compared to Jeremy Shockey but caught just 16 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons. His height and running ability, however, should get him drafted.
Most of the Hurricanes kept their marks from the Scouting Combine. Here's more from the rest of the Canes' pro day.
The star attraction was wide receiver LaVon Brazill, who talked to the Packers at the Scouting Combine. After missing most of 2010 with hand and knee injuries, Brazill caught 74 passes for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns in helping Ohio win its first-ever bowl game. As a sophomore, he returned three punts for touchdowns. Brazill (5-11, 192) ran 4.48 at the Combine. He stuck with most of his Combine numbers and had a solid position workout.
Noah Keller, an inside linebacker prospect, rang up 100-plus tackles in 2008, 2009 and 2011, missing most of 2010 with a foot injury. As a senior, the three-year captain forced three fumbles. On Thursday, he ran a sizzling 4.56 in the rain with 28 reps on the bench.
Brazill is projected as a late-round prospect while Keller will be a seventh-rounder or priority free agent.
The only Colorado player who figures to be drafted is offensive lineman Ryan Miller (6-7, 321). Miller opened his career at right tackle but started the final two years at right guard. Generally, NFL scouts and coaches think 6-foot-7 is too tall to be a guard. Question is, is he athletic enough to play tackle?
Receiver Toney Clemons, who was not invited to the Combine, ran as fast as 4.36. Clemons, who caught 43 passes for 680 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior, opened his career at Michigan but transferred when Rich Rodriguez brought his funky offense. His cousin is NFL receiver Steve Breaston.
The Wildcats' Drake Dunsmore (6-2, 241) is the one player who figures to get drafted. A jack-of-all-trades, scouts have lumped him into a category called "superback" in that he can play fullback, tight end and h-back and is athletic enough to be split out wide. That's exactly how the Packers use their tight ends. With 143 career receptions, Dunsmore ranks 11th in school history, and he's tied for third with 14 career touchdown receptions. His father, Pat, played tight end for the Chicago Bears and went to college at Drake — hence, Dunsmore's name.
Receiver Jeremy Ebert, who was not invited to the Combine, ran a sizzling 4.38. Ebert (5-10) caught 75 psses for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
There were two quarterbacks: Northwestern's Dan Persa and Alex Tanney, from nearby Monmouth, a Division III school. Persa (5-11) has obvious height issues but was incredible efficient in his two years as the starter, completing 73.5 percent of his passes with 32 touchdown passes (plus 10 more on the ground) and 11 interceptions. Tanney (6-foot-3) is an intriguing prospect (and one we're scheduled to interview on Friday). His 157 touchdown passes set an all-divisions NCAA record.
The Huskies' top prospect is running back Chris Polk ran his 40 in 4.49 seconds and looked good catching the ball out of the backfield from former teammate Jake Locker, a first-round pick last year by the Titans. Polk (5-10, 212) is in the running to be the second back off the board, behind Alabama's Trent Richardson.
Alameda Ta'amu (6-3, 347) is the second-best pure nose tackle in the draft behind Memphis' freakish Dontari Poe. Ta'amu, who said his weight is "all muscle," stuck with his 35 reps on the bench from the Combine. He'll go somewhere in Day 2, and the Packers at some point need to start planning for life without Ryan Pickett.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.