Tyvon Branch didn’t earn himself a near $30-million contract by being a first round draft choice with more potential than production. He got his payday the old fashioned way – he earned it.
No less than 14 defensive backs were selected ahead of Branch in the 2008 draft including his current teammate Patrick Lee who was no doubt evaluated by Reggie McKenzie before being picked in the second round by the Green Bay Packers. Even McKenzie’s keen eye for talent overlooked the total package Branch had to offer. But that is water under the bridge now that McKenzie has rewarded his brightest young star on defense with nearly $20-million in guaranteed money.
Most assumed Al Davis dialed up another stopwatch dandy when he drafted Branch 100th overall. A running back turned cornerback at the University of Connecticut Branch busted out 4.3-second 40-yard dash at the combine and ran right into the Davis wheelhouse.
But where most only saw another special teams contributor that might develop into a nickel corner the Raiders saw a tough nosed and fearless ball player that could be molded into a new age strong safety.
As a rookie Branch displayed his trademark Raider toughness that’s enabled him to start every game he’s played in for the last three years. Before a shoulder injury ended his first NFL season only 8 games in he was toughing out a thumb injury that required a cast. That thumb ailment occurred in his first NFL camp but it didn’t stop him from contributing. That cast became a badge of honor as it’s rare you’ll see many DBs playing with something so restrictive. Not Branch who even managed his first career INT with one functioning hand.
By the time Branch entered his second season he was fully healed and had assumed the role of starting strong safety. He hasn’t looked back since.
On Sundays it’s common place to see #33 anywhere the ball is on the field. Branch is a sure tackler that plays a fearless, old school brand of ball. A style forged by many of the great Raider DBs to come before him.
With a style of play that is somewhere between Tasmanian devil and Russian chess champion, Branch bullies ball carriers, harasses QBs and is quietly becoming as reliable in pass coverage as he is in run defense.
While his game might remind many of the football’s glory days it’s been the system Branch has played in that’s been behind the times. All respect due to the pioneering mind of Al Davis but his draw-it-up-in-the-dirt defensive scheme was being exposed most every Sunday by more modern and sophisticated offenses.
That’s where Dennis Allen comes into play. Without even getting into one full-contact practice as head coach of the Raiders many players are already singing the praises of Allen’s defensive acumen. Michael Huff hailed it as a “real defense” which we could only assume means multiple fronts, mixed coverage schemes and (gasp!) blitzes.
All that means Branch will finally be given more opportunities to create even more havoc than he already does on any given Sunday. That yesteryear approach will be merged with a progressive scheme hopefully giving birth to an entirely new era of Raider football. An era led by the old school play of Branch and the modern innovation of Allen. It’s the reinvention of Raider football and it’s happening right before our eyes.