Michigan defensive tackle Branch to enter NFL draft

Updated: January 8, 2007, 7:06 PM ET
Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Alan Branch is skipping his senior season at Michigan to enter the NFL draft, delivering a blow to the Wolverines a week after they lost the Rose Bowl.

The 6-foot-6, 311-pound defensive tackle, a second-team All-American, is projected as a first-round pick in April's draft.

"It's always been a childhood dream for me, but it was surprising how tough of a decision it was," Branch said Monday.

Branch took advantage of a service the NFL offers to draft-eligible players who are not seniors, and the league gave him good news.

"I got my grade back and it said I was a solid first-rounder -- middle to late first round -- and it really did reinforce everything I've been hearing," he said. "It didn't really have that much pull in my decision, but it made me that much more confident."

As a junior, Branch made 25 tackles -- including six for losses and two sacks -- recovered three fumbles, forced two fumbles, intercepted a pass and broke up one.

Teams often were forced to block Branch with more than one player, allowing his teammates to roam free and make more plays.

"The role of a defensive tackle isn't too gratifying," he said. "You're there to get pressure on the quarterback. But at the same time, you don't want to let go of somebody and let him get the linebacker, whose job is to make tackles. But I'm a team guy, so I don't really mind seeing the stats because my linebackers thank me every day."

Michigan had hoped Branch would return to a defense that already must replace three All-Americans: first-team defensive end LaMarr Woodley, first-team cornerback Leon Hall and second-team linebacker David Harris as well as a handful of other starters.

"Look out for a lot of guys, because our defense was really deep," he said. "From my position alone, everybody needs to keep an eye on Terrance Taylor and Tim Jamison."

Branch also mentioned cornerback Johnny Sears along with linebackers John Thompson and Chris Graham as Wolverines capable of going from little-known players to standouts.

With Branch's departure, Michigan will rely even more on an offense that returns quarterback Chad Henne, running back Mike Hart, tackle Jake Long and receiver Mario Manningham.

The Wolverines (11-2) lost to Southern California 32-18 last week in the Rose Bowl, closing the season with two straight losses for a third straight year.

After the Rose Bowl, Branch returned to his family's home in New Mexico to weigh his options.

"I really sat and talked to my parents and really discussed how I felt in my heart to see if I was ready for this big, life-changing thing," he said. "I feel like I'm ready and I'm following my heart."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press