Chiefs Sign Tyvon Branch
Tyvon Branch, when healthy, is one of the league’s top in-the-box safeties, and he’s now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs after signing what’s essentially a one-year, prove-it deal for $2 million. There is a further $2 million available in incentives for Branch, who has struggled to stay on the field over the previous two seasons, suiting up for just five games since the 2012 season.
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Before injuries began to plague him in 2013 and 2014, Branch was one of the top fantasy players at his position, posting three consecutive seasons with over 100 total tackles from 2009-2011. He would have made a fourth straight season too if not for missing a couple of games, and he fell just short of the triple-digit mark in recording 96 total tackles in 14 games. His tackle numbers outpaced many of his defensive back peers and that’s what gave him his fantasy value.
Branch wasn’t a purely one-dimensional fantasy scorer, however, as during that four-year span he added six sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles, making him a lock to be a top-five defensive back, year in, year out.
His addition to the Chiefs roster is a logical and low-risk signing in the wake of the devastating news that broke last season that former Pro Bowler Eric Berry is battling a form of cancer known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma, while free agent Ron Parker is expected to test the open market and not return.
Berry was a key piece in the Chiefs defense, often used as an extra man in the box, playing as a hybrid safety-linebacker. Berry actually played 69.7 percent of run downs within eight yards of the line of scrimmage in 2013, a role that should suit Branch as well, seeing as he saw 79.5 percent in 2011, one of his stronger fantasy seasons, so assuming Berry’s role should be relatively seamless.
The big hurdle that Branch must overcome to become a fantasy asset once again is managing to stay on the field. This wasn’t a problem for him in the first five years of his career, so I’m happy to give him the benefit of doubt in that respect. Players often get unfairly labeled as injury-prone and as astute fantasy owners it’s our job to take advantage of those misconceptions.
On that basis, Branch appeals strongly as a sleeper pick, forgotten by those whose memory doesn’t extend past the most recent season. George Wilson circa 2011 feels like a decent comparison as he had been an elite fantasy safety in 2009, and then was off-the-radar the following season due to the promotion of Donte Whitner as the starter. Whitner departed for San Francisco the next offseason, Wilson resumed his role as the starter, and was a forgotten man in many IDP leagues, being drafted much later than his contemporaries but outscored most of them, ending the year as a DB1. My hopes are that Branch can have a similar impact for his fantasy owners.