Notes & Quotes from the Combine: Handful of versatile defensive backs highlight the draft class

Defensive back and kickers were up at the podiums on Thursday at the 2023 NFL Combine. With nine picks currently in the draft, the Raiders may choose to add to the secondary with some of these versatile players.

Here's what a few players had to say:

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Brian Branch, Alabama

Branch, one of the top defensive back prospects in this class, noted he has met with 25 teams so far at the Combine.

There's a big reason he's garnered attention – his versatility. Branch excels in both zone and man coverage with his speed and agility, and he's able to play all over the field, according to draft analysts.

"I think my versatility is a great selling point in the NFL," he said. "Letting them know wherever they need me, I can play. Being able to go out there and work at it, I feel like it enhances my game in the long run."

In the 2022 season, Branch recorded a career-high 90 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and two interceptions in 13 games, earning Second Team All-American honors

"If teams want me to cover the slot receiver, man coverage, I can do that," Branch said. "If a team utilizes me to drop in the zone, I can do that as well and also be back at safety, call the defense and be the quarterback of the defense."

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JL Skinner III, Boise State

Skinner, one of the top DBs in the Mountain West Conference, saw his draft stock rise through Senior Bowl practices last month, ending the week as the National Team's Practice Player of the Week, voted on by fellow participants in the TE/WR group.

Unfortunately, he recently tore a pec while going through pre-draft training. Though he won't be participating in Combine workouts, he's hoping he'll be good to go in time for his pro day, as the recovery time ranges from six to eight weeks, Skinner's doctors told him. He'll still have the chance to meet with teams and share his passion for the physical side of the game.

"When I first started playing football, they told me the first thing you've got to do is be physical and tackle. Ever since then, it's always stayed in my mind that you've got to be physical," Skinner said. "You can't play this game and not be physical. ... I just love it and I embrace it every time."

The DB totaled 208 tackles, 12 passes defensed and seven interceptions in four seasons at Boise. A former basketball and track player in high school, Skinner said the other two sports only helped his football skillset grow.

"Basketball [taught me] to use your eyes to stay on your man," he said. "In basketball, you play a lot of man coverage, a lot of man defense. Stay with your man and move your feet. That's why I say it was able to help me a lot."

Skinner was given a 6.33 prospect grade by NFL.com, projecting he will "eventually be plus starter."

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Garrett Williams, Syracuse

Williams grew up in a small North Carolina town of Harrisburg, and is the first football player from Hickory Ridge High School make it to the Combine and go through the draft process. It's something that holds a lot of weight to him, and he hopes to inspire other young players in the town.

"It's definitely humbling. Being the first person from my school to be here, first person from my school to hopefully get drafted, that means a lot to me. I come from a very supportive community as well in Harrisburg, North Carolina. I know all of them have my back. Being here and making sure I do the right thing to play to my highest level, knowing that a lot of guys are looking up to me and just support me as well, it really means a lot to me."

In his high school career, he was a three-star recruit and though he wasn't ranked within the top 100 nationally at his position, he garnered attention from a few schools, eventually joining Syracuse. Williams totaled 152 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and four interceptions across three seasons, with his last season ending on an ACL tear.

Williams is projected by many draft analysts to be a third-round pick, with NFL's Lance Zierlein has Williams projected as a "backup with potential to develop into starter."

"Outside cornerback with the footwork/athleticism to match routes with good balance and smooth transitions. Williams possesses average size but can be a willing tackler when the opportunity arises," Zierlein wrote in a draft analysis. "He can mirror and match the release but is inconsistent playing with his back to the quarterback. On the flip side, he's instinctive and twitchy from zone and off-man but must become more aggressive at attacking passing lanes rather than playing the man."

Anders Carlson, Auburn

Among six kickers invited to the 2023 Combine was Anders Carlson, younger brother of Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson.

A decade of Carlson kickers at Auburn has come to a close, as Anders is hoping to find his own way to the pros.

"My experience at Auburn was incredible, all six years there. Part of that was being there with my brother for a year," he said. "He showed me the ropes that first year, on and off the field. Auburn was great for a lot of reasons, but he was definitely one."

MORE on Carlson here.

Take a look back at current Raiders' appearances at past NFL Scouting Combines.

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