Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
In the third round of May's NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers added Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland to a roster that already boasted one of the league's best linebacking corps. Borland put together a fantastic career at Wisconsin, but concerns regarding his size, speed and arm length caused him to fall into the middle of the third round.
As I broke down in detail shortly after the draft, Borland is a smart player who diagnoses plays quickly, consistently puts himself in good position and is a reliable tackler. His short-area quickness is very good which should allow him to be effective in underneath zone coverage. Borland also has the ability to be an asset rushing the passer from the inside linebacker position, something that the 49ers do a decent amount already with Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
By far Borland's biggest deficiency is his ability to take on and shed blockers. It's a crucial trait for inside linebackers at the NFL level and one Borland will need to improve if he's going to have an impact in the league.
Expected 2014 impact:
Due to the expected absence of NaVorro Bowman for potentially as much as half the season, Borland is in position to be one of the few rookies with an opportunity to make an impact in his first season. Borland will have every opportunity to receive the bulk of the snaps next to Patrick Willis while Bowman recovers. Michael Wilhoite has filled in admirably at inside linebacker in the past when Willis missed some time and Nick Moody will also be in the mix, but neither player is a clearly better option than Borland at this point.
What seems to be the most likely scenario is Borland seeing most of his action in the 49ers' base packages—where the rest of the front can help compensate for his inability to consistently shed blocks—while Wilhoite and/or Moody come in when San Francisco is in their nickel package.
Assuming for a moment that Borland does end up playing a significant role to begin the season, I think his impact is going to be largely dependent on the rest of the players around him (which is definitely a good thing on this team). If the rest of the front can occupy blockers, Borland can use his fantastic instincts to run to the ball and make plays. But if for some reason the front were to regress—say because of an extended absence from Aldon Smith, some old-age regression from Justin Smith and the younger players not taking a step forward—there is a good chance that Borland's flaws could be exposed. I don't think that's incredibly likely, but it would certainly represent a plausible worst-case scenario.
Odds of making the roster:
Third-round picks just don't get cut prior to their first season. Borland will be on the 53-man roster to start the season and if things break right, he could find himself in San Francisco's starting lineup come September 7th in Dallas.