There were a lot of knocks on Chris Borland coming out of Wisconsin, mostly related to his size, that seem pretty funny now. First off, he can do this, so we might as well keep him on the field. That gif? That is literally the only highlight from the most recent 49ers game. That's it. There are no other highlights. We can go home now.
But, seriously, the criticisms of Borland seemed to all relate to his size-specifically to the length of his arms. As a consequence, there were fears that Borland might not be able to shed blockers, shoot gaps, defend passes, or even make tackles. While I'm not ready to crown Borland the heir to the Patrick Willis throne (it's way too early for that still and Willis is still, you know, wearing the crown), I do think he has demonstrated that many of these concerns are unfounded. Could he be better defending the pass? Sure, but that will probably come with time as he gets used to how NFL offenses play the game.
But, the one area that I want to talk about today is Borland's tackling ability. I think, well it should be obvious, that Borland is a willing and effective tackler. His capacity to shed blocks and sneak in for a tackle is incredible. And, his speed to the ball, even on misdirection plays, is notable. It seems like every game, he is good for a play in which he shoots through the A-gap and wraps up a RB in the backfield for a loss of two yards.
Frequently, though, he makes tackles by diving for the ankles. Generally this is effective. It usually resembles a single-leg takedown in wrestling and allows Borland to either bring the runner down or prop him up so that other defenders can attack the ball. It also mitigates some of the issues that his size presents: taking down larger defenders is easier the lower to the ground you can get. I know this is a dazzling display of the knowledge of physics, but just trust me on this one.
Where he runs into issues is the high-step. Last week, we saw Marshawn Lynch attempt to counter the ankle tackle by high-stepping when Borland got close to him. While not generally effective, it worked a couple of times, and Lynch was able to dash past Borland with ease. I don't expect this to be a huge issue going forward. For one thing, Lynch is just super hard to tackle always. Every linebacker in the game has a hard time taking on Lynch. Moreover, Borland's too fast to always be anticipated. When he shoots a gap or runs a guy down on the sideline, RBs don't always see him coming. He has good burst.
But, what do you guys think? Are these ankle tackles going to be effective going forward? Or will Borland need to change it up?