When the 49ers selected ILB Chris Borland from Wisconsin in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft it likely puzzled many fans hoping to land a big bodied receiver or add depth at corner. At first glance the 49ers appear to have quality depth at ILB even when you consider All-Pro Navarro Bowman will likely be lost for at least half of the season. So what does Borland bring to the stingy, physical 49er defense? Let's take a closer look.
Weight: 248 lbs
Arm Length: 29 ¼"
Hands: 9 7/8"
40 yard dash: 4.78
Bench: 27 reps
Vertical Jump: 31"
Broad Jump: 9'6"
- You'll be hard-pressed to find another defender that seems more prepared for opposing defenses than Borland. What he lacks in physical attributes he clearly makes up for with a high football acumen and film study.
- Personifies hustle and high energy. Borland doesn't give up on plays and can often be seen trailing a play with tremendous hustle at the proper angle.
- Consistent production at the collegiate level. Borland posted three straight seasons of 100+ tackles and tallied 15 career forced fumbles, second most in FBS history.
- Better than expected blitzing skills. Watching Borland's tape it became clear that he's is an underrated blitzer. While he'll probably never post more than five or six sacks in a season at best, he does posses a quick spin move off the edge and his relentless motor helps him pressure the pocket when blitzing up the middle.
- Instinctual player able to read the line and react with decent quickness and explosion.
- Fills run lanes quickly and with tenacity.
- Solid tackler with good technique and leverage.
- Borland lack of ideal size and length has been well documented. Playing inside, his height worries me less than his short arms. Borland has some of the shortest arms of any NFL linebacker prospect in recent history. It's also a glaring weakness on tape. The lack of length allows blockers to engulf him and make it tough to disengage. GM Trent Baalke specifically cited arm strength as a key attribute during this year's combine making the selection of Borland a bit more puzzling.
- Significant injury history with shoulders and hamstrings. Borland's high motor and physical nature combined with lack of size make him a likely candidate for nagging injuries. He missed significant time at Wisconsin with two shoulder surgeries and multiple hamstring injuries.
- Appears to struggle in space at times and picking through traffic. It may be an issue of learning to play with controlled chaos.
- Lacks ideal sideline-to-sideline speed.
- Very stiff in pass coverage. Likely won't play on passing downs very often.
Doing your homework:
Admittedly, the 2013 Rose Bowl Game against Stanford isn't Borland's best game film. Unfortunately for him, it was the first one I watched because of the incredibly high level of offensive line play he'd be facing.
In interest of fairness, here is one of Borland's better games against Ohio State. Check out the goal line stuff he makes on Carlos Hyde at the 8:22 mark.
What others are saying:
After drafting Borland head coach Jim Harbaugh said:
"Very excited about Chris. Some of the plays he makes, the instinct that he has, the way that he sees the game, you know he studies it because of the way he (plays)... He's like a bowling ball hitting pins. He's got that kind of strike."
CBSSports.com's Rob Rang says:
Borland is the type of player who makes his presence known and never has a quiet game with his nonstop motor, playing with a ton of fight and heart - tough to measure. It's no coincidence that he's always around the action with his smarts, instincts and intangibles, which will draw comparisons to retired LB Zach Thomas - both very detailed and understands how to be effective despite the lack of size.
When you compare Borland's measurables to that of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis coming out of college, the size issue may seem like overkill. After all, Bowman (also a third round pick) was only one inch taller and about five pounds lighter than Borland. Aside from bigger arms, what makes up for that slight stature is speed and athleticism. That's not to say Borland can't overcome the size concern with his instincts, football IQ, and relentless effort but I think it'll be a little tougher. The good news is that if Borland earns playing time, you know it will be well deserved. The 49ers won't run him out there just to see what he's got.
Borland is an easy guy to root for and we all WANT him to be great. Just understand that players that exhibit similar strengths and weaknesses don't typically end up as All-Pros. There are a lot of really good things about Chris Borland. I think he has a chance to have a long successful career in the NFL. I'm just not so sure it'll be in a full-time starting role. I'll be rooting for him to prove me wrong.
By the way, if you haven't already checked out David Neumann's tape study on Borland, you're missing out.