I have admittedly been on the Chris Borland bandwagon for years now. It all started during 2009, his freshman year with the Wisconsin Badgers. As someone who has watched every one of Borland's games, I'll try to break down his abilities, accomplishments, and achievements for you today as we try to identify players who will be of interest to the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Get out. Borland is small.
I've seen this argument more times than I can count, so I'm going to put a stop to it right now. Yes, Borland is shorter than your average linebacker, but that does not make him "small." To explain what I mean, I looked up the measurements of the primary starters at inside linebacker for every NFL team that ran a 3-4 defense in 2013 to compare them to Borland's measurements from the Senior Bowl this January. Yes, Borland is shorter than average, by a little less than two inches (5' 11-3/8" versus 6' 1-1/4"). However, he is also six and a half pounds heavier than the average starting 3-4 inside linebacker (245 versus 238.5). It would be much more accurate to describe Borland as "stocky" or "compact."
Okay, fine, he's compact, not small. How did he measure up at the Scouting Combine?
His measurements were just okay. He didn't put up a fantastic time in the 40-yard dash (4.83 seconds) and his quickness numbers didn't jump off the page. He did post 27 reps on the bench press, though, which was among the best totals for all the linebackers. He also improved his time in the 3-cone drill from 7.18 seconds at the Combine to 6.75 at Wisconsin's Pro Day, a time which was faster than any put up by a linebacker at the Combine, and posted a more impressive 35-inch vertical during Pro Day as well.
So he's pretty strong, kinda quick, and not terribly fast. What else do you have?
We have production and game tape. Let's look at raw numbers first. Borland played outside linebacker and was a pass-rush specialist during his true freshman and sophomore years (he got a medical redshirt for 2010 after playing just two games), then moved to middle linebacker in 2011. During those five seasons, Borland was credited with 420 total tackles, 50 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries, three interceptions, and 18 passes defended. He was a first-team All-American in 2013 and won the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year award as well.
As for game tape, there's obviously too much to go into in one brief article, but I encourage you to click over to Battle Red Blog, SB Nation's Houston Texans blog, for a detailed breakdown of his game against Ohio State from 2013. I have borrowed the GIF below from that article to illustrate Borland's great instincts and strength in a contained area:
Borland's reaction to the play is almost instantaneous, and he recognizes perfectly where the running back (Carlos Hyde) is going. Though he's essentially standing still, Borland meets the 240-pound Hyde in the hole and stonewalls him, something few other defensive players were able to do at any point in 2013 even with a running start. It's his instincts that allow him to play "faster" than he times because he can read what's going to happen quicker than other players and get to the right place.
Wow. Okay, that's the running game, how is he in coverage?
That's one of the big questions in Borland's game. His instincts make up for his lack of speed in the run game, but they would help less in coverage against a tall, fast tight end. That sub-6 foot height and his arm length (29-1/4", shortest among all linebackers at the Combine) will make it a challenge for him to cover taller receivers and break up passes from NFL quarterbacks whose accuracy far surpasses that of the QBs in the Big Ten.
How would he fit in the Packers' defense?
A 3-4 system would probably be ideal for Borland right now, as he could come off the field in the dime package in favor of a defensive back. His strength at the point of attack would likely make him an upgrade over A.J. Hawk or Brad Jones in the run game, though his physical attributes would probably mean he would come off the field in favor of a defensive back in obvious passing situations.
So if he's a two-down player, where is he projected in this year's draft?
That depends on who you ask. Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper both have Borland ranked as the second-best inside linebacker in the draft, behind Alabama's C.J. Mosley. At best, Borland is probably a second-round pick for a team that needs to add toughness in the run game and uses substitution packages a lot on passing downs. Sound like any teams you know?
If Borland slips into the third round or beyond, he should be a great value, but he is one of those classic players whose ability shows up far better on film in pads than it does on the track in shorts.