When the San Francisco 49ers drafted ILB Chris Borland in the third-round (No. 77) it was quickly regarded as a draft day steal. A player that I predicted to be drafted by the 49ers back in early April, Borland clearly possessed the intangibles that GM Trent Baalke covets. From revving his hot motor to sniffing out plays sideline-to-sideline, Borland fit what the 49ers wanted. A true leader both on-and-off the football field, it has been Borland who has garnered the high praise of all the rookies thus far, as Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh said, “He’s probably leading the team right now in deflections and interceptions. He’s been around the ball all spring. He’s doing a fine job.”
And it will be that type of presence that will likely solidify his spot on ST Brad Seely’s special-teams coverage unit. In order to play special-teams well you need to be tough, physical, and aggressive. Three characteristics that Borland graded highly coming out of Wisconsin, he’s clearly reaping the benefits as he adjusts to the NFL game. Can Borland be the next LB Blake Costanzo? I would not doubt it as Borland has caught my eye throughout rookie camp and OTAs thus far.
One reason for Borland’s quick rise has been his innate ability to diagnose and read-and-react to plays before they happen. When Borland lines up he looks more like a two or three year veteran rather than a rookie getting his feet wet. However, the same can’t be said of OLB Aaron Lynch and ILB Shayne Skov as both of those players are still acclimating themselves to the playbook while looking lost at times, as expected. But Borland seems to be picking up the defensive scheme seamlessly thus far. And if that’s the case, look for Borland to also get an early look on special-teams.
Seely loves players that go all-out on every single snap and that’s exactly what Borland will deliver. He has the tenacity to be a downfield force while having no regard for his body. And despite his less than stellar H-W-S, Borland’s intangibles and skill-set should be more than enough to off-set any questions Seely has.
With Borland getting stronger every practice, do not be surprised if you see him starting his rookie season as a special-teams ace, as Borland continues to wow the coaching staff with not only his high football IQ but his ability to produce when called upon.