Not too many people were high on rookie third-round pick (No. 77) ILB Chris Borland coming out of the draft. They said he was too slow, too short, and too robotic to be a solid two-down linebacker in the NFL. Not me. Back on April 8, I had an itch that Borland should be drafted by the 49ers, as I said:
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“At 5-foot-11 and 248 pounds, Borland is often compared to another diminutive linebacker in MLB Zack Thomas. A tackling machine as Borland has the high-motor to run sideline-to-sideline, the Wisconsin product would be a nice young addition to the inside linebacker position. A true leader and hard worker both on and off the field, Borland’s rare combination of read-and-react style of play should bode well in DC Vic Fangio’s defense. A tenacious defender with the ability to shed blockers at the point of attack, Borland would be an ideal fit in the 49ers 3-4 scheme.”
Not one month later, Borland was selected by the 49ers. A lucky guess on my part, I then had this assessment as I graded each of the team’s picks, saying:
Analysis: A player I anticipated the 49ers may be targeting, it turns out that Borland was in fact high on the Niners radar. The epitome of selecting the best player available, Borland was an absolute diamond in the rough and my favorite pick of any selection made in this year’s NFL draft. A poor man’s MLB Zach Thomas, Borland’s rare combination of instincts and read-and-react style of play will only push the other inside ‘backers to be better in 2014.
And Borland has done nothing to discredit that assessment. A true baller that made a season-saving fumble recovery last week, Borland continues to “wow” the Forever Faithful week-in-and-week-out. Whether running sideline-to-sideline or using his diminutive frame to his advantage, Borland continues to look the part of a young linebacker poised beyond his years. And with the tackling machine recording 35 tackles in his last two games, one has to wonder if he will finish the season averaging double-digit tackles the rest of the season. But why did Borland make sense for the team?
This was my reasoning back in April.
“The San Francisco 49ers strength of the team is by far the linebackers unit. The backbone of the defense as they have All-Pro talent across the board in OLB Aldon Smith, OLB Ahmad Brooks, ILB NaVorro Bowman, and ILB Patrick Willis, there is no shortage of talent at the position. However, with Bowman recovering from both a torn ACL and MCL injury, depth at the inside linebacker position is a concern.
As it currently stands the top backup inside ‘backers include ILB Michael Wilhoite, ILB Nick Moody, and versatile LB Dan Skuta. And although all of them filled in admirably during Willis’ two-game absence, the 49ers could use more depth at the position.”
With Borland getting better with each snap played, I can’t help but wonder how many tackles he would’ve had if he started a full 16-game schedule. Could NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year be out of the question? Although anything can happen, it looks like that battle will be won between two other rookie linebackers in Baltimore Ravens LB C.J. Mosley and Minnesota Vikings OLB Anthony Barr.
However, if Borland continues to put up massive tackle numbers, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year may just be what the doctor ordered. How ironic would that be? The man he replaces in the lineup was also the last 49ers player to win the award back in 2007.