Thursday, May 1, 2014

Scouting The 2014 NFL Draft: Chris Borland

With my quarterback scouting series ending a couple months ago with Johnny Manziel, I took some time off since I had reviewed all of the quarterbacks that I was interested in (Sorry, Tommy Rees). But with the draft happening next week, I'm going to try to highlight players that I really like at different positions. These are not going to go nearly as in-depth as the quarterback reports, but they should still get you a good idea of what these guys bring to the table. I wanted to start off with a guy that I have liked since he played as a True Freshman. Even as an Iowa alum, there was no denying how much fun it was to watch Chris Borland play for Wisconsin. The guy was all over the field and made plays in every facet of the game.

The first thing you know you are getting with Chris Borland is a motor. This guy goes nonstop until the whistle blows. This is easy to see in his tackle numbers, but when you watch tape of him, you see that he is almost always close to making a play. That displays another quality that he has which are instincts. He knows how to always be around the ball by diagnosing plays, and he never gives up on anything.

One thing that people didn't see much of this season was his pass rushing ability, but it was something that really stood out for me a few years ago when he still played more outside linebacker. This is where he uses his small frame to his advantage. He does a great job of bending to avoid contact and makes it very hard on tackles without good mobility. During Watt's last year at Wisconsin, they did some nasty things with Watt at one end and Borland at the other on third down passing situations. Since he has played middle linebacker successfully these past couple years, I expect that to be his main position, but I would definitely give him opportunities to rush from the outside to take full advantage of his skills.

And even if he is permanently put in the middle, he still has pass rush skills, because even though he doesn't have great speed, he is extremely quick. There are not many players that can recover from a chop block and still almost get after the quarterback, but that's what makes Borland such a fun player to watch.

He's not known as a great athlete, but I do think that he knows how to best translate his physical skills to football better than 99% of players.

There are two concerns with Borland: Size and injuries. The former is only a slight concern for me. Many people worry about his size (especially with his shorter than ideal arms), because it will be tough for him to fight off blocks from offensive linemen. This would be more of a concern for me if he was a defensive lineman, but he's a linebacker, so he basically needs to avoid letting them get close to him anyway. It reminds me of Brian Urlacher who had fantastic seasons when his defensive linemen were occupying the offensive line's blocks and he was free to roam to make plays. When he lost that, he struggled, because it's really tough for a 250 pound guy to fight off a 320 pound guy, especially when the bigger guy knows where the play is going and the littler guy has to diagnose the play and react. That being said, he does get swallowed up on runs up the middle more than I would like to see, but he does a very good job of moving sideline-to-sideline on outside runs.

The latter is a much bigger concern for me. Injuries have cost him games here and there, as well as missing an entire season. His shoulder has caused a lot of issues, and that is something that should make teams hesitant to draft him. A possible move to an outside spot may help him take less of a grind, but at middle linebacker, although I think he'll be very good when he's on the field, I don't know how may full seasons you can get out of him.

I love watching Chris Borland play. He has been one of my favorite players to watch for five years now, and I am excited to see him at the next level. If he can keep his shoulder together, he'll make a great mid-round draft pick for a team. With in-depth medical reports, it would be easier to make a decision, but this is how I would handle things from what I know. In the second, the injury concerns are a little too much for me; in the third, I would strongly consider him; in the fourth, I'm taking him unless I'm stacked at linebacker, and if he makes it to the fifth, I'm jumping all over him no matter how much depth I already have.

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