2014 NFL Draft Player Profiles – Wisconsin ILB Chris Borland

By Alex Kozora

With the regular season over, our focus has shifted to the offseason. For the next few months, I’ll be providing scouting reports on prospects. Some the Pittsburgh Steelers may look at and other top players that will be off the board before the Steelers select. All to make you as prepared as possible for the 2014 NFL Draft.

A scouting report of Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland.

Chris Borland/ILB Wisconsin: 5’11/4 249

The Good

– Excellent snap anticipation and good first step

– Smart player who takes great angles to the football, making up for lack of speed

– Very capable of shedding blocks, doesn’t get caught up in the wash

– Quick, active hands

– Form tackler, a technician, and can pack a punch

– Reliable tackler

– Short-area quickness

– Surprising and effective pass rusher

– Size/bend makes him tough to stick to coming around the edge when asked to rush

– Insatiable motor, doesn’t quit on any play

– Always around the ball

– “Won” in matchups vs NFL prospects

– Tons of starting experience

– Ultra productive

– Athletic family, good bloodlines

– Loads of accolades in career

The Bad

– Tiny frame with arms as short (29 1/4) as you’ll ever see

– Lacks upper body strength

– Can get stuck and washed when unable to shed

– Questionable straight-line speed, definitely more quick than fast

– Not a true pass rusher, doesn’t have an arsenal

– Benefited from playing behind good DL, kept him clean and free to roam

– Some durability concerns

Other

– 48 career starts for the Badgers

– 112 tackles, 8.5 TFL senior season

– Career: 420 tackles, 50 TFL, 17 sacks, 15 forced fumbles

– Three time First Team All-Big Ten 2011-2013, consensus in ’11 and ‘13

– 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

– Played mostly “Mack” linebacker in Wisconsin’s 3-4, moved to the edge in subpackages

– Two brothers that played sports at Wittenberg, one basketball and the other soccer

– Another brother that played soccer at Army

– Played freshman year with torn labrum in left surgery, underwent surgery in the offseason and missed spring ball

– Reinjured shoulder two games into 2010, had to have another surgery

– Returned seven kickoffs, 3-3 on extra points as a freshman

– Captain and team MVP senior year of high school

– Ran for over 1200 yards and 19 touchdowns senior year of HS

– Lettered in basketball, tennis, and track and field in addition to football

Tape Breakdown

I’m going to admit that I played the role of a very bad scout early on. I saw his measurable, saw his arm length (aside: his arm length from the Senior Bowl and Combine aren’t the same. 28 7/8 at the Senior Bowl. Weird) and sort of discounted him as a player I’d like.

But boy, put on the tape while I eat crow. Borland is a fantastic player. I think I’m in love.

Prerequisite for any potential inside linebacker is the ability to get off blocks of lineman flowing to the second level. If you can’t shed, you won’t succeed. Simple as that.

Despite the short arms, his quick hands allow him to rarely even get engaged, let alone have to get disengaged. Borland is #44 for the Badgers.

Last clip happened quick before the fade but that was Borland fending off a cut block and then shedding the next lineman. Impressive.

So smooth, so effortless.

Borland understands he’s not a burner. 4.83 40 he ran at the Combine demonstrates that. He doesn’t try to fight it. Compensates by taking good angles to the ball and for the most part, playing inside/out.

Essentially a stretch run away from Borland. Works down the sideline, doesn’t get trapped in the flow, and brings Braxton Miller down. Borland is not faster than Miller. That’s an ability to diagnose the play, fight through the wash, and take a perfect angle to the runner.

Stays at home versus this reverse and pushes the wide receiver to the sideline. Again, with the correct angle.

As I’ll continue to harp on throughout the report, he is not fast. But he has the smarts to pick up on when the snap is coming. Routinely got a good jump.

Allows him to beat the guard in pass protection.

Another good jump.

Makes him a better pass rusher than he really is. Doesn’t have many moves in that department but as an inside linebacker, getting that step and messing with the blocking schemes of the lineman is valuable. Force the line to pinch the “A” gaps and you can create favorable matchups on the edge.

Fantastic against the run, too. Sound tackler who drives through with his legs. Truly plays bigger than he is. Stuffed Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, ranked first on Mike Mayock’s positional rankings, twice. Once on 4th and 2.

And another on the goaline.

Talk about being fearless. Meet the back in the hole, snap the hips, roll through, and plant him on his backside.

Head up, seeing what he hits. Butt down, legs bent, ready to drive.

Borland1_zpseecf0aa9

If Michelangelo were still alive, he’d paint murals of Chris Borland’s form tackling.

Kid has a great motor, too. Hungry and wants to eat on every play. You’ll get a look at his spin move too but his motor is what stands out on this play versus the Buckeyes. Chases Miller all the way out of bounds.

Later, 3rd and 10 with the Badgers down a score. Game on the line. Borland gets to the edge but can’t bring Miller down. Immediately leaps back to his feet, explodes, and chases him down.

I could go on more about his positives but want to point out some of the flaws, too.

Are times where he’ll get a bit aggressive and over run the play.

And when a blocker locks on, Borland lacks the strength to shed.

In the second half of this play, you can see him try to catch up to Miller. Doesn’t gain ground. Again, just average speed.

Takes the proper angle but can’t close in time to bring the running back down who hits the edge and scores.

It’s borderline insane for me to say, because I never say this, but Borland just feels like a Pittsburgh  Steeler. I love numbers and empirical data. Why I earned cool nicknames like “Nerd” and “No, I won’t go out with you” in high school.

And my claims are backed up in the tape. But going beyond that, his style just belongs in a Steelers’ uniform. If Jack Lambert and Mike Webster had a child, he’d be Chris Borland. The toughness and tenacity on a less than ideal build.

I mean, he even pulls off the Ray Mansfield “kicking extra points” secret ability. It’s fate.

If I’m an area scout, I don’t care who I’m fighting against when building the board, I’m in Borland’s corner. Fight to get him to play for you. Fight so he won’t play against you.

I’ve been a Vince Williams proponent. And still am. But this Badger makes me forget about him. Not sure where to project Borland. Would be willing to trade back into the latter half of the second round or trade up from the third round into the latter second, early third to snag him. Wouldn’t think twice about him. Heck, if I was that worried, I’d take him with my second rounder. He’s that special. Even if his build isn’t.

Projection: Late Second, Early Third

Games Watched: at Arizona State, vs Purdue, at Ohio St

Previous Scouting Reports:
Buffalo LB Khalil Mack
Illinois State T/G Josh Aladenoye
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Stanford ILB Shayne Skov/a>
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin
North Carolina TE Eric Ebron
Auburn T Greg Robinson
Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman
Notre Dame NT Louis Nix III
Auburn LB Dee Ford
Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro
North Dakota State T Billy Turner
Boston College RB Andre Williams
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
BYU OLB Kyle Van Noy
Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald
Tennessee NT Daniel McCullers
Colorado State DE/OLB Shaquil Barrett
Alabama T Cyrus Kouandjio
Tennessee T Antonio Richardson
Central Florida RB Storm Johnson
Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller
Alabama S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
West Virginia DE Will Clarke
Louisville S Calvin Pryor

Senior in college, blogging from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • grw1960

    Not one of my favorite choices….
    Looking forward to your break down of DE Kareem Martin & WR Mike Evens

  • Douglas Andrews

    With that motor and sound tackling he would be a good addition to the ST. Then who knows i like the way reads and reacts. Makes up for the lack of speed with some pretty good angles to the ball. Where is he projected to go in the draft?

  • PA2AK

    I like him…but his lack of strength and difficulty shedding blocks when engaged is a big concern…especially when you will put him up against an NFL lineman who might only be a step slower than him.

  • PA2AK

    Late second, early third (from above)

  • Douglas Andrews

    Thanks that’s what i get for reading it before i’m fully awake. 2-3rd seems high. You could see him being a tackling machine at the next level. With so many other needs I don’t see the Steelers drafting but who knows. Good Prospect

  • Douglas Andrews

    The only thing I see that would help him is his ability to read and react to plays but your right if a blocker gets locked on him he’s done.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I see what you’re talking about. I like him, and at worst, he should be good on ST and provide good depth with the potential to start in the future. However, I don’t see him covering a RB or TE, so he ends up being a 1st down player like Vince Williams. Sorry, some 2nd downs as well.

    What was Williams, 6th round? Why take this guy in 2 or 3 when they already have Vince? Now if he is forgotten by most teams because of his measurables and they can get him in the 5th or 6th round, then great.

    With depth at several positions this year, I would be disappointed if they did not draft CB, S, OLB, WR and perhaps even TE before they get to someone like him.

  • PA2AK

    agreed. I’d like them to add depth at ILB, but i’m not sure I’d spend a 2 on a <6' lb that has issues getting off blocks and is relatively slow. He does look smooth and seems to be a very instinctual/cerebral player. I think Williams is going to improve greatly this year…and just don't see ILB as being one of the first 3 picks (unless a stud falls to us).

  • dkoy85

    It’s kinda funny how you can notice his lack of arm length on film. Looks kinda like a T-Rex running around out there. Looks good though. I’ve been pissed ever since Burfict went to the Bengals because he is a tackling machine- something that has been lacking- and this kid could be a tackling machine. However, I really like Williams and think he’ll take a step or two forward this year. If Borland falls to the 4th I’d be happy taking him there.

  • SumnerYoung

    The second coming of Zach Thomas? Who, BTW, was drafted by the Dolphins in the 5th round. Chris Borland, 2014 5th round pick of the Steelers? Might not last that long.

  • Douglas Andrews

    If S Spence can come back and play ST’s no need to draft an ILB til later rounds. I see Williams improving also possibly into a 3 down ILB.

  • PA2AK

    I sure hope so. He’s a more than willing hitter. Nice to see that intensity in such a late round rookie.

  • Jason Hammond

    Under “The Bad” they list “Lacks upper body strength.” Considering he benched 225lbs 27 times for 5th most among LB’s at the combine– that may not be the best scouting assessment. As far as his size I’d say think London Fletcher.

  • Alex Kozora

    Borland has very short arms. Lends itself to repping more. Reason why people shouldn’t worry about Clowmey having only 21 reps….he has nearly 35 inch arms. On tape, which is what matters, he lacks strength.

  • WIINGY

    I’m excited to see what Vince can do this year.

  • Jason Hammond

    Alex, you contradict yourself. “…very short arms. Lends itself to repping more.” Repetitions are the measure that is being used to determine strength, so if he has short arms and can rep more than he isn’t lacking strength. However, his short arms may hinder his reach or range. I agree with you that “in game strength” is what matters, and Borland had more than one solid stop against high quality backs like Carlos Hyde where he stopped them in the hole and drove them backward with his arms. He’s also tied for second in NCAA history for career forced fumbles (14)–most coming after he stood-up a back and tore the ball out of their arms—both pretty good examples of in game strength. To be fair, I don’t think that anyone outside of his teammates thought before the combine that he was going to throw up 27 reps at 225lbs. Outside of the strength comment, I thought you gave very insightful assessment of his skills–just not buying the “lacks strength”.

    One more note on Borland–he’s such a skilled athlete that during his freshman season they used him to kick extra-points in a game and were considering using him to kick long field goals in the Arizona State game because of kicking issues.

  • Alex Kozora

    What you can bench press doesn’t perfectly correlate to true strength. It really just shows endurance and how much you’re in the weight room. It wouldn’t surprise me to know Borland is a gym rat. But shorter arms make it easier to rep. Obviously at the Combine, for a rep to count, you have to lock out your arms. Those with shorter arms don’t have to raise their arms as high.

    Borland is a sound technician and a hard hitter. From that standpoint, it makes him look strong. But he is more likely to use his quick hands to not get engaged and stuck by a lineman moving to the second level. As I showed, there were times when the lineman locked on and drove him out of the play. From that standpoint, he isn’t particularly strong.

  • Jason Hammond

    I don’t think we’ll agree on the strength statement. Borland shows tremendous lower body strength as demonstrated by his dead stop in the hole of a back like Carlos Hyde, and his upper body strength is demonstrated by the number of career forced fumbles and his 27 reps on the bench press. I thought you did a really excellent assessment of most of his skills, but you got the “lacks upper body strength” statement wrong. If you watch film of Clowney he gets stuck by a lineman a fair amount as well, but no one would dare say he lacks strength because of his overall size however, sometimes he’s looking up field or going half-speed on plays. With Borland I would argue his physical height has more to do with that than a lack of strength. In the clips you used to demonstrate this it’s clear he’s trying to gain a view of the play without committing either direction.

    However, what you get with Borland is a whip smart football player with athleticism that defies his physical size. Here’s a quote I found that you might find interesting.

    Strength coach Evan Simon. “He can also do a standing back flip at will and one time landed one in the splits for fun. He is as solid as two rocks and one of the hardest workers you’ll find.”