Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland has always been one of the most productive players on the field, going all the way back to his days of helping Kettering (Ohio) Alter High School, near Dayton, win state championships.
Jeff Hanisch/Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Part of the appeal of last week’s Senior Bowl for Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland was that it’s the last part of the buildup to the NFL Draft that includes actual football.
Borland won’t win many races or bodybuilding contests against fellow class of 2014 linebacker prospects. More helmet impressions on his forehead from a week at the Senior Bowl hurt his chances in a beauty contest, too. He went to Mobile for competition, for NFL coaching, for a chance to show that what he did in the days that followed his Monday morning weigh-in — Borland was 5’11, 245 — is what truly counts.
Over four practices in front of the eyes of the NFL and the Senior Bowl game which many will view, too, Borland showed exactly what he came to Mobile, Ala., to show. That he finds the ball. That he’s not afraid of any challenge.
"If you turn on the film," Borland said, "I can play."
Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (44) tackles Brigham Young Cougars running back Adam Hine (28) during a game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Last week reinforced that.
The 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year knows he still has questions to answer, starting with his 40-yard dash time and comprehensive medical exams in February at the NFL Scouting Combine. Borland has had multiple shoulder surgeries, had four different position coaches in his time at Wisconsin and has never been the biggest or the fastest player on the field. So, he’s ready for whatever questions he’s going to be asked.
He’s going to answer by saying he’s always been one of the most productive players on the field, going all the way back to his days of helping Kettering (Ohio) Alter High School, near Dayton, win state championships. Even early last week, when he was just getting to know the Atlanta Falcons staff coaching the Senior Bowl’s North Team, he was making a positive impression.
"He reminds me of Zach Thomas, who had a great career in the NFL," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "And again, sometimes we put these measurables up as teams and organizations that we’re looking for a guy to fit this mold and some teams have different philosophies that they’re not going to take a player at a certain height at certain positions.
"I think the tape doesn’t lie. You’ve got to watch it. That’s your DNA. He’s done some nice things in practice. He’s got great FBI (football intelligence) with what we’ve asked our guys to do in a short time."
That’s a pretty lofty comparison, but it fits. Thomas was 5’11, a fifth-round pick in 1996 who played 11 years and went to the Pro Bowl in seven of them. Borland hopes he’ll go before the fifth round but knows that’s out of his control. All he wants to do between now and May’s draft is keep improving and keep letting his work speak for itself.
"I don’t need to have a sales pitch; (scouts) see through that," Borland said. "Just be myself and the past on and off the field speaks for itself. They ask questions and I answer them honestly. It seems to go smoothly that way.
"As far as the draft process I donÃt care when I get picked up. The sooner the better, obviously. IÃm confident IÃll make a team and be a contributing member right away. Not just make a roster but make it better."
He used the Senior Bowl to give teams that impression. He played multiple positions and in multiple schemes at Wisconsin; that tape he encourages those with questions to watch says 3-4 base defense teams will take an extra look at Borland — and like what they see.
"I’ve done well in all (positions)," Borland said. "I’ve had a chance (at the Senior Bowl) to play MIKE and WILL in a 4-3. I know guys physically are better suited for any role but I feel like I can play all of them.
‘I feel like a leader right now. I feel like I can step into a defense and learn the calls and guys can rely on that. I think my position requires it. I’ve grown into it. I want to excel at the position."