When former Wisconsin star Chris Borland participated in last year’s NFL Combine, he fielded multiple questions about comparisons to another productive, diminutive inside linebacker — former Miami Dolphins star Zach Thomas.
So perhaps it’s fitting that, following Borland’s star turn as a rookie, when he racked up 107 tackles and a ridiculous Pro Football Focus rating of 20.8 in only 487 defensive snaps for the 49ers, he has become the bar for short linebackers coming out this year … like Kansas’ Ben Heeney.
“Chris Borland and Luke Kuechly are a couple of names I like to model myself after,” Heeney said Friday at the NFL Combine. “Borland is a kind of a guy of similar size to me, so a lot of guys coming out didn’t think he was going to be able to play in the league and he’s obviously proven them wrong. I just look up to playmakers. I look up to good players.”
Heeney, who checks in at 6 feet and 231 pounds, had a productive senior season in which he racked up 127 tackles, 12 for loss, in 12 games. He is projected by CBSSports.com to be a fifth-round pick.
Borland, for his part, went in the second round to San Francisco. Heeney says he’s only recently become hip to Borland, largely because he was so locked in on his own football career.
“In college, you don’t really get to watch other college teams because you’re playing at the same time as them,” Heeney said. “His name just kind of stuck out to me. I looked him up and started watching him, and I think he’s a really good player. I can see the comparisons.”
Heeney says he has not spoken to the Chiefs yet, but hopes to do so at some point.
“It would mean everything, man,” Heeney said of the chance to play in Kansas City. “I’d be real close to home (he’s from Hutchinson, Kan.), my family lives in Kansas City. It would be awesome to be a Chief, but I’ll be happy just to make a team. I don’t care where I go.”