By all accounts, Wisconsin's Chris Borland is aggressive, instinctive and productive. He is also the 2013 Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year after a senior season in which he racked up 112 tackles and four sacks.
But at 5 feet 11, Borland also happens to be shorter than NFL scouts prefer, though it puts him in a class with some of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game, including Mike Singletary, Zack Thomas, Chris Spielman and London Fletcher.
“There's a lot of guys that have gotten it done at a high level being under six feet,” Borland said at the combine in February. “A lot of guys have played very well at that size and they kind of paved the way for guys like me.”
While Borland’s height may not affect his chances of being a good player, but it may affect his chances of getting drafted in the first round. Both Spielman and Singletary, who are 6-feet, were taken early in the second round, while Thomas (5 feet 11) was taken in the fifth and Fletcher (5 feet 10) went undrafted.
However, the 248-pound Borland is determined to show that his unquestioned effort and intensity is more than enough to compensate for his height, which he said he's been hearing about since he started being recruited his junior year of high school.
“Football's extremely important to me, it's my passion,” Borland said. “I put everything into it, and I think that's more valuable than a half inch or an inch (of height).”
At least one respected draft analyst believes Borland has the tools to stick in the league.
“If there are 10 players in this draft that I love, he’s one of them,” NFL.com's Mike Mayock said at the combine. “I didn’t even know who he was, quite frankly, in October when I put the tape in to get ready for a Notre Dame game and I watched BYU play Wisconsin. It was my first exposure to Chris Borland and I went who is 44? Every tape I put in I was like, ‘Wow, this kid reminds me of [Luke] Kuechly.’ Not the same body type but he’s always around the football. I love Chris Borland.”
At 6 feet 3, the Panthers’ Kuechly is one of the league’s best linebackers, and he’s also four inches taller than Borland. But Borland still believes he too can be a good middle linebacker in the NFL, thanks to his familiarity with some of the league’s offensive schemes.
“Height's not quite as important — they're spreading things out, especially in the run game,” Borland said of NFL offenses. “(There's) a lot of 11 personnel in zones, and zone reads with guys who can run the ball. I've seen a lot of that in college, and you don't need to be a 6-4 bruising linebacker up the middle anymore. You can be shiftier and quicker, and that works to my advantage.”
Four-year starter who had 108 tackles and nine for loss in 2013. Is 21 years old. 333/8-inch arms. 10 3/4-inch hands. 4.63 40-yard dash. 15 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 118-inch broad. 7.30 3-cone drill. 4.40 20-yard shuttle.
Average build, good athleticism. Very productive with excellent instincts. Has good intangibles, hard worker and gives great effort. Solid tackler. Shows enough competence in pass coverage to be a three-down player. Durability is a concern, has been nicked up in college.2. Ryan Shazier, 6-1, 237, Ohio State Bio:
Two-year starter who had 134 tackles, 22 1/2 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2013. Is 21 years old. 32 3/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 4.38 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 42-inch vertical. 130-inch broad. 6.91 3-cone drill. 4.21 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Off-the-charts athleticism and production. Best profiles as 4-3 weakside linebacker but could play inside in a 3-4. Can be a three-down player. Instincts and awareness can improve in pass coverage but has the tools to do it. Lack of size can be an issue when teams run right at him. Plays hard.3. Chris Borland, 5-11, 248, Wisconsin Bio:
Four-year starter who had 112 tackles, 8 1/2 for loss and four sacks in 2013. Is 23 years old. 29 1/2-inch arms. 9 7/8-inch hands. 4.83 40-yard dash. 27 bench reps. 31-inch vertical. 114-inch broad. 7.18 3-cone drill. 4.27 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Short with very short arms (29 inches). Plays his tail off and shows great instincts and awareness. Always finds himself around the ball and has been incredibly productive. Is not a great athlete, struggles in man coverage. At worst will contribute on special teams.4. Telvin Smith, 6-3, 218, Florida State Bio:
First-year starter who had 90 tackles, 9 1/2 tackles for loss, two sacks and three interceptions in 2013. Is 23 years old. 32 1/2-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.52 40-yard dash. 16 bench reps. 31 1/2-inch vertical. 119-inch broad. 7.04 3-cone drill. 4.57 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Lacks both size and bulk. Plays his tail off and has good athleticism vs. the run. Has a closing burst and shows promise in coverage. Long-term durability is a concern due to his size but he's been healthy thus far. Needs to be more consistent as a tackler. Probably a 4-3 linebacker but if he bulks up he's got a chance to help a 3-4 team.5. Lamin Barrow, 6-1, 237, LSU Bio:
Two-year starter who had 91 tackles, 5 1/2 for loss and 1 1/2 sacks in 2013. Is 23 years old. 33 3/8-inch arms. 10 3/8-inch hands. 4.64 40-yard dash. 22 bench reps. 35-inch vertical. 123-inch broad. 7.24 3-cone drill. 4.35 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Intriguing athleticism but lacks ideal size. Light on his feet — could be productive in zone or man coverage. Smart with above average instincts. Can be a three-down player if he gets better against the run.6. Christian Kirksey, 6-2, 233, Iowa Bio:
Three-year starter who had 104 tackles, five for loss and 2 1/2 sacks in 2013. Is 21 years old. 32 3/8-inch arms. 9 3/8-inch hands. 4.58 40-yard dash. 16 bench reps. 32-inch vertical. 122-inch broad. 7.11 3-cone drill. 4.42 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Is undersized but has very good athleticism. Needs to get stronger (only 16 bench reps). Probably a 4-3 outside linebacker but has value on passing downs, where he's capable in coverage.7. Preston Brown, 6-1, 251, Louisville Bio:
Three-year starter who had 98 tackles, 12 1/2 for loss and 4 1/2 sacks in 2013. Is 21 years old. 33 1/2-inch arms. 10 1/4-inch hands. 4.86 40-yard dash. 23 bench reps. 33-inch vertical. 116-inch broad. 6.98 3-cone drill. 4.26 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Not a great athlete, but has good size, length and bulk. Is productive with good instincts and awareness. Solid tackler. Durable. Has coverage and range limitations. Probably a two-down player.8. Shayne Skov, 6-2, 245, Stanford Bio:
Four-year starter who had 109 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks in 2013. Is 23 years old. 30 5/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.09 40-yard dash. 28 bench reps. 31-inch vertical. 113-inch broad. 7.29 3-cone drill. 4.38 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Good size and instincts. Short arms. Is not a good athlete — ran a poor 40-yard dash time at his pro day. Gives great effort and is a reliable tackler. Shows very good pass-rush ability. Probably a two-down linebacker, isn't great in coverage. Durability is a significant concern — has had multiple injuries.9. Jordan Zumwalt, 6-4, 235, UCLA Bio:
Two-year starter who had 93 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss and zero sacks in 2013. Is 22 years old. 31 1/4-inch arms. 8 3/4-inch hands. 4.76 40-yard dash. 33-inch vertical. 116-inch broad. 6.99 3-cone drill. 4.25 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Good size, decent athlete. Plays hard and is very passionate. Smart and aware, isn't a big hitter. Needs to get stronger, doesn't always hold up at the point of attack. Durable. Decent in zone coverage but struggles in man.10. Khairi Fortt, 6-2, 248, California Bio:
First-year starter who had 64 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for loss and a half sack in 2013. Is 22 years old. 33 5/8-inch arms. 10 1/8-inch hands. 4.70 40-yard dash. 30 bench reps. 36-inch vertical. 120-inch broad. 7.12 3-cone drill. 4.35 20-yard shuttle.Consensus:
Good size, agility and athleticism. Flashes potential in coverage, could be useful in nickel. Needs to improve his instincts, tackling and awareness. Needs to be more consistent. Questions loom about his effort.*All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles — thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty’s 2014 NFL Draft Manual — interviews with draft analysts and the author’s own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above.