Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chris Borland emerging as star for San Francisco 49ers

November 18, 2014

By Chris Wesseling

Chris Borland is going to force the San Francisco 49ers into a difficult personnel decision next year.

The third-round rookie has racked up 47 tackles over the past three games. In Sunday's victory over the Giants, he became the first 49ers linebacker since Ken Norton Jr. in 1995 to record two interceptions in the same game.

Despite starting just four games, Borland is second only to Luke Kuechly in Pro Football Focus' inside linebacker ratings for the season. He is even beginning to draw consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.

"He's like a thief in the night," coach Jim Harbaugh beamed Monday, "coming to steal your football."

Perhaps the most telling sign of Borland's value is that Vic Fangio's defense hasn't missed a beat with five-time first-team All-Pro Patrick Willis out of the lineup.

The 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year set the conference record for career forced fumbles. He was a demon at the line of scrimmage during his Wisconsin career, but slid in the 2014 NFL Draftdue to size (5-foot-11) and straight-line speed (4.83 40-yard dash) concerns.

What jumps off the screen on Game Rewind is that Borland boasts impeccable instincts, above-average power and better than expected closing speed, resulting in the best run-stop percentage in the league.

"He's just dripping with instincts," NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah explained Monday on NFL NOW's Scout's Eye. "We like to say in scouting, 'You really want a linebacker to shoot his gun and make a decision.' ... And he does that."

If Borland has a weakness, it might eventually surface in man coverage. As Jeremiah points out, though, he has been impressive as a zone defender.

With Willis out for the season, Borland is locked into the starting lineup through 2014. His 2015 role will hinge on All-Pro NaVorro Bowman's form in returning from reconstructive knee surgery the rest of the way.

The bottom line is the total Borland package is too good to keep off the field.

How the 49ers deal with that realization will be one of the many interesting stories to track out of the Bay Area during the offseason.

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