The San Francisco 49ers have two of the best inside linebackers in the entire NFL in NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. However, Bowman will be out of commission until at least mid-November; that’s where rookie Chris Borland out of the University of Wisconsin comes in. The 49ers drafted Borland to compete for the starting job until Bowman comes back, and to be injury insurance moving forward.
The chances of Borland starting right away are pretty good. After all, the 49ers have a great linebacker pair in the middle, but very little depth behind them. Borland’s main competition is going to be special teams ace Michael Wilhoite. Wilhoite is very athletic and always finds his way to the ball. If Borland gets the starting spot, he will have absolutely earned it in training camp.
Expect Borland to be on fire once training camp starts. Despite his lack of size and arm length, Borland is a tackling machine, and he’s very smart as well; he rarely gets fooled on plays and reacts very quickly on his reads. If I had to compare his style along with his size to someone, it would either be London Fletcher or Zach Thomas. During training camp, I expect Borland to split first team reps with Wilhoite, at least until the coaches have a better idea of who the front runner is.
Whether Borland wins the starting job or not, the 49ers always find ways to get natural football players like him to get on the field. If Wilhoite beats him out, Borland will be a stand out right away on special teams, which is where he will end up either way after Bowman comes back.
With Willis and Bowman being the elite linebackers they are, the 49ers finally have reasonable depth behind both stars after drafting Borland. Besides his lack of arm length (a physical attribute the 49ers seem to value in their draft prospects), Borland fits everything the 49ers usually look for in their players. With his work ethic and instincts for getting to the ball and making tackles, the coaching staff shouldn’t have too many problems finding ways to utilize Borland.