INDIANAPOLIS – After what Russell Wilson has done over his first two NFL seasons, NFL types probably won’t underestimate another University of Wisconsin player who might not be the tallest guy on the draft board.
But as far as Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider – the man who drafted Wilson and watched him quarterback his team to the Super Bowl XLVIII title earlier this month in just his second season – is concerned, Chris Borland is even a safer bet to have NFL success at linebacker, despite his less-than-ideal height, than Wilson was.
Although a 5-foot-11 quarterback having NFL success is extremely rare, 5-11 linebackers aren’t as unusual as you might think.
“I think with Borland, there’s this precedent there. You can go through a whole litany of names of players who are his height and have played the game,” Schneider said during a break in the annual NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium over the weekend. “He’s a great kid. He’s extremely instinctive.
“Russell and the quarterback position is a little bit different because there aren’t a ton of guys on that list of undersized quarterbacks. But I think the way [Borland] handled himself at Wisconsin is very similar to the way Russell did. Big Ten leader, top performer.”
There’s no doubt about those two aspects of Borland’s game. Although he measured 5-11 3/8 at the Combine and his arm length (29 1/4 inches) isn’t ideal, either, his game film with the Badgers tells the story. He was a four-year starter at UW and a three-time first-team All-Big Ten pick, then was the Big Ten Conference defensive player of the year and a second-team all-American last season.
Having started playing football in ninth grade and hearing he was undersized beginning shortly thereafter, Borland can also recite the under 6-foot linebackers who’ve thrived in the NFL.
“London Fletcher, he's a guy I watched,” Borland said of the 5-10 Fletcher, who is expected to retire from the Washington Redskins after an ultra-productive 16-year career. “Zack Thomas (with Miami), Chris Spielman (with Detroit, Buffalo and Cleveland) [are] about 6 feet … A lot of guys have played very well at that size and they kind of paved the way for guys like me.”
According to the NFL’s official Combine numbers, Borland was clocked at 4.83 seconds in the 40-yard dash he ran Monday. He put up 27 reps on the 225-pound bench press – among the leaders at linebacker – and had a 31-inch vertical jump, 114-inch standing broad jump, 7.18-second 3-cone drill and 4.27-second 20-yard shuttle.
While those numbers weren’t outstanding, Borland made a strong impression at the Senior Bowl last month – Schneider said he was “very good” there – and he’ll have a chance to improve on his numbers at UW’s pro day on March 5 in Madison. He is projected as a second- or third-round pick in the May 8-10 draft.
“I don't know that there are a lot of players that are a better all-around athlete,” Borland said. “I don't get maybe a lot of credit for it. I'm small, and straight line speed is not my strong suit necessarily … but as far as what it takes to play football, I've got all it requires.
“Football's extremely important to me, it's my passion. I put everything into it, and I think that's more valuable than a half inch or an inch [of height].”
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Green Bay Packers agree. Although he grew up in Ohio, Borland’s family is from Wisconsin, and his father grew up a Lombardi-era Packers fan, and playing for the Packers holds a certain appeal.
“I grew up a Packers fan … My era was [Brett] Favre and Reggie White and those guys,” Borland said of the leaders of the franchise’s 1990s renaissance. “That would be unique and something I'd definitely love to do.
“I know there are a lot of fans in Wisconsin that want to see me in green and gold, which I'd love. But any team would be outstanding.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.