Summary: If the NFL was the same style of game of the 1980s, 1990s and earlier, Borland could easily be a first- or second-round pick. However, the NFL has evolved away from rush-oriented offenses to being a passing-driven league. As a result, defenses are downgrading the linebacker position and linebackers are falling lower in the draft. Teams are putting more emphasis on defensive backs and the defensive line. The linebackers who are picked early tend to be very fast while also having height and length. Unfortunately for Borland, he doesn't fit that description.
Borland was one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten the past few seasons and was a 4-year producer for the Badgers. The freshman had a solid debut in 2009 with 54 tackles and five forced fumbles. Borland had a breakout 2011 season with 143 tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and five passes broken up. As a junior, he totaled 104 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss and six passes broken up. In 2013, Borland had 112 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up, two forced fumbles and four sacks.
In the NFL, Borland should be an excellent run-defender. He is physical in the tackle box and reads his keys well to get in position to make stops. Borland is tough and is able to shed blocks so he can get to the ball-carrier. Borland also is a sure-tackler who can put backs into the ground with force. Even though Borland isn't very fast, he uses his instincts and intelligence to get in on tackles on perimeter runs. That is going to be absolutely necessary for him considering the speed of the offense is about to increase significantly.
Borland is also a good blitzer for pass defense. He does a nice job of timing blitzes and picking the gap to fire through. Borland closes on quarterbacks well and is adept at getting them to the ground. His biggest flaw for the next level could come in pass coverage. That wasn't a a big deal in the Big Ten, but Borland doesn't look like a linebacker who is capable of covering the NFL's elite receiving tight ends like New Orleans' Jimmy Graham or New England's Rob Gronkowski. That is teams want in a three-down linebacker.
Borland doesn't perform poorly in zone coverage trying to defend underneath receivers, but he doesn't cover a lot of ground, so NFL backs could run away from him. The worst-case scenario is Borland is the linebacker who comes off the field when teams go to the nickel. That could be the case and push Borland to the third or fourth round, although some believe he'll go in Round 2.
Player Comparison: London Fletcher. In college, Borland was a similar player to Fletcher. Both players are short, thick linebackers who are excellent run-defenders in the tackle box. Fletcher (5-10, 242) is almost identical in size to Borland. Fletcher was undrafted in 1998 but became a four-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro during a great career with the Rams, Bills and Redskins. For Borland to succeed in the NFL, he should use Fletcher as an example of how to develop his pass-coverage skills and overcome a lack of size and elite speed.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, Indianapolis, Green Bay, New Orleans
There aren't a lot of teams that are a great fit for Borland. In the passing-driven NFL, he doesn't have the height, length and speed for a middle linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense. However, that doesn't mean that Borland won't get drafted by a 4-3 team; all the teams listed above play a 3-4.
The Browns could target a linebacker on Day 2 to pair with D'Qwell Jackson. The Redskins have to replace London Fletcher and could use a tough defender in the middle of their defense.
Indianapolis could use a physical presence in the middle to help shut down other teams' ground games. Borland would be a nice fit for Chuck Pagano.
The Packers cut Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk is aging. Borland would be a popular pick with the fans of Green Bay. He would help improve the physicality of the Packers' defense.
New Orleans could use some youth on the inside of its 3-4. Borland would be a younger and cheaper option than David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton.