SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The NFL announced Wednesday 49ers rookie linebacker Chris Borland won NFC defensive player of the week honors. And judging the tone of Washington coach Jay Gruden when talking about San Francisco's standout, he isn't surprised by the 23-year-old's success.
It sounds Borland was very close to getting taken by Washington.
"He’s one of those guys that you’d love to have on your squad. We looked at him very closely in the draft and really liked him a lot. He’s a good player," Gruden said in a conference call Wednesday. "Very tough, physical guy. Got natural instincts for the position. We knew that watching him play. We’re happy he’s playing so well."
The 49ers took the Wisconsin alum in the third round with the 77th pick in May. Washington, Sunday's opponent, selected one pick later, taking offensive lineman Spencer Long out of Nebraska with Borland off the board. Long played four snaps at left guard in Week 4. Borland has combined to make 47 tackles in his last three starts and is emerging on the short list for defensive rookie of the year.
"They have two of the best linebacker in the NFL that aren’t playing - they just throw this guy in there and he’s playing pretty darn well. He’s an impressive kid for a rookie," Gruden said.
Taking over for seven-time Pro-Bowler Patrick Willis, the 49ers' defense hasn't skipped a beat with the rookie patrolling the middle. Borland has led the team in tackles in all three games in Willis' 'Mike' position and notched his first two interceptions of his career Sunday.
San Francisco picked Eli Manning five times, including Borland's INT at the 2-yard line with less than five minutes remaining up 16-10. It was his second straight week with a game-sealing turnover.
Borland recovered Ahmad Brooks' forced fumble of Drew Brees in overtime, setting up the game-winning field goal in Nov. 9's win in New Orleans. He won rookie of the week honors for that 17-tackle performance.
Washington had an obvious need at inside linebacker with veteran London Fletcher retiring after 16 seasons. They didn't address the positionin the draft, but did find an outside linebacker in Stanford's Trent Murphy in the second round.
Washington has first-year starter Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley Jr. playing its two inside linebacker positions in their 3-4 scheme. Gruden's team has the NFL's 10th-ranked defense in yardage. But offensive inconsistencies, including at quarterback, had led to the allowing 25.6 points per game, good for 24th in the league.