Wisconsin's Chris Borland won the Big Ten's Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year. Playing in a 3-4 scheme for the first time, Borland led the team with 112 tackles and 8.5 tackles for losses, and was second with four sacks and two forced fumbles.
"You might cringe when you see him with his shirt off – the kid's got a lot of flab around the midsection – but you put this kid out there and it's like watching (Carolina's Luke) Kuechly all over again," longtime NFL scout Dave-Te' Thomas said.
Borland finished his stellar career with 15 forced fumbles — tops in Big Ten history and second in FBS history. With three consecutive seasons of 100-plus tackles, he finished sixth in Badgers history with 420 tackles and fourth with 50 tackles for losses.
Leadership, he said, is a "strong suit" of his.
"I think I could step in there and play defense and make the calls and be confident, and guys can rely on me," Borland said at the Senior Bowl.
"My position requires (leadership). I think I've grown into that role. I don't think I was that guy when I was young. I don't think I'm that guy off the field. But the position requires it and I enjoy it so I've tried to master it."
Borland was a tackling machine at Wisconsin but his measurables will concern scouts. At the Senior Bowl last week, he measured only 5-foot-11 3/8 and weighed 245 pounds. At that height, matchups against tight ends are going to be a challenge, just as they were for D.J. Smith, a sixth-round pick in 2011 who was 5-foot-11. That's especially true in the NFC North, with Chicago's Martellus Bennett and Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph standing 6-foot-6 and Detroit's Brandon Pettigrew standing 6-foot-5. Plus, Borland tied for the shortest arms (28-5/8 inches) at the Senior Bowl, which could be an issue in fighting off oncoming linemen.
But Borland has heard the criticisms and aims to continue to prove the doubters wrong.
"I think there may be a perception that I'm not a great athlete. I feel like I am," he said. "I've got good speed, change of direction and those things, and I'm physical so that shouldn't be a problem."
The offseason workouts aren't the ideal place to show his physicality. That will reveal itself in film study. But he can try to prove his athleticism in the "underwear Olympics" at the Scouting Combine and he tried to further his athletic assertions at the Senior Bowl.
"I think it's such a small period of time and you really have to capitalize on all of your opportunities," he said. "The pass rush, maybe. One-on-ones and the pass game, 9-on-7, skelly, special teams, just to show what I can do in all those realms and be consistently very good. That will be the challenge.
"Functionally there are things that they want to make sure that you can do as an athlete in a football game. So I want to show I can do that."
His performance in last weekend's Senior Bowl should have helped his cause. He led both teams with eight tackles, including one for a loss, and, naturally, had a forced fumble.
He proved he has the versatility in schemes, the ability to learn quickly and the production on the field. Whether that translates to a Day 2 or Day 3 selection in May's NFL draft and what team picks him remains to be seen.
But he's used to "overachieving" relative to the perception. In 2009, he was ranked 55th in the country at his position by Scout.com, given a two-star rating (out of five) and didn't receive a scholarship offer until attending Wisconsin's football camp. Five years later, he's still looking to prove he belongs, this time at the next level.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.