2014 NFL draft position preview: Inside linebackers


Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland trips up Stanford’s Kevin Hogan during the Rose Bowl in Jan. 2013. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

As Thursday’s start of the NFL draft approaches, The Insider wrapping up its look at prospects who might fit what Jay Gruden and staff are looking for. Mike Jones has been reporting on players at the positions the Redskins need most, with top-10 lists. Mark Bullock has been checking in with screengrab-based examinations of players who could be available early, mid-draft and late.

Mike has looked at tackles, cornerbacks and wide receivers and safeties so far. Here’s his take on inside linebackers:

For years, the inside linebacker position represented the picture of stability, durability and reliability for the Washington Redskins. From 2007 to 2013, London Fletcher, a potential Hall of Famer, never missed a game, ranked among the league leader in tackles, and served as the tone-setter for Washington’s defenses.

Now however, the Redskins begin a new era, with Fletcher retired. Fifth-year pro Perry Riley Jr. now assumes the mantle, but the other inside linebacker position remains up for grabs. Washington this offseason signed three veterans – Akeem Jordan, Adam Hayward and Darryl Sharpton – to vie for that job, but they have all served primarily as special teams players during their careers. Keenan Robinson, a fourth-rounder in 2012, who is coming off of a second injury-plagued season, also will compete. But the Redskins still could invest an early-round pick in the inside linebacker position with the long-term picture still cloudy.

Draft analysts regard Alabama’s C.J. Mosley as the top prospect at the position. But the leader of the Crimson Tide’s defense doesn’t figure to last past the first round, where Washington doesn’t have a pick.

Wisconsin’s Chris Borland appears likely to be within reach for Washington if they opt to use their second-round pick, 34th overall, on an inside linebacker.

The 2013 Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year concluded his career at Wisconsin as one of the most prolific defensive players in Badgers history. He racked up 309 tackles, 15 forced fumbles (second-most in FBS history) and 41.5 tackles for a loss.

Scouting reports describe Borland as a passionate, aggressive, instinctive player who always seems to find a way to find the football.
He enters the NFL as a well-tested player, having overcome multiple shoulder surgeries. He also played for four linebackers coaches, at multiple positions in different schemes (outside linebacker in the 4-3, middle linebacker in the 4-3 and inside linebacker in the 3-4).

The main knock against Borland? Size, or the lack thereof. At the NFL Scouting Combine, he measured out at 5 feet 11, 248 pounds. He doesn’t possess elite speed (he clocked a 4.78-second 40-yard dash).

● Related: Jones talks to Borland during the Senior Bowl

Borland’s lack of size could put him at a disadvantage when required to cover tight ends down the field — something he didn’t do a lot of in college — and at times when trying to shed blockers. But Borland sees himself as a well-rounded athlete, who also knows how to compensate for size and speed deficiencies.

“I don’t know that there are a lot of players that are a better all-around athlete,” he 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.”

Having grown up watching undersize linebackers play at a high level in the NFL (Fletcher among them), Borland believes that he can still develop into an impact player.

“There’s a lot of guys that have gotten it done at a high level being under 6 feet,” he said. “You mentioned London Fletcher, he’s a guy I watched. Zach Thomas. Chris Spielman is 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. … You don’t need to be a 6-4 bruising linebacker up the middle. You can be shiftier and quicker, and that works to my advantage.”

Borland says his competitive, relentless nature stems partly from growing up in a house of six siblings with four older brothers. He joked that at times, he had to fight just to get the last piece of bread. He also credits a relationship with Spielman and the mentorship of the former 11-year veteran and three-time all-pro linebacker for some of his success as well.

Borland will begin his own professional career following this weekend. When he does, regardless of the team that selects him, he aims to put the same drive and commitment that he displayed in college to use in the NFL and produce similar results.

“Football’s extremely important to me, it’s my passion,” he said. “I put everything into it, and I think that’s more valuable than a half inch or an inch.”

Jones’s top 10 inside linebackers:

Rank Player (click names for background) School Height Weight Proj. Round
1 C.J. Mosley Alabama 6-2 234 1
2 Chris Borland (more here) Wisconsin 5-11 248 2
3 Shayne Skov Stanford 6-2 245 3
4 Carl Bradford Arizona State 6-1 243 3-4
5 Preston Brown Louisville 6-1 251 3-4
6 Lamin Barrow Louisiana State 6-1 237 4-5
7 Khairi Fortt California 6-2 248 4-5
8 Max Bullough Michigan State 6-4 249 5-6
9 Avery Williamson Kentucky 6-1 246 6
10 Yawin Smallwood Connecticut 6-2 246 6-7

Mike Jones attended the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, and has been tracking draft prospect visits for The Post. Have a question about the draft or anything else concerning the Redskins? Send an e-mail to mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question,” and it might be answered on Tuesday in The Mailbag.

More Redskins and NFL from The Post:

DeMatha’s Kouandjio eager to hear his name called

Rams reap rewards of Robert Griffin III trade | Chart

Magazine: Gallaudet’s Talaat could join rare group as deaf NFL player

The Early Lead: Romo is a jinx | Could draft hit the road? | More

Chad: Abolish the NFL draft  | Lead: 2014 draft the craziest ever?

Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=sports, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, defaultsort=reverseChronological, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, includesorts=true, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, childrenitemsperpage=3, includeheader=true, includeverifiedcommenters=true, defaulttab=all, includerecommend=true, includereport=true, maxitemstop=2, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Sports
Stats, scores and schedules
Next Story
Keith McMillan · May 5