In fantasy football, there are some new trends that I enjoy writing about: dynasty leagues, and individual defensive player leagues. This weekly column will combine two of those by discussing two young IDPs. I will give my scouting thoughts on how they played a particular week. Today I will be discussing linebackers Chris Borland and Keenan Robinson.
LB-Chris Borland, SF- This rookie was one of the most heralded linebackers coming out in the 2014 Draft until he landed by the bay. The 49ers top two linebackers, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, appeared to be cemented as starters for years to come. Fate didn’t exactly turn out that way with Borland being the only healthy one of the three backers so far this season.
The young linebacker certainly turned heads as a Wisconsin Badger and made quite an impression during the Senior Bowl practices in my eyes. Yes, Borland is an undersized backer standing only 5’11”, but his small compact body delivers quick striking hits. He has great vision finding the ball carrier and makes a point to step into blockers to knock them off-balance and shed them quickly. The linebacker is a good student of the game, because he watches the quarterback’s eyes and anticipates where the play is going, getting there sometimes before the offense.
It might be his motor that sets him apart from most other defenders. He is constantly moving on the field, and makes sure to get at least a hand on the ball carrier. If Borland can’t tackle the offensive player around the hips, he dives for their ankles and wraps them up that way. Of course this can lead him to getting stepped on occasionally. When the linebacker drops back into pass coverage, Borland stays with tight ends and running backs. He tries to keep up with wide receivers running routes, but can only hang with them for about ten yards. The linebacker is more of a tackle the catch guy than actively playing the ball in the air against a potential pass catcher.
There were times Borland was an effective run blitzer, knifing thru the line of scrimmage to tackle all-pro Marshawn Lynch for a loss, but the back adjusted on a later play by jump cutting away from the young defender forcing him to tackle low. The linebacker takes good angles at the line of scrimmage and can provide pressure rushing the passer too. He has good lateral agility and speed that can case most players down from across the gridiron. There are times when he tries too much to make all the plays himself. Of course since neither, Willis or Bowman, are on the field, Borland is putting the defense on his shoulders. While he is a clear LB1 in re-drafts, I am a bit hesitant to give him LB1 status in dynasty as Bowman is a dominate linebacker when healthy and we do not know how the coaching staff will look after this season. Even with that being said, Borland is a top 15 dynasty backer who could vault into the top ten if he stays on the field next season in a linebacker friendly defense.
LB-Keenan Robinson, WASH- This third year inside linebacker despite missing most of his first two seasons has been an impact player in 2014. Robinson moves well laterally, finds the ball carrier quickly with good vision. He plays mostly on the strong side lined up against the opposing team’s tight end. The backer drops back quickly into coverage and plays quite physically against tight ends, matching up well. He gave Coby Fleener a nice hit that separated the tight end from the ball. Robinson did not fare so well lining up against slot receivers, because he does not have the quickness to keep up with them.
Robinson applies inside pressure while rushing the passer, but needs to work on few moves other than just hand fighting to be more effective in that role. The young backer is a solid wrap-up tackler, but struggles to get off blocks to make the play. Unless the defense gets designed to keep him clean, Robinson will need to work on that. He has to step into the hole to force the ball carrier to make a decision instead of waiting for the offensive player to come to him. This is his first year starting, so the young backer has room for improvement. I would value him as a LB3-4 who could grow into a LB2 depending on what defense gets run in Washington next season with their coaching uncertainty.
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