2014 NFL Draft: Why the Washington Redskins Should Target Chris Borland

Chris HayreContributor IIJanuary 21, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03:  Keshawn Martin #82 of the Michigan State Spartans loses his helmet as he is hit by Chris Borland #44 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the third quarter of the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As general manager Bruce Allen compiles his laundry list of ways to turn around the Washington Redskins, five words should be starred, circled and underlined twice: Find the next London Fletcher.

On its face, that sentence represents a near impossible task. Even though Fletcher's production took a dip in 2013, you just cannot snap your fingers and replace the heart and the soul of a football team who also happens to be a potential Hall of Famer.

Without a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft, the Redskins are already behind the eight ball in rebuilding a leaky defense. Couple that with a so-so, free-agent class at inside linebacker, and there's a high probability that Fletcher's successor will come in the form of a second- or third-day draft pick.

Washington is positioned at the top of the second, third and fourth round. Waiting there may be a fifth-year senior who, for a variety of reasons, would look good in burgundy and gold: Wisconsin's Chris Borland

The Redskins could do much worse than draft a 2013 All-American and the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. The 22-year-old Borland has been touted for his instincts and overall productivity at Wisconsin: 48 career starts, 420 tackles (50 for loss) and a Big Ten record 15 forced fumbles.

Despite being described as "the best linebacker in America" by his college head coach Gary Andersen, via UWBadgers.com, Borland's draft stock has been mixed among experts due in large part to his lack of size (5'11, 246 pounds)—eerily similar to Fletcher (5'10, 242 pounds, via NFL.com).

According to ESPN's DraftTracker (subscription required), Borland is ranked as the 75th overall prospect. He graded out as an exceptional "1" in leadership and work ethic—two attributes Fletcher will take with him into retirement.

Saturday, Borland will represent the North team at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Phil Savage, former NFL GM and Executive Director of the Senior Bowl, compared him to another undersized former linebacker: 

Another selling point for Borland is his familiarity in the 3-4 defense, which the Badgers implemented and ran his senior year. In wrapping Wisconsin's 2013 season, ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg praised Borland for leading the complex, pressuring scheme.

Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is already on record stating his preference for the 3-4 and has since retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.

It will also be critical this offseason for the Redskins to identify cap-friendly starters who can play meaningful special teams snaps for a unit that was horrific in 2013. Borland's most intriguing quality may be his versatility.

In 2010, Rittenberg profiled Borland's throwback mentality, including his willingness to play special teams.

"It's football in its purest form, really," Borland told Rittenberg. "Special teams is a part of the game people take for granted, but you can win or lose games [because] of it."

Of course, the Redskins' needs extend much further than the linebacker position. The secondary needs a complete overhaul, the offensive line is paper thin and a No. 2 receiver across from Pierre Garcon would help the development of Robert Griffin III.

Washington must stay true to its draft board, but it's clear that a new defensive leader is a top priority.

Borland probably won't start 256 consecutive games in the NFL. He may not enjoy a 16-year career or make multiple trips to Hawaii. But his career at Wisconsin should tell the Redskins that, like Fletcher, size isn't everything.

For the teams that decide to pass on him, perhaps they'll be the ones looking small in the long run.