A year ago, Chris Borland was an acclaimed college linebacker who wasn’t getting much love from NFL talent evaluators.
Though Borland was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year from Wisconsin, he was thought to be too small and too slow to be a certain success in the NFL. Because of that, the 49ers were able to grab him in the third round – and Borland turned into one of the league’s top rookies, a tackling machine.
Yet Borland retired after one season of pro football over concerns about his long-term health, and the Niners now need to add some talent to their inside linebacker corps because of the loss of Borland and Patrick Willis (also to retirement).
Now it appears the 49ers may be considering a player who is a bit like Borland 2.0.
On Tuesday, the 49ers visited with Paul Dawson of TCU, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year this past season, reported Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. It’s possible that Niners general manager Trent Baalke could take him in the second or third round of this year’s draft, which begins April 30.
Dawson was all over the field for the Horned Frogs, making 136 tackles including 26 at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. He had four interceptions and 21 quarterback pressures.
But at 6 feet, 235 pounds he’s a bit small for his position. Plus, he turned in a horrible performance at the NFL Combine, where he ran a very slow 4.93 40-yard dash and had a vertical jump of just 28 inches. As the Dallas Morning News pointed out, those numbers were worse than those posted by some defensive tackles. But in a recent pro day performance at TCU, he improved those numbers.
Also, during his first two seasons at TCU, Dawson had some off-the-field issues. He often was late for meetings and failed a drug test, according to the Dallas Morning News.
But Dawson cleaned up his act and turned into one of the best linebackers in the nation for a TCU program that is known for its defense.
As TCU head coach Gary Patterson told the Dallas paper, the “film doesn’t lie” about Dawson. It consistently shows Dawson ranging all over the field, leveling ballcarriers at the line of scrimmage and having terrific instincts. He always was around the ball.
Some scouts and draft analysts don’t even rank Dawson among the top five inside linebackers in the draft. Yet Mike Mayock of the NFL.com puts him No. 1 overall among inside linebackers. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com noted that Dawson could be available to the 49ers with their 46th overall choice, in the second round, but may be gone by the time of their third-round pick (No. 79 overall).
Recently, Mayock cited a veteran NFL scout who likes Dawson very much in the draft.
“Don’t get off Paul Dawson,” Mayock said the scout told him, according to NFL.com. “Trust your gut.”