There’s something to be said for being a fixture at a blue-blood college football dynasty, but how far will that alone get you? Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland has the experience and the pedigree, but does he offer enough individually to be a 2021 NFL Draft prospect? Let’s take a closer look.
Tuf Borland NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Ohio State
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’0 1/8″
- Weight: 229 pounds
- Wingspan: 77″
- Arm: 31″
- Hand: 10″
Many players from the 2016 recruiting class have either graduated or moved on to the NFL at this point. Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland, however, remains. Twilight is falling on the three-time captain’s college football career. For five years, he hasn’t had to think about what’s next. But now, that’s on the doorstep.
Borland began his career as a three-star linebacker prospect from Bolingbrook, Illinois. Right in the heart of Big Ten country, Borland received offers from Michigan State, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, and Wisconsin. But an advance from the class of the Big Ten — the Ohio State Buckeyes — proved too enticing to turn down, and Borland signed with Urban Meyer’s squad.
The Buckeyes would soon transition from the Meyer era to upstart head coach Ryan Day. Still, amidst coaching changes and injuries, Borland remained a steady constant, and he left an impression despite his obscure draft projection.
Borland’s career as an Ohio State linebacker
After playing just one game in 2016, Borland redshirted and returned as a second-year freshman in 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Borland emerged into a more impactful defensive role. In a linebacker group that included Jerome Baker and Malik Harrison, Borland managed to eclipse 50 tackles while supplementing his stat sheet with a sack.
Borland planned to return with even more vigor in 2018. However, his plans were put on halt when he tore his Achilles tendon in March during spring practices. Achilles injuries can be devastating for athletes, but Borland pushed through his rehabilitation and ended up not missing a game in 2018 while also logging a career-high 67 tackles.
Borland remained a team captain and a full-time starter in 2019, and while he’s only played five games in 2020, he’s remained a regular defensive contributor.
On the year, Borland has 26 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Like fellow senior Trey Sermon, Borland has accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, where he’ll have a chance to try and sell scouts on his NFL potential.
Tuf Borland struggles in National Championship loss
The Crimson Tide offense abused Ohio State’s defense in a 52-24 National Championship loss. The Buckeyes’ secondary was a large source of ire, but so too was the linebacking core. Baron Browning made a few plays, but Tuf Borland and Pete Werner were less consistent. Borland, in particular, did not move the needle. Borland was consistently sealed off at the point of attack in run defense. Additionally, in pass defense, his lack of compensatory athleticism made him a target for the meticulous Steve Sarkisian.
This mismatch was embodied best by a late-first half touchdown by DeVonta Smith. A safety rotation up top gave Smith a window behind Borland, and his speed easily surpassed the linebacker’s. All Smith had to do was run past Borland, and Borland didn’t have the recovery athleticism or closing speed to keep up. Borland was a valuable leader in his time with the Buckeyes, but his days of being in the starting lineup might be over now.
Are Tuf Borland’s traits conducive to 2021 NFL Draft interest?
Tuf Borland has an All-American name, and his game brings some intrigue as well. Borland has decent size at 6-foot-1, 234 pounds, and he’s built with density. His experience forged a bit of mental security as well. Borland brings decent awareness in coverage. Additionally, he also shows flashes recognizing gaps and anticipating where to fill in.
Borland’s speed noticeably suffered in 2018, the season after he tore his Achilles. There were reps when Borland’s speed served as a noticeable liability. To his credit, he appeared to improve that in 2019 and 2020.
While he doesn’t have great speed or range, he worked his way back to the mid-4.7, mid-4.8 range. Borland also has a modest degree of short-area burst, which can help him move along the line of scrimmage.
Issues with Borland stem from his general consistency and NFL upside. While he remained a steady mental leader in his five years at Ohio State, his play on the field was not consistently at NFL quality. His relatively short wingspan limits his ability in pursuit. There are also times when his streaky angles and tackling errors hinder his ability to finish plays.
Borland has some instinct in coverage, but he doesn’t have the athletic profile to succeed consistently if he has to close ground. He doesn’t have the power to close that athleticism gap, either.
Borland has some decent physical traits, but only that. He’s the third-best linebacker at Ohio State, behind Baron Browning and Pete Werner. His greatest appeal will come from his on-field motor, leadership ability, and perseverance through adversity. Borland likely won’t be a starter at the next level, but he projects well as a backup and special teams standout.
Tuf Borland’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
The Senior Bowl will be big for Tuf Borland. There, he’ll have a chance to endear NFL teams to his leadership ability. But teams need more than that to bank on players with early picks, and Borland doesn’t have enough athletic potential in that regard. However, on late Day 3, Borland brings more value as a backup who can contribute on special teams.
There aren’t necessarily specific team fits for Borland. It’s not a guarantee that he’ll receive consistent experience on the defensive side of the ball. Borland can serve as depth and special teams reinforcement for teams with both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. Neal Driscoll echoed this sentiment in his recent seven-round mock draft when he mocked Borland to the Dallas Cowboys in Round 7.
There’s still time for Borland to improve his stock, of course. The Senior Bowl is a great opportunity. Additionally, if he gets invited to the NFL Combine, he could convince teams that his athleticism is better than it seems. But even if Borland doesn’t go earlier than his projection, he has a shot. His motor and work ethic could help him earn a long-term role at the NFL level.