Justin Smith thinks teammate Chris Borland should be in the running for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Absurd, right? After all, the 49ers linebacker was limited to special teams until Week 6, and he’s only started four games this season.
And yet ... the 49ers’ third-round pick has been making up – rapidly making up – for lost time. He has 55 tackles in the last four games, which puts him on pace to finish with 1451/2. The league’s current rookie tackle leader, Baltimore’s C.J. Mosley, is on pace to finish with 144.
What’s more, Borland’s plays have made an impact. One snap after his diving fumble recovery in New Orleans, the 49ers kicked a game-winning field goal. One of his interceptions Sunday against the Giants directly led to three points. His second – with a significant assist from fellow rookie Dontae Johnson – foiled a late-game goal-line touchdown attempt in New York.
The 49ers’ defense continues to outperform the offense and Borland has been the heart of the unit since he took over for injured team captain Patrick Willis. He’s been a nominee for the league’s Rookie of the Week award three weeks running.
All of which makes Borland at least a candidate for the offseason award. Here’s his competition:
LB C.J. Mosley, Baltimore
The Ravens’ first-round pick has been doing an impressive Ray Lewis impersonation. He’s tied for seventh in the NFL in tackles with 90. Plus he has two interceptions, seven pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
LB Anthony Barr, Minnesota
The UCLA product has four sacks and an impressive 62 tackles. He’s also recovered three fumbles and forced one on a Vikings defense that ranks eighth against the pass.
OLB Khalil Mack, Raiders
The fifth overall pick in the draft has been a rare bright spot for the woebegone Raiders. But he has one more tackle – 56 – in 10 games that Borland has in the last four. One more demerit: He plays for the Raiders.
DL Aaron Donald, St. Louis
Offensive linemen and offensive coaches rave about Donald’s quickness, and he may be the best defensive lineman in the recent draft. But it may be that his numbers aren’t flashy enough for an end-of-year award. Donald has four sacks, 27 tackles – nine behind the line of scrimmage – and a forced fumble.
CB Kyle Fuller, Chicago
The rookie starter has three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Two of his interceptions came in prime time against the 49ers in Week 2, but he hasn’t had one since Week 3.
OLB Aaron Lynch, 49ers
His three sacks only put him in a multi-way tie for 66th in the league rankings. But, like Borland, his star is quickly rising. All of Lynch’s sacks have come in the last four games, and with Aldon Smith playing on the right side, the rookie will draw some favorable matchups over the team’s last six contests.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.