Two years ago, I ended up watching quite a bit of video on Washington State's offense, because I did a draft profile on their QB and the Rams signed one of their WRs as an UDFA. The player who jumped out on tape wasn't the QB or the WR, it was their young RB, Max Borghi. As a high school star in Colorado, Borghi was compared to Christian McCaffrey, who also prepped in Colorado. Both RBs had similar running styles and speed. In track, McC's personal best in the 100 was 10.75 sec, only slightly ahead of Borghi's PR of 10.8 sec. and Borghi's best 200 time of 22.07 sec was a hair better than McC's best time of 22.17 sec.
ProFootballNetwork wrote after that breakout 2019 season by Borghi that he was on schedule to be one of the top RB picks in the 2021 draft. They suggested the Pats and the Rams as the top 2 potential landing spots for Borghi and projected him to be a 3rd to 4th round pick (This scenario was reasonable. PFN could not have known at the time that the Rams would draft Cam Akers in 2020 and the 2021 draft wasn't very deep at RB, so it is very possible that Borghi would have been a middle round pick with even just a solid 2020 season. The Pats did end up drafting a RB in the 4th round last year, Rhamondre Stevenson from Oklahoma. Part of the reason the Pats felt comfortable making the Sony Michel trade was they had depth at RB with a collection of players who weren't high picks, including one former 3rd rounder, two 4th rounders and two former UDFAs.)
Instead of a strong 2020 season vaulting Borghi into the early rounds of the NFL draft, here we are in 2022 and the consensus among the major draft outlets and experts is that Borghi is only a priority UDFA prospect. What happened? Was Borghi overrated and overhyped in 2019? Or is he an underrated sleeper in this draft?
I think that Borghi is underrated. While I don't see Borghi as a likely starting RB in the NFL, I think he could be a valuable backup RB. He is worthy of being drafted. I'd look at him for a role similar to how the Pats have used James White, another RB I thought was underrated heading into his draft. White had generally been projected to be a 7th round to UDFA prospect. Experts liked his football IQ, ball security, receiving ability and willingness to block, but they said he was too small, lacked speed, danced and was hesitant in the backfield, got overpowered as a pass blocker, didn't create yards after contact and was limited to being just a change of pace RB. White was 5'9'' tall, 204 pounds with 29 1/4'' arms and ran 4.57 sec in the 40.
The Patriots drafted White surprising early, in the 4th round. He's spent 8 seasons with the Pats and has never rushed for at least 450 yards in any of those seasons. Receiving is his specialty, as he's had over 250% as many receiving yards as a pro compared to rushing yards, including a career high 751 yards in 2018. White isn't a starter, let alone a Pro Bowler, but he's had a more productive career than his more heralded college teammate, Montee Ball (2nd round 2013) and many other RBs drafted ahead of him (including Tre Mason, drafted by the Rams.)
Name: Massimiliano Borghi
College: Washington State
Age: Turns 23 in April. True Senior. Majored in criminal justice.
Measurements (from NFLPA Collegiate Bowl): 5' 91/8'' tall, 211 pounds, 29 5/8'' arms, 9 1/4'' hands, 70 3/8'' wingspan. It doesn't appear that Borghi played in the NFLPA Bowl game and I wasn't able to find any information explaining why. Invited to the Combine.
Prep star in Colorado, 3 star recruit. Initially verbally committed to Colorado, switched to WSU, turned down SH offer from Stanford (McCaffrey's college).
Played in Mike Leach Air Raid offense first 2 seasons in college, then after coaching change was in Run and Shoot offense last 2 years. WSU's coach, Nick Rolovich, was fired in the middle of the 2021 season for refusing to comply with Covid vaccine mandate. Two time team captain. Opted out of 2021 Sun Bowl to start preparing for NFL draft. Had undisclosed back injury in fall camp in 2020 and only appeared in one game that season. Had some type of left wrist or hand injury early in 2021 when hand got bent backwards. Split time with other RBs in 2021, best statistical games happened near the end of the season.
Had 817 rushing yards (6.4 yards per carry) and 86 rec for 597 yards in 2019. Used much less as a receiver in run and shoot offense, he had 880 yards (5.5 yard average) in 2021, with 16 catches for 156 yards. Career 5.8 yards per carry.
Per ESPN, has 4 career fumbles on 525 career touches, a low fumble rate of one per 131 touches. Three of those fumbles came during his 2018 freshman season. Over the last 3 years (or 2 considering he missed virtually an entire season) he only fumbled once, during that period he had 400 touches (297 rushes and 103 receptions), which is a phenomenally low fumble rate. On the play that he fumbled (which happened during the only game he appeared in during the 2020 season) the defender's helmet appeared to hit directly on his hand or the ball, which is what caused the ball to pop out.
5.60 draft grade from Lance Zierlein. Last year, LZ gave Jake Funk a 5.69 grade, with a round 7 to UDFA projection. The Rams selected Funk in the 7th round, 233rd overall. LZ says Borghi is a linear runner lacking wiggle, doesn't hammer the ball up the middle, has short arms, isn't a tackle breaker. Funk was generally ranked as an UDFA on boards last year as well and if we created a composite ranking to compare the 2 prospects, it appears that they would rank very similarly.
Not ranked by CBS Sports
PFN (Tony Pauline) 151st overall (5th round)
DraftCountdown 294th overall (UDFA, consensus board), 262 overall (UDFA, Shane Hallam board), 326 overall (UDFA, Brian Borsarge board)
WalterFootball (Charlie Campbell) 11th ranked RB, round 3 to 4 projection, compared to RBs such as Justice Hill and Chuba Hubbard.
Drafttek 11th "change of pace" RB, 287th overall (UDFA)
Even without making any trades, the Rams hold two picks in the 7th round this year, so if Borghi otherwise would be an UDFA, they could take him there. If we assume for discussion that another team would take Borghi in the 5th round, then since the Rams don't pick until the end of the 5th round, the slot they would have to use to acquire Borghi (absent moving around via trade) would be with the compensatory 4th rounder the Rams are expected to be awarded. Below, I compare Borghi to a player taken in the compensatory portion of the 6th round in last year's draft. If we assume that Borghi is still on the board in the same range this year, consider that the Rams are expected to be awarded 3 picks in the compensatory part of the 6th round.
Outstanding contact balance. Bounces off of hits and can recover in situations where other RBs would fall down, then keep running for more yards. Will fight for yardage and refuse to go down. Spins out of some tackles and keeps balance.
Quick feet. Smooth acceleration, enough speed to zoom around corner and beat defenders to the edge. Set up LB with dead leg and cut inside to beat defender. On draw play, sharp cut smokes the LB. Has speed burst when he sees open space in front of him. One of his better runs didn't count, because play was blown dead, but he showed nice burst to explode through small opening at LOS, great timing to anticipate hole developing, could have been big gainer. Dances around traffic with nimble feet.
Good vision and patience as a runner. Nice cutback on wide zone run, bending it back behind weakside guard. Has eyes on LBs behind action at LOS and can feel penetration coming from DL, veers away from congestion or evades hits with subtle cuts. Lets his blocks develop and sets up defenders with hesitation moves while behind lead blocker, then hits the hole or goes around edge with acceleration burst.
Draw play on 3rd & 19, bursts by the first defender, breaking an arm tackle, evades a diving second defender, cuts sideways and stiff arms the third defender and gets pushed out of bounds just short of the first down marker.
Runs with forward lean. Has ball tucked away securely when he gets tripped up on tackles. Bicep stays on ball. Runs with low center of gravity and can burrow forward.
Stiff arm is more effective than you'd think, given his short arms and lack of strength. Has good timing and accuracy with stiff arm, pushing defenders down or away.
Excellent lateral footwork and burst to get away from tackle attempts.
Calm and confident hands catching the ball. Extends hands away from body and can make catches on off target throws that are high or behind him. Plays bigger than his size as a receiver due to good hands.
Tempo on releases into route from backfield very good. Effort to get out and maintain timing of route in progression. Very good on wheel routes. Carries out fake blocks with deception, then slips by defenders. Makes himself available to the QB in scramble situations. Wins on angle routes with sharp cut and efficient steps. Flexible enough to turn is body and catches passes slightly behind him in the flat.
Willing pass blocker with good awareness and effort. Sees blitzes coming from out wide by CBs and reacts to them. Scans with eyes. Helps OL with chip blocks. Initial check as pass blocker is for potential LB blitz in A gap to right of the center. RB sees that no blitz is on and immediately scans back to see that LT is in trouble. RB has to range several steps to protect outside edge of LT and gets there, so when DE goes around the LT the RB meets him with a powerful hit into the chest, stuffing the pass rush and knocking the defender backwards. Good effort blocking in the open field for WR on pass play.
Disciplined footwork and attention to detail in his technique when setting up fakes on counter runs or carrying out play action fakes. Initial step on draw play effective to make it look like he's pass blocking. On run fake for play action, the positioning of his head and shoulders effective to make it look like a run.
Enough athleticism to leap and hurdle over defenders.
Very confident in himself. Leadership skills, was team captain. Says that he was underutilized in college and was never in a scheme where he was a true feature RB, was in pass oriented spread system, then wasn't used as a receiver playing in the run and shoot.
Blocking issues with the OL let him down at times.
Versatile, due to his combination of running ability, blocking and receiving ability.
Despite lacking experience in pro style system, he is advanced in technique and has good football IQ, which makes me think he could be ready to play in an NFL game sooner rather than later.
Has habit of constantly wanting to bounce the run outside instead of cutting upfield and taking on defenders. Some of bounces are the correct read and I have no issue with, but other times it seems like he's either shying away from getting hit or searching too hard to break a big run and instead of just taking the yardage that is there and being a North-South runner he goes East-West.
One example of what I mean, the OL does a good job opening up the middle and RB is clean through the line. He sees a weakside defender (a safety?) in the middle of the field. Instead of continuing straight up the field and taking on this defender, the RB tries to bounce sideways almost 90 degrees, getting swallowed up by 2 different defenders (one pursuing from behind). In my opinion, if he had just put his head down and continued going straight, the RB would have gotten an additional 3 to 4 yards on the run.
Tentative on some cutbacks, taking extra steps, seems to shy away from cutback instead of slamming into defenders and moving them backwards. The exact opposite of Cam Akers and his style. In open field, doesn't finish run by delivering blow, gets passive and "sits down" getting tackled instead, dances instead of plowing forward.
Below average running power and tackle breaking ability. Unable to break some tackles in the backfield that an NFL RB should be able to escape. Doesn't add yards after contact or finish runs well. At crucial juncture late in 4th quarter with his team down by a TD, he gets hit in open field at the 2 yard line by a gang of defenders and gets bounced sideways, unable to power his way into the end zone.
Doesn't string together moves as runner with creativity or elite quickness. I think he can make some plays in the NFL, but he's not going to remind anyone of Barry Sanders.
Did not play in NFL scheme. Ran out of pistol and shotgun formations against light boxes.
Lacks length and body mass when pass blocking. Opens himself up to inside moves sometimes. Saw CB blitz coming, but whiffed when CB cut to the inside, giving up QB hit on release of pass. Let LB slip inside of him on another block. Knocked around like a pinball on some plays when blocking. Easily shed by LB with 2 hand swipe move trying to pass block. Doesn't sustain pass blocks, gets pushed away.
Creates small target for QB due to being short and having short arms. Shovel pass was behind him and he couldn't bring ball in, bouncing off his hands for an INT. Was wide open in end zone, but unable to dig out off target pass low and behind him.
Projects to have limited special teams value. Only 2 career kickoff return attempts. Small size limits his value on coverage units and as blocker.
Does not fit profile of every down starting RB. Projects as complementary, part time RB or a reliable backup player. High floor, but lower ceiling prospect.
I don't know anything about his back injury, but if there is some type of long term durability question, it might create a medical flag.
Pro Comparison and Draft Grade
Herbert had a 5th round projection from Lance Zierlein last year. He had the best PFF grade among all of the 6th round draft picks. Herbert had a better PFF grade (78.8) than the much more heralded Elijah Mitchell of the Niners (76.3) so while Mitchell had almost 1,000 rushing yards last season, Herbert made a decent first impression himself. Herbert saw much less action, most of it coming in a 4 game stretch filling in while David Montgomery was injured. On the season, Herbert had 433 yards with 4.20 yards per carry.
Herbert is 5'8 7/8'' tall, 210 pounds with 31 1/4'' arms and 8 5/8'' hands. He ran 4.50 sec in the 40 at his Pro Day. Borghi supposedly ran 4.35 sec in the 40 in high school.
If they were in the same draft, I would select Borghi ahead of Herbert. So, if Herbert is considered to be a decent backup, I don't see why Borghi can't stick on an NFL roster and contribute. Herbert was drafted 16 slots before the Rams took Jake Funk.
If we pencil in Jake Funk as 3rd on the depth chart for the Rams, a competition between Borghi and Funk would be an interesting battle. Both RBs are similarly sized. Funk posted excellent testing scores at his pro day, but he also had multiple ACL injuries and lacked experience. Funk is probably the better special teams player, but I'd give Borghi the nod in terms of pure running ability.
While RB isn't a high draft priority this year for the Rams, I believe that a team has to always be looking to add fresh legs to the mix, because it is a position group that typically has injuries (which we saw last season), requires depth and if the strategy is to never give out lucrative 2nd contracts to your RBs, you'll have to keep cycling through new RBs in order to replenish the group. So, if you can find a solid player without investing much money or draft capital it is one way to efficiently check that box and focus more of your other resources towards other positions. The nice thing about Borghi is that if the other NFL teams agree with most of the draft experts and see him as an UDFA, the Rams could potentially acquire him without using a pick (sign him as a priority UDFA) or by using a 7th rounder (like Funk) so the investment would be low. Borghi needs a good Combine performance to jump back into the spotlight and boost his draft stock.
Max Borghi might not be drawing Christian McCaffrey comparisons from the media anymore, but he's still a potential value pick for an NFL team in the 2nd half of the draft.