Ben Boulware LOVES football. That is the first, and foremost thing you should know about this hungry, passion-fueled linebacker from upstate South Carolina. The second thing you should know deals with his collegiate position coach, Brent Venables. The current Defensive Coordinator for the National Champion Clemson Tigers was recently named the winner of the 2016 Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach. Just to put his credentials in perspective, Clemson has had 597 tackles for loss over the past five seasons since Venables has taken over. That’s the most in the nation and 100 more TFL than 125 of 127 FBS teams! When Venables took the Clemson job guess who the first player he extended an offer to was… yep, you guessed it, Ben Boulware. Boulware has been the heart and soul of the Tiger defense and an integral part of that asinine statistic, totaling 19 TFL himself over these past two CFB Playoff runs.
At 6’0” 238 lbs Boulware’s size has been questioned and doubted for his entire career, but that hasn’t stopped him from garnering Orange Bowl Defensive MVP, National Championship Game Defensive MVP, ACC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and Jack Lambert Award honors. Boulware thrives off people doubting his ability, and I have never seen someone play with a bigger chip on their shoulder. He has been one of my favorite players to watch since he stepped foot in Death Valley, and I have no doubt that this is the type of player NFL organizations will be targeting in the later rounds of the draft. Scouts are analyzing his strengths and weaknesses this time of year, and we’ll do the same.
This may seem like a cliché strength for a linebacker, but Boulware truly plays with that high-intensity motor that coaches crave. In my opinion, this isn’t something you can teach. Some players have that switch they can flip on, and some players don’t, and for some players like Ben Boulware, it’s on all the time. This stems from his true love and passion for the game of football. Boulware loves to pop people, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen him shy away from contact.
When Boulware can play with a downhill mentality attacking the line of scrimmage, he is at his best. He is a very instinctual player who does well at reading and plugging the hole. In one on one situations when he is able to get both hands on the running back he rarely fails to bring the ball carrier down.
While many say that Ben Boulware struggles in pass coverage, I would say that isn’t an accurate statement. Boulware absolutely has limitations when he is asked to cover man to man, but defending against the pass in a zone scheme is actually a strength of his. I mentioned above that Boulware is very instinctual, and this is apparent when he drops into a zone in the middle of the field. He does an excellent job of understanding receivers’ routes, reading the quarterback’s eyes and making plays to break up the ball in the air. This is also shown statistically by his 5 career interceptions and 10 career pass breakups.
When Boulware is responsible for covering a running back out of the backfield, he is a huge liability. He can be a little slow at identifying his mark slipping out into space and more often than not doesn’t have the speed or quickness to catch up, resulting in chunk plays for opponents. In his defense, these assignments were often against elite receiving threats such as Dalvin Cook and CJ Prosise, and it’s not quite fair to hand Boulware that responsibility. He doesn’t have the size or length to match up with NFL tight ends man-to-man or the speed to guard NFL running backs, and this is the most glaring weakness in his game.
By no fault of his own, Boulware lacks the desired athleticism of an NFL linebacker. Lateral agility and quickness along with speed are weaknesses of his game, and as a result, he isn’t particularly rangy sideline to sideline. Despite his good hands, his short arms can inhibit his ability to get off blocks once a blocker gets a hold of him. His underwhelming athleticism will likely keep him from a starting role to begin his career, especially with how the NFL covets athletes with the ability to cover multiple positions.
Ben Boulware is tough, nasty, and just downright fun. He’s the type of hard worker and infectious personality that will transition well to a team on the next level. These attributes will no doubt get him drafted in the 4-7 round range and let him stick on an NFL roster. Boulware played extensively on special teams during his first two seasons at Clemson, and his experience and ability in this area will allow him to make an immediate impact on the professional gridiron. It shouldn’t take coaches long in practice to discover that he also has a nose for the football, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him ascend to a 2nd string linebacker role within his first couple years in the league. If an injury occurs in front of him, I could see Boulware stepping up into that starting role and running with it in a similar fashion to what Chris Borland did as a 49er or what Will Compton is doing for the Redskins. Whatever you do, don’t count out Ben Boulware, he won’t ever let you live it down.