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2017 NFL Draft: Ben Boulware scouting report

Today we break down and profile inside linebacker Ben Boulware out of Clemson.

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers will most certainly be addressing the linebacker position in the 2017 NFL Draft. The question remains, like with any position, is where they will invest that draft capital? There is certainly justification for the 49ers to invest in the position as high as a first round selection. However, as we know very well by now the team has the number two overall selection and there just isn't any prospect that meets that value. Reuben Foster has been discussed as an option, but only a trade-down in the middle of the 1st round is the only way I see the 49ers selecting Foster. However, it isn't Foster or bust, and there are plenty of intriguing options at the linebacker position in this draft.

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If draft prospects were measured based on how much heart they play with, Ben Boulware would be a first round talent, no question. Now, back to reality, and the intriguing Clemson product is realistically hoping to hear his named called on Day 3. Boulware was the captain of the Clemson defense and a major contributor on the program’s rise to elite status these last two seasons. He plays a nasty and physical brand of football who always has a nose for where the play is going to happen. Of all the Clemson linebackers over the past five seasons including Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, and B.J Goodson, no one had better football instincts than Boulware. Simply put, Boulware always seemed to find himself breaking up a play, or causing havoc in the opposing teams backfield as a pass rusher.

Ben Boulware is a “Firecracker” as his defensive coordinator Brent Venables would call him. He has this swagger and personality. He goes by the beat of his own drum. While some may see this as cocky, I personally like the confidence and electricity he brings to the field. His story is quite intriguing and the article “From ‘selfish’ teenager to team captain for Clemson” by Aaron Brenner of the The Post and Courier is certainly worth a read.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Watching the film, Boulware is constantly on the move. He developed a nice blend of speed, vision, and instincts to put himself in a positive position to make a play on the ball carrier. Found himself in position to make big plays in crucial moments of the game. Similar to teammate Deshaun Watson, Boulware seems to pay his best when the lights are shinning the brightest. Plays tough, plays physical, plays relentless. Boulware is as competitive as they come. He is a no-nonsense player who demands respect in the locker-room. Beloved by his teammates, and was a great example of why you never let your emotions get the better of you (See The Post and Courier article). A major positive for him is that he has two years of experience playing special teams, which will most likely be his ticket towards a long-lasting NFL career.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Here were Boulware’s stats from the 2016 season: 116 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes broken up, 3 forced fumbles.

2X First-Team All-ACC team selection

The Basics

School: Clemson
Jersey Number: 10
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 238 lbs.
Arm Length: 30 1/2”
Hands: 10”
40 Yard Dash: 4.85
Bench Press: 20 Reps
Vertical Jump: 29.5”
Broad Jump: 111.0”
3 Cone: 7.02
20 Yd Shuttle: 4.43
60 Yd Shuttle: 12.13

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

How the measurables translate for Linebackers (Stats courtesy of Draft Breakdown)

Drill Target Explanation

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Drill - Target - Explanation

40 yd dash - 4.80 - Speed over distance
10 yd split - 1.70 - Initial quickness
225 Bench - 24 - Upper body strength
Vertical Jump - 33″ - Explosiveness
Broad Jump - 9’6″ - Explosiveness
20 yd shuttle - 4.20 - Flexibility/burst/balance
60 yd shuttle - 11.7 - Endurance
3 cone drill - 7.20 - Agility/COD

Do Your Homework

NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Below is a section of highlights and game film of Ben Boulware in action. Opponents include: Alabama, Wake Forrest, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Florida State, Norte Dame, Miami, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Boston College, South Carolina.

Pros

  • Tough as nails, relentless, super competitive, strong leader.
  • Even for his size, Boulware plays a physical brand of football.
  • Has a nose for the football. More often than not, finds himself where the ball is going, especially against the ground attack.
  • Big-Time Playmaker who plays his best late in games and when the lights are brightest.
  • Can break-up passing lanes and knock receivers off-balance. Can watch the quarterbacks eyes and anticipate where he is going to make a play.
  • Has been utilized in many blitz packages in Clemson’s defense and is willing to take on lineman, and has the ability to make his presence known in the opponents backfield.
  • Is light on his feet and possesses proficient balance.
  • Has great straight-line speed, especially in blitz packages.
  • *Multi-year starter on special teams (Freshman and Sophomore Seasons)

Cons

  • Is undersized for the position. This includes both his frame and his arms.
  • Lacks the lateral speed of an inside linebacker traveling from east-to-west.
  • Will “Take the bait” on certain plays which knocks him out of position.
  • At times, can be overmatched physically by the opposition.
  • Struggled against the run between the gaps.
NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Summary

The big question regarding Ben Boulware is if he can have a successful career in the NFL. I believe the answer to that can be yes. However, I don't think his career will begin as a starting linebacker. Instead I believe he will begin the first part of his career mainly on special teams. This doesn't mean he will never play linebacker, because I think his heart, ball instincts, physical style, grit, and determination can all get him there. He is just going to need a couple of seasons to adapt himself to the speed of the NFL.

So ... Why would the 49ers be interested? Boulware will be a day 3 selection, possibly even a UDFA, though I believe someone will take a flier on him in the later rounds. The 49ers need linebacker help, and while he wont be lining up next to Bowman next season, he can learn and develop from Bowman and others guys ahead of him on the depth chart. The 49ers can continue to add depth to a position that is in dire need of talent…and who knows, perhaps Boulware can develop into that fierce and gritty linebacker that we saw in Chris Borland during his lone season in 2014. Bottom line…investing a seventh or even sixth round selection if the 49ers so choose would not be too risky for a physical linebacker who has strong leadership qualities, and plays with heart and determination.

Draft Projection: 6th-7th Round