When you have three very good linebackers already in place, including two All-Pros in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and a couple of promising upstarts that begins with third-year guy Shaq Thompson, linebacker obviously was not a major concern for the Carolina Panthers in the 2018 NFL Draft.
However, when head coach Ron Rivera noticed former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware was still on the board at the end of the draft, he called and offered the All-American a free agent contract.
“He went undrafted and I’m not quite sure why,” Rivera said to the Panthers’ media this past weekend.
Boulware wasn’t either. The Anderson, S.C. native told ESPN he sat on the couch watching the draft and waiting for this phone to ring for three days. Boulware and the Panthers officially came to terms on a free agent deal on Monday.
“It sucked,” Boulware said to ESPN. “It was a long three days. I was by my phone the whole time waiting for a call and didn’t get one.”
But as Boulware said on twitter after the draft, this is a moment he will use as motivation as he heads to Charlotte for rookie minicamp and beyond.
Boulware’s fiery attitude and always intense nature is one of the things the Panthers like about the 6-foot, 238-pound linebacker.
“He is instinctive. He is tough,” Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman said. “He will tag your fanny. He is smart. He is all the stuff we are looking for. We are very excited about him.”
Rivera is excited, too, and he can’t wait to see Boulware compete at Carolina for a roster spot.
“He is a winner,” the Panthers’ head coach said, “and I’m excited about getting him here and having him be a part of our rookie program. I want to watch him compete because he has done some really good things so it is exciting.”
Boulware will have to beat out guys like former Duke star Jeremy Cash, six-year veteran Ben Jacobs, third-year guy David Mayo and second year player Jared Norris.
“One of the things Dave talks about is the fine linebackers that want to come here and compete. When you look at our roster, it is a solid group of linebackers,” Rivera said. “Al Holcomb has done a great job with them. But here is a young man that is in our backyard … this is a young man that has been very successful in his career and he played on a very successful team and helped lead them to a national championship.”
And once again Boulware is out to prove to himself that all of those critics and those that did not draft him were wrong.
“I’m in the business of proving people wrong,” Boulware said. “They said I would never play for Clemson or never start or never make an impact. I was a consensus All-American the past two years, so I’m not really sweating what the critics say.
“I’m really not trying to prove anybody wrong. I’m trying to prove myself right, that I’m capable of playing at this level, because I know I am.”