Throughout their 47-year history, the Seahawks have boasted plenty of superstar power from Tackle Walter Jones to receiver Steve Largent to quarterback Russell Wilson. But many of the most successful teams in their franchise history also featured unheralded standouts who played a key role leading the team to success. In a multi-part series, the All Seahawks staff will revisit several of these forgotten role players and see where they may fit if they played in the league today. To open the series, long before Jamal Adams made his way to Seattle, Michael Boulware emerged as a quality strong safety who excelled near the line of scrimmage and shined for the team’s first Super Bowl squad.
As the first player in franchise history to record a turnover in the Super Bowl, Michael Boulware may only be known to some Seahawks fans as the answer to an obscure trivia question. A player who flashed and was full of potential, he ultimately was overshadowed by many others on a star-studded team and around the league, including his older brother, Peter, who starred for the Ravens.
Personally, however, Boulware was my favorite player during the Seahawks run to their first Super Bowl appearance in team history. Even more than that, he represents a fascinating “What if…?” scenario. Would Boulware have been more successful playing in today’s NFL?
Boulware starred at Florida State as a strongside linebacker, recording 340 career tackles over his collegiate career. He was a finalist for the Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player and a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker as a senior. A true workout warrior, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds and his agility scores were fantastic with a 3.92 second short shuttle and a 6.89 second 3-cone drill. The knock against him was his middling 6-foot-2, 225 pound measurements at the combine. The prevailing thought was that Boulware would need to switch positions in the NFL and play strong safety given the size of most NFL linebackers at the time.
Indeed, the Seahawks selected Boulware 53rd overall in the second round of the 2004 NFL Draft with the expectation that he would transition to strong safety. During his rookie year, he played in all 16 games while starting four. Despite his mostly backup role, he made an immediate impact recording two forced fumbles, a sack, and five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown to seal the game in victory against the Dolphins – and give Boulware NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors . He was named to the 2004 NFL All-Rookie Team and finished sixth in the NFL AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.
In 2005, Boulware started all 16 games again while helping the Seahawks reach their first Super Bowl in franchise history. He once again made his presence known with a forced fumble, 2.0 sacks, and four interceptions during the regular season and made history with an additional interception of Ben Roethlisberger in their Super Bowl XL loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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Unfortunately, Boulware struggled in 2006, giving up big plays on a regular basis and losing his starting role for half of the season. He was eventually traded to the Texans in 2007 for former first round pick Jason Babin. Boulware was eager for a “Fresh start” after fizzling out in Seattle, but would never regain the success of his first two years in the NFL and was out of the league after an injury in training camp with the Vikings in 2008.
With this knowledge in mind, would Boulware be a better fit in the NFL in 2022 as opposed to 2004? Digging deeper, would he even have been asked to switch positions from linebacker, where he was a force in college? I don’t think so.
Look at the current landscape of the NFL and the prevalence of smaller, more athletic linebackers. Patrick Queen – a player who will forever be linked to the Seahawks’ decision to draft Jordyn Brooks in 2020 – was drafted 28th overall in 2019 and widely viewed as one of the best young linebackers in the NFL. At the 2020 NFL Combine, he measured 6-foot, 229 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds. Devin Bush, the 10th overall pick in the 2019 draft, measured 5-foot-11 and weighed 234 pounds. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, the short shuttle in 4.23 seconds, and the 3-cone drill in 6.93 seconds. Both players have been successful in the NFL and are within the same size, speed, and agility thresholds.
Taking things a step further, Cody Barton is almost an inverse of Boulware in that Barton started off as a roving safety / linebacker in college before transitioning full-time to linebacker during his time at Utah. At the 2019 NFL combine, Barton measured 6-foot-2, 237 pounds, though it was noted that he weighed 227 pounds at the Shrine Game. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds, the short shuttle in 4.03 seconds, and the 3-cone drill in 6.90 seconds. Size-wise, Barton was nearly identical to Boulware, and the agility scores are also strikingly similar.
While he has been mostly relegated to special teams and a backup role, Barton has shown enough promise filling in for Bobby Wagner in 2021 that the Seahawks are excited about his potential as one of the starting inside linebackers for the 2022 season. Boulware, like Barton, had the agility and short-area quickness to be successful in coverage along with defending the run, making him ideally suited as an inside linebacker or perhaps a hybrid linebacker / safety role that some NFL defenses make use of today. His weaknesses in coverage as a safety would not have been magnified either.
Of course, we’ll never truly know how Boulware would fit in 2022, nearly two decades after he first played in the NFL and 15 years after he played his final regular season snap. But I think a good argument can be made he wouldn’t need to change positions if he were coming into the league today and had all the tools to be just as successful as a linebacker in the NFL as he was in college. Maybe, just maybe, Boulware would have been a stud manning the middle and as a result would have sustained a far longer career than he did as a safety.