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Florida Gators in the 2015 NFL Draft: Finding a home for Neiron Ball in our Player Mock

Can one of Florida's feel-good stories find an NFL home?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a football age where pass rushers' premiums rise every year, the traditional linebacker role is being forced to take a back seat. With more teams moving to the 3-4 bases, trying to be as versatile as they can with where they can attack the line of scrimmage, base 4-3 linebackers, used more for coverage and range at the second level, are becoming less predictable in the draft.

In comes Neiron Ball, who played both outside and inside in Will Muschamp' 3-4. But beyond the skills, Ball's story is of incredible perseverance. He lost both his parents before he was just 10 years old, and he had brain surgery in 2011 after being diagnosed with a rare, hereditary condition. He's no stranger to overcoming the odds, so let's see if NFL think believes he can do it again.

STRENGTHS:

Good athlete with adequate play strength for his size. Willing to take on lead blockers and play physically against the run. Plays with toughness. Played outside 'backer in a 3-4 and 4-3 and took reps at inside 'backer. Stays square to line of scrimmage, using controlled footwork to slide along line of scrimmage. Has ability to cover man to man. Doesn't quit on a play. Will continue bird-dogging a play until whistle sounds. Has speed to close out on perimeter and uses same burst as decent pass rusher. Can cover kicks and punts. Mentally tough and has overcome difficult circumstances in his life

WEAKNESSES:

The microfracture surgery he underwent in mid-November is a substantial concern. Slow with his eyes. Gets off of playaction and into coverage slower than desired. Inconsistent with diagnosing quickly and attacking. Looks like a thinker rather than reactor when playing inside. Angular linebacker who could use more bend and leverage in his game. Had brain surgery in 2011.

We see they certainly note Ball's ability and determination to overcome, but on the field what stands out is his athletic range with a long body frame. He's above average in his football IQ, coverage ability and technique while in pursuit and when engaging blocks, and is decent when rushing the passer. The negatives are his instincts are a tad slow, and he's not elite at anything, athletically speaking. With the scouting sheet in mind, let's look at his mockdraftable chart for perspective.

mockball

To me, what stands out is that his athletic numbers are being compare to much bigger, bulkier linebackers on the inside. That's not how we see Ball play, or where NFL team would like to see him win. That's what makes this tool useful. If he's poised to be an outside linebacker, but shows inside linebacker traits, will he pan out?

Let's move on to some team that may believe he will be worth a selection no matter which LB spot he ends up in. Ball's had some good interest as of late, and as a projected 6th-7th round player, here's who may be looking to snatch him up.

  • Combine Meeting: None
  • Pro Day Meeting/Workout: None
  • Private Workout*: Cardinals, Falcons, Steelers, Rams
  • Private Visit: Broncos, Texans, Patriots, Bucs

*different from a private visit, which would've included an extended stay to meet personnel.

My initial thought form that list is that most of the teams who had him in for private visits are 3-4 teams, but all of which could be good fits. Mainly, you're looking at Ball as a special teams player in his first few seasons. If he can gain weight and also get more explosive off the ball in the process, then we're talking about a guy who could come in and start a few games. So what could be a few landing spots for that scenario?

Round 6, Pick 205, Indianapolis Colts

Robert Mathis is 34, Trent Cole is 32, D'Qwell Jackson is 31, and Jerrell Freeman is 29; that's all four of their starting linebackers. There's also not much to brag about behind those guys, either. Ball can come in an be an immediate spark on special teams, then be able to gain some weight, learn from linebackers who have had extended NFL careers, and possibly make his mark in 2017-2018.

Round 6, Pick Pick 184, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers are a 4-3 team who have a good chance of taking Ball simply because he could provide reliable zone and man coverage for a linebacker spot that is desperately needed in their Tampa 2. Add that to the fact they only have six linebackers on the roster, and you can see why they've given him some extra evaluation time. I think Ball would get significant playing time sooner in Tampa, and again would be an immediate special teams player in his first two seasons.

Round 7, Pick 219, New England Patriots

The Patriots love to draft Gators and they love to draft linebackers, so why not Ball? Belichick likes to assemble as many linebackers as he can, because until you get players into your facility, you'll never know exactly where they can be the most effective. In the Patriots Multiple Defense scheme, we see them move linebackers around to both ILB and OLB, but also throw them in the mix as defensive ends. It's a unique system that might give Ball the best chance to find where he can play at the next level. If Ball is still sitting around in round seven, my money is on the Pats to pick him up.