One of the biggest points of Reggie McKenzie's plan as the GM for the Oakland Raiders is to bring in people that have a lot of heart and have overcome adversity. There isn't a better example for that plan than 5th round selection out of Florida, Neiron Ball.
6'2 1/2", 236lbs
22 Bench Press
2014: 49 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 2 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble
2013:25 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass defensed
2012: 10 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
2011: DNP (Brain Surgery)
2010: 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Neiron Ball is the perfect example of Reggie McKenzie liking players that have overcome adversity. Ball lost both of his parents before he was 10 years old, had brain surgery from a very rare hereditary condition (Arteriovenous Malformation, also known as AVM) in 2011, and had microfracture surgery on his knee back in November. Still, he has passed his tests and was deemed worthy of a 5th round pick by the Raiders.
This is definitely the most head scratching pick from the entire draft for the Raiders. Ball was not expected to be drafted at all considering his injury history, let alone be drafted in the 5th round. The only drill he was able to do at the NFL combine was the bench press because of his knee surgery, and he wasn't the most productive linebacker in college at Florida University due to missing substantial time with his injury history.
However, there is something to be said for overcoming adversity and what that can do for you as a person and as a professional. Neiron Ball has faced some extremely hard times in his life, yet here he is having his dream fulfilled by being drafted into the NFL. He could have quit and been beaten numerous times in his life, yet he has battled through it all and found his way into the NFL.
He is a good athlete with solid strength despite being undersized and he is more than willing to take on larger blockers to make plays. He is versatile (a theme among the entire draft for the Raiders) having played on the outside in both a 3-4 scheme and a 4-3 scheme while also spending some time as an inside linebacker as well.
His athleticism is good enough to cover man to man, but he also is good at playing side to side along the line of scrimmage. He has special teams experience and is going to be eager to show his willingness there as one of the areas that he will be able to contribute right away.
Weaknesses include his extensive injury history and is a slow reactor at diagnosing plays. He needs to learn to react quicker instead of trying to digest all of the information before making his move. His recovery from the microfracture surgery is a big unknown with him, and is a concern considering he already was slower at getting into action from diagnosing plays. He believes he is fully healthy but he will need to show it when he does get back on the field.
How will Ball fit with the Raiders?
The Raiders obviously felt they had a need to add more linebackers both for their special teams abilities but also because of the subpar play from Miles Burris who wont be with the team in 2015. Ball will have opportunities to play considering the need for depth at the linebacker position, he will most likely be staying on the outside over the inside positions though.
Where he will definitely be getting some playing time if he makes the team will be on special teams where Reggie McKenzie is known to like the bigger bodies with athleticism that linebackers offer. If he can make a name for himself on special teams first it will go a long way towards gaining the trust the coaching staff must have in him before he gets extensive playing time at any of the linebacker positions.
Really, Neiron Ball has been through so much in his college career that it is hard to know what he brings to the table for the Raiders. He is athletic, he is motivated, and he is ready to go all out for the team. He will have to do much more than he did in college to remain with the Raiders, but if he can stay healthy he could find a spot for himself on the team at OLB or even just as a special teams ace.