NFL Draft

Neiron Ball Is Beating The Odds To Become An NFL Draft Prospect

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Former Florida Gators linebacker Neiron Ball spent five years in Gainesville, Florida. The fifth-year senior is now doing NFL Draft Prep (training) at Bommarito Performance Systems as he readies himself for his Pro Day which is slated for April 7th. What Ball is doing is similar to basically every other top prospect across the country making their path towards the NFL Draft.

That is where the similarities stop.

“I didn’t want to die,” said Ball.

It first began with pain in his neck during practice. The throbbing discomfort continued to persist in the morning session and led Florida head trainer Anthony Pass to send Ball home for some rest.

Ball left practice on Valentines Day (2011). The unbearable aching did not cease for Ball. It only worsened as the day continued on.

“Excruciating,” said Ball referring to the pain he felt. “I could not even look down.  My initial thought was I just want this pain to go away. I was hoping it wasn’t life threatening.”

It was the last thing Ball expected to encounter after leaving Jackson High School (Georgia) as a four-star recruit who the Gators envisioned as their future defensive end.

“Football wasn’t even a thought when I was going through that,” said Ball. I wasn’t just trying to survive.”

Ball woke up the next day and doctors determined he had a rare medical condition known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), where the brain’s blood vessels get knotted and rupture. The bleeding on Ball’s brain could have cost him his life.

Fortunately, Ball recovered and was given another chance at life. He is taking on the next challenge in his path and looking to earn his keep on a 53-man NFL roster.

“It is like a dream come true,” Ball said as he is readying himself for the NFL Draft.

He originally played quarterback growing up and spent some time as a defensive back before moving to linebacker. Former Gators head coach Urban Meyer wanted him to be up front playing defensive end, but that changed once they got him to Gainesville.

“They wanted me to play defensive end,” said Ball. “They saw my athletic ability and that I could drop in coverage and they moved me to linebacker.”

Ball appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman before missing the next year due to his illness. He returned to full strength one year later (2012) and started two games. He continued to work his way back to form and Ball made his first career sack in 2013 against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

In his final season with the Gators, Ball played in nine games, making seven starts. He finished with a career high 49 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble. He missed the last three games of the year after hurting his meniscus that required surgery.  Ball was tied for second on the Gators defense in tackles at the time of the injury.

Only a couple short months ago Ball said he “was walking with a limp” and now he is pushing on all cylinders when attacking his 40-yard dash in practice. He arrived at Bommarito Performance System at 217 pounds and added nearly 20 pounds (19) of muscle to his lean frame.

“My rehab went well,” stated Ball. “I’m training for my drills. I feel good. Injuries come and go.”

With a clean bill of health, Ball can now focus on his Pro Day and the chance to impress the teams that attend.

“I’m able to play in the box,” says Ball referring to some of the qualities scouts will revel in when breaking down Ball as a player. “I can drop in coverage and plus I can rush the passer.”

Ball’s versatility is his ticket to the next level as a three-down linebacker. In a league that emphases the passing game the talent Ball brings to the table plays well in his favor. He can be stout against the run and use his size (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) to show his fluid smooth hips and quick feet to drop in coverage. Those intangibles few possess at his position, but Ball is not a one-trick pony. He can do it all.

“I really like Von Miller (Denver Broncos) and Jamie Collins (New England Patriots),” said Ball. “I really like to watch those guys. I kind of remind myself of them and Justin Brown (Kansas City Chiefs) too.”

Each one of those linebackers he mentions are able to stay on the field and provide their respective teams with three-down play at an extremely high level.

In limited action throughout his career at Florida and rehabbing his injury, Ball was still an invitee to the NFL Scouting Combine. It validates the potential NFL teams see in Ball. Projected to be a fourth to sixth round pick, his Pro Day will be paramount in determining his value on draft day.

Ball anxiously awaits the opportunity to display his array of talents to NFL Scouts, and conquer another obstacle in his path.


About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates College2Pro.com. He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.