Mr. Irrelevant: Highlighting Lonnie Ballentine and Other Notable Mr. Irrelevants
Who knew being last could be so much fun?
Dating back almost four decades, there has been a week’s worth of celebration when it comes to the final pick in the NFL draft each year, dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant.” As part of the Undefeated.org's 'Irrelevant Week,' there's a parade for the young man, he gets to go to Disneyland and even gets his own trophy, the Lowsman Trophy (a parody of the Heisman that displays a player fumbling the ball).
This year’s “winner” is University of Memphis free safety Lonnie Ballentine, taken by the Houston Texans with the 256th selection Saturday evening in New York City.
The first official Mr. Irrelevant was wide receiver Kelvin Kirk, who the Pittsburgh Steelers took with the 487th selection in 1976. That was the first year for the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks and the last year of the 17-round draft.
So here’s a look at Ballentine, as well as some of the more memorable Mr. Irrevelants over the years.
And it includes one story that you will have a hard time ever forgetting.
S Lonnie Ballentine (2014): Houston Texans
Round and Overall Selection: 7 (256)
It seems curious that a team that totaled an NFL-low 11 takeaways this past season would opt for a player who totaled zero interceptions in 2013.
But perhaps a match between the Houston Texans and Memphis free safety Lonnie Ballentine may produce something that cures what ails both parties.
In 12 games with the Tigers this past season, the 6’3”, 219-pound defender totaled 58 tackles and knocked down five passes but did fail to record an interception. Ballentine picked off a total of three passes in his four seasons in Memphis, all of them coming in 2012.
Can Ballentine help new coach Bill O’Brien’s team immediately? It doesn’t appear likely since he’s still learning. As Gil Brandt of NFL.com said of Ballentine, “He played all four years in college, but is a very young player playing a new position at free safety.”
O'Brien said, "He's a guy that's a physical player so to me he's a versatile guy that can obviously help us on defense but maybe go down in the box a little bit in a linebacker-type position and obviously special teams. He was a guy that we had targeted."
The Texans totaled just seven interceptions this past season in 16 games, one less than Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (eight) totaled in 2013.
Hence, any help for the Texans would be…relevant.
PK Ryan Succop (2009): Kansas City Chiefs
Round and Overall Selection: 7 (256)
School: South Carolina
We now join this player’s career, already in progress.
This weekend, former University of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft. In 2013, the final player drafted was tight end Justice Cunningham via the University of South Carolina.
Just five years ago, the Kansas City Chiefs made another Gamecock relevant by making him Mr. Irrelevant. The club added placekicker Ryan Succop with the final pick in the 2009 draft.
In five seasons with the Chiefs, the specialist has connected on all 160 PAT attempts and converted 81 percent (119-of-147) of his field-goal attempts. In 2013, Succop scored a career-high 118 points for Andy Reid’s club.
LB David Vobora (2008): St. Louis Rams
Round and Overall Selection: 7 (252)
A total of 16 starts in three seasons with the St. Louis Rams followed by six games with the Seattle Seahawks hardly screams standout career for linebacker David Vobora.
Still, the former University of Idaho product managed to do better than most when it came to being the final pick in the draft.
In 2009, Vobora started 10 games and totaled 46 tackles for the Rams. A year later, he played in 14 games, racking up 36 tackles and a pair of sacks.
S Michael Green (2000): Chicago Bears
Round and Overall Selection: 7 (254)
School: Northwestern State (La.)
Safe to say that defensive back Michael Green made his mark in the National Football League.
Perhaps he left a few marks as well.
That year, the Chicago Bears added linebacker Brian Urlacher and safety Mike Brown in the first two rounds of the draft. Green lasted until the final pick and carved out a respectable career, mostly in Chicago but also starting games with the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins.
In an eight-year career that spanned those three clubs, Green played in 104 games and made 48 starts. The versatile defender totaled six sacks, picked off four passes and forced seven fumbles. He was a 16-game starter for the Bears in both 2002 and 2004.
RB Jim Finn (1999): Chicago Bears
Round and Overall Selection: 7 (253)
In seven seasons with the Indianapolis Colts and then the New York Giants, fullback Jim Finn didn’t pile up a lot of yards from scrimmage (453) or touchdowns (one).
The Ivy League product lined up on special teams, returning a total of five kickoffs for 64 yards in his career. In fact, the longest play of his career of any type was a 27-yard reception versus the Washington Redskins in Week 3 of 2003 while with the Giants.
Finn did catch 60 passes for 423 yards and a score, which means he totaled just 30 yards on the ground in 11 carries. However, he played in 106 games and made 45 starts, primarily at fullback, and did his share of the much-needed dirty work out of the backfield.
LB Marty Moore (1994): New England Patriots
Round and Overall Selection: 7 (222)
Flash back 20 years, when the National Football League had only 28 teams, Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Parcells was the head coach of the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick was in his fourth season at the control of the Cleveland Browns.
In any case, linebacker Marty Moore managed to hang around the NFL for eight seasons, seven of those with the Patriots (one season with the Cleveland Browns in 2000). He played in 112 games, making 19 starts, and managed to pick off three passes along the way.
In his third season, Moore played for New England in the team’s 35-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXI.
C Matt Elliott (1992): Washington Redskins
Round and Overall Selection: 12 (336)
When the Washington Redskins made University of Michigan center Matt Elliott the final pick in 1992, little did they know he would be on the field sooner than later.
The then-defending Super Bowl XXVI champions saw the former Wolverine play in all 16 games and start a pair in his rookie campaign. While that was the end of his career in D.C., he would wind up with the expansion Carolina Panthers. Elliott spent three seasons with the new franchise, starting 32 games at guard and center from 1995 to 1997.
It’s also worth noting that the former Michigan product was the last selection in a 12-round draft. The NFL went to eight rounds in 1993, and the current seven-round format began in 1994.
RB John Tuggle (1983): New York Giants
Round and Overall Selection: 12 (335)
The 335th pick from California also returned nine kickoffs for 156 yards during his rookie season with Big Blue.
But perhaps we could all gain from his story, as told by Parcells in this emotional piece produced by ESPN Films.
QB Bill Kenney (1978): Miami Dolphins
Round and Overall Selection: 12 (333)
School: Northern Colorado
When is Mr. Irrelevant really relevant?
That would be when he is actually not the last pick in the draft. And that requires a relevant explanation.
The Dallas Cowboys made guard Lee Washburn the 334th pick in the 1978 draft, but he never even got to training camp due to injury. So the honor went to University of Northern Colorado quarterback Bill Kenney, who was picked by the Miami Dolphins and eventually released (hey, I don't make the rules).
Two years later, he was with the Kansas City Chiefs and played nine years for the club, being named to one Pro Bowl while leading the club to the playoffs in 1986. He started 77 games for the team, throwing for 17,277 yards and more touchdowns (105) than interceptions (86).