The Houston Texans don't have a big need at safety but decided to take Memphis free safety Lonnie Ballentine anyway as this year's Mr. Irrelevant.
Ballentine is an intriguing height/speed prospect, as Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com points out:
Exceptional size, length and closing speed. Can get over the top and leverage the field. Plays with emotion. Superb pro day workout, posting some sub-4.4-second 40 times and a 38-inch vertical jump. Flashes straight-line striking ability when he has a clean angle.
If you're going to take a late-round risk on a player, you might as well take a risk on one with plus physical attributes. No player available that late in the draft is going to come in and play right away, but if they have something exceptional about them physically, then I believe they have a better chance to develop if coached up well.
A late-round prospect who was successful in college because of intangibles or because he outworked everyone but was limited physically won't have a very high ceiling at the NFL level because he can't improve his weakness.
However, if the player has great physical attributes but is lacking on the mental side of the game, then he has a chance to improve with the right coaching. I'm not saying teams should only draft the most physically gifted in every round; this only applies to late-round prospects.
Just because Ballentine is physically gifted doesn't mean he can stop working hard. His trainer, Pete Bommarito, told Ross Jones of Fox Sports that he continued to work hard after not getting invited to the NFL combine.
Immaculate work ethic. Absolutely perfect. The hardest part about this process when you’re not a Combine invite and you see your ranking as a priority free agent is to be focused on every rep in front of you. You can’t be focused long term.
There are two types that come in who don’t get invited to the NFL Combine: ones that make excuses and ones that go to work. Some players have it and some don’t, Lonnie has it.
Bommarito went on to praise Ballentine for his physical gifts:
He has a pure track body and a perfect stride,” Bommarito said. “It’s rare. If anything we were just trying to maximize his speed. You’re not going to find a guy that weighs that much, who is that tall and can run a legitimate 4.3 40-yard dash.
Ballentine has many roadblocks in front of him. Here are the first two:
The first roadblock, of course, is where he was drafted. As a seventh-round pick, the Texans will have barely anything invested in him financially, so he'll likely be one of the first guys cut if the team has tough decisions to make on cut day.
The second roadblock will be the players in front of him on the depth chart. The Texans had six safeties on their roster before drafting Ballentine, so someone will have to go. I doubt the Texans would hold seven safeties on the roster. Ballentine will have to prove that he's better than one of the other players to earn a spot.