Each year a handful of first-round picks won’t live up to the grandiose hype surrounding them. For that number, an equal amount of undervalued players who get selected in the later rounds will exceed their expectations and become productive players immediately.
Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine certainly fits the latter mold. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound safety played at a high level for four seasons and earned a ton of experience. His unique blend of size and speed could help ease the transition to the next level.
Not familiar with Ballentine? You’re not alone. Although he has already met with a handful of teams including the Chiefs and Cardinals, Ballentine was left off of the NFL Scouting Combine invitee list. That didn’t deter him, though. Instead, he remained focused on maximizing his potential so when the opportunity arose, he would be ready. Ballentine committed himself to getting better and honing in on traditional Combine drills for his pro day at Bommarito Performance in North Miami Beach, Fla.
“Immaculate work ethic,” Pete Bommarito, owner and founder of Bommarito Performance, told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview. “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, who has trained the likes of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, 49ers running back Frank Gore and Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, immediately took note of Ballentine’s long frame and noticed his smooth running ability.
“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.”
With less than a month left in the draft process, Ballentine often reflects on how far he has come since he played his final college game. He hasn’t been alone for the ride, either.
Ballentine, 20, is married with two daughters (Londyn, 4; Laila, 2), which drives him to succeed so he’ll be able to provide for his family.
“It has been long man,” said Ballentine of the draft process. “After my last game I went to train with Pete. I took full advantage of it. I got better. Came back to Memphis to the pro day and I did real well. Since then, it has been a grind. I’ve been taking trips to meet with certain teams, taking physicals, they’re trying to get to know me better.”
The Texans were the latest team to schedule an in-house visit with Ballentine. He’ll meet with them this weekend. NFL teams are only allowed to bring in 30 players from outside their region for interviews leading up to the draft, so it’s important that they make each one count. Ballentine’s pro day left teams wanting more. He reportedly ran a blazing time in the 40-yard dash with a 38-inch vertical jump and did 18 reps on the bench press.
“Anything we did, he attacked it like it was the last play of the Super Bowl,” Bommarito said. “I kept telling his agent that he has the athleticism. If he sticks with the plan, everyone will take notice.”
As the NFL Draft draws near, Ballentine is eager to begin his next chapter.
“It will be a dream come true,” Ballentine said. “I’ve dreamed of this moment all my life. To be able to support my family would be amazing. For my job to be something that I love would mean the world to me. It wouldn’t get any better than that. I want to give my girls the world, man.”