Twentyman: Is Ziggy the Ansah for the Detroit Lions' defense?

Posted Apr 25, 2013

The Lions addressed their biggest need by selecting Ziggy Ansah with the No. 5 overall pick, an athletically gifted - but inexperienced - defensive end

Ziggy AnsahDE Ziggy Ansah
The Lions' biggest need heading into Thursday's NFL Draft was at defensive end. With only three edge rushers currently on the roster – Jason Jones, Willie Young and Ronnell Lewis -- the Lions addressed their biggest need by selecting the athletically gifted Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah with the No. 5 overall pick.

"He's the best player available and he fills a need," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said of Ansah. "This was an opportunity where the grade matched up with the need and it worked out great for us."

The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder from BYU is one of the draft's most athletically gifted players -- but also one of it's more inexperienced.

He's drawn Jason Pierre-Paul comparisons due to that raw athleticism, but he's only been playing football since 2010, after coming to the United States from Ghana on an academic scholarship.

He tried his hand at basketball and track & field before walking on to the BYU football team in 2010.

The Lions were first introduced to him at the Senior Bowl, where they coached him for a week on the South team.

"Well, he can play anywhere across the front," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "Ziggy's played nose, he's played five technique, he's played 4-I, he had never played nine before our game.

"It was an adjustment period for him. I mean, he didn't know very much at all in the beginning of the week. But every practice you saw him get better, and then the game came and he dominated the game."

Ansah was the Senior Bowl's most outstanding player after recording 1.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss and forced a fumble playing in the Lions' Wide-9 scheme.

"We've seen everything that we need to see from him and we think he's a very good fit for us," Schwartz said. "You know, he can play right defensive end, he can play left defensive end. We can move him around a little bit. He has that kind of skill set."

The Lions have seen their sack total drop each of the last three seasons and will be breaking in two new starters – likely Jones and Ansah – after the loss of Cliff Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch following the season.

"He's got the speed of some of the players that we've had in the past, but you're also talking about a 270-plus-pound guy," Schwartz said. "Six-5, he's got great length ... it really is amazing when you consider that he's been playing football for just a couple years."

Therein lies the gamble for the Lions. He might be the best pass rusher in this draft, but that's a little bit of a projection because there's not a whole lot of experience or game tape to go on. Ansah had 4.5 sacks playing multiple positions for BYU last year.

"We didn't draft him as a project," Schwartz said. "Again, we saw everything that we needed."

Mayhew said the Senior Bowl put to bed any worries he had about Ansah's lack of experience.

"I think if we didn't have the opportunity to coach him at the Senior Bowl, that would have been a bigger issue," Mayhew said.

"But we had the opportunity to work with him and teach him and we saw the way that he could learn, how quickly he picks things up and we saw the impact that he had in the game, so we felt very comfortable with him."