O'Hara: Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah is one of the best draft day stories in franchise history

Posted Apr 25, 2013

As one of the most athletic prospects in this year's draft, it's Ansah's background that makes his story so compelling

Ziggy AnsahDE Ziggy Ansah
Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah comes to the Lions as one of the best draft-day stories in franchise history.

Whether Ansah becomes one of their best draft picks -- and whether Ansah is the answer to their needs at defensive end -- is another story. It's the only one that will matter in the long run after the Lions took him with the fifth pick in the first round of the draft on Thursday night.

Ansah, who had only one full season of starting experience on Brigham Young's defense, was drafted to play right defensive end on a Lions line that has been rebuilt on the flanks since the end of last season.

Two starters are gone. Right end Kyle Vanden Bosch was released, and left end Cliff Avril, the leading pass-rusher on the front four, signed with Seattle as a free agent.

Ansah, at 6-5 and 271 pounds, is one of the most athletic prospects in this year's draft. The Lions are counting on that ability to make up for his lack of experience as a starter at right end -- the prime pass-rush position. Jason Jones was signed as a free agent to play left end.

Ansah, who turns 24 next month, is a compelling story because of his background. He grew up in Ghana, where he played soccer, and came to the U.S. with his family. He attended Brigham Young on an academic scholarship and ran track, posting times of 10.91 seconds in the 100-meter dash and 21.9 for 200 meters.

He had no football experience until he tried out for the team at BYU in 2010 after twice being cut trying to make the basketball team.

Ansah was highly rated going into the draft by most analysts, and that is one legitimate knock against him.

That obviously did not concern General Manager Martin Mayhew. He wasted little time in putting Ansah's name in when it was the Lions' turn on the clock.

"This guy has tremendous athletic ability," Mayhew said. "Size, speed, power -- all those things.

"I do see him as an impactful player right away. He'll be on the field. He'll be playing for us."

"He was the best player available," Mayhew said, pausing before adding: "And he fills a need."

That might have been interpreted as slight dig at those who have criticized the Lions in the past for adhering to a draft philosophy of taking the best player available instead of drafting for need.

Offensive tackle was a need because of the loss of both starters. Jeff Backus retired, and Gosder Cherilus signed with Indianapolis as a free agent.

However, the three top tackles -- Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson -- went off the board with the first four picks.

Defensive end was only one need. The second and third rounds are Friday, and the Lions have high picks in both rounds -- fourth in the second (36th overall) and third in the third (65th overall).

They can get help in the secondary, offensive line or wide receiver, or draft for depth at positions such as tight end -- or another defensive lineman.

Ansah's physical "measurables" were at the top of the chart for any defensive lineman in this year's draft. His best time in the 40-yard dash was 4.56 seconds. He did 21 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press, had a vertical jump of 34.5 inches and a standing broad jump of 9-10.

Ansah's arm length is almost 36 inches. Combined with Jones at left end, who has 37-inch arms, the Lions have bookends on the front four who can disrupt passing lanes as though they were blockers at the volleyball net.

The Lions' staff got a good look at Ansah in the Senior Bowl, coaching the South team with Ansah as one of the players. He dominated the game with 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Defensive end was an obvious need, given the manpower losses in the offseason. In addition to Avril and Vanden Bosch departing, it does not appear that Lawrence Jackson will be re-signed. He was a backup defensive end and is a free agent.

Ansah qualifies as a diamond in the rough because of his limited football experience. It's up to the coaching staff to polish him. In that regard, all of the linemen should benefit from the presence of Jim Washburn, hired in the offseason to help coach the defensive line.

Ansah's first season on the gridiron for BYU was 2010. He played only six games, mostly on special teams, and had three tackles. He played 12 games in 2011, again mostly on special teams and also at linebacker, and had seven tackles.

His 2012 season turned heads, though. He had 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and nine passes batted down while playing 13 games with nine starts.

The Senior Bowl was an important part of the scouting process for the Lions. They got to look at Ansah in practice and observe his demeanor.

"We watched him get better every single day," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "He's an inexperienced player, but he's a very instinctive player. We liked everything about him. We had a good feel for him.

"He's inexperienced, but he's not a developmental player."