Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah
5th overall selection by the Detroit Lions
Overview: When the Detroit Lions entered the off-season they had some glaring holes defensively, but the lack of talent or even bodies at defensive end was staggering. With Kyle Vanden Bosch let go due to salary cap purposes and Cliff Avril moving on in free agency, the Lions were left with 4th year pro Willie Young and 2012 4th round pick Ronnell Lewis who have a combined 18 tackles and 3 sacks for their careers. Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz used their #5 overall selection in the first round on Brigham Young defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah, a player who at the beginning of the year was a virtual unknown. Ansah’s rise from obscurity culminated in a dominant Senior Bowl performance for the South team which was coached by Jim Schwartz and his Detroit Lions staff. Ansah had an up and down week of practice but was all over the field on gameday with 7 tackles, 3 1/2 for loss, and 1 1/2 sacks, displaying the power and raw athleticism that had scouts drooling. Widely considered a project in need of development, Ansah will benefit from finally settling into his new weak side defensive end position after playing all over the front 7 for the Cougars in 2012. Lining up next to defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and across from veteran left end Jason Jones should ease the transition for Ansah and help acclimate him to the NFL game. Those four players give Detroit one of the most talented and potentially dominant fronts in the NFC and should help mask some of their deficiencies in the secondary.
Position Battles: If the season were to start today, the Lions defensive front would have Ansah at right end, Fairley and Suh at defensive tackle, and Jason Jones at left end in Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham’s “wide 9″ 4-3 defense. 4th year pro Willie Young looks like the first end of the bench in the rotation and could push Ansah if he struggles early with the transition to the pro game. Both Young and Ronnell Lewis could end up as a rush end in passing situations sliding Jason Jones inside to rush from the defensive tackle position. Ansah has excellent versatility and could rush from a number of different spots on the line, and even as a stand up linebacker. Outside of an occasional break to keep from wearing down, there is no situation that should keep Ansah off the field. His power in the run game, athleticism off of the edge, and the glut of talent around him make Ansah an early favorite for defensive rookie of the year honors
Notable Match-Ups: Ansah will open up his Lions career facing the Minnesota Vikings and left tackle Matt Kalil, a match-up which should develop into an intense inter-division rivalry. Ansah will also have to lock horns with some of the games best left tackles like Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins Trent Williams, Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals, and Philadelphia Eagles Jason Peters. Outside of those names, his rookie season has a few advantageous situations for him to create havoc upon like his week 2 contest against the Arizona Cardinals and their revolving door at left tackle currently manned by Levi Brown, 2 games against the Chicago Bears, and Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd year tackle Mike Adams. Ansah is a candidate for double digit sacks when combining the help around him and his likely individual match-ups.
2014 and Beyond
While Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah will start at right end for Detroit, he is capable of playing anywhere on the line. Ideally, he may be at his best as a strong side defensive end where his power and versatility in both facets of the defense would be showcased. He is Detroit’s most athletic edge rusher, but he is hardly an elite pass rusher and struggles to bend at the ankles when running the arc. If the Lions were to obtain a pure pass rush threat better suited for the right side, Ansah could easily and effectively flip over to the left side without a drop in production. This makes him even more valuable to the Lions and cements his position as a defensive cornerstone in the motor city. Detroit has all 4 defensive line starters locked up through the 2014 season, the oldest of which is 27 year old Jason Jones. Martin Mayhew will have his hands full trying to keep everyone on his defensive line financially happy, but if he does he just may have put together the NFL’s next great defensive front.