The Lions looked to shore up their pass rush with their first pick in the NFL Draft, as the team took BYU DE Ezekiel Ansah with the fifth overall pick.
A native of Ghana who signed on with BYU as a member of the track team and with aspirations of one day turning his unique combination of size and athleticism into a chance at the NBA, Ansah entered the 2012 season completely off the radar of NFL scouts.
It isn’t difficult to understand why. Ansah had only joined the BYU football team two years earlier and entered his senior season with zero career starts and just 10 total tackles.
Fast-forward a year and Ansah is routinely mentioned as the hottest NFL prospect in the country and a legitimate first-round contender, perhaps even a very high pick.
Playing in all 13 games (but starting just nine of them), Ansah registered 62 tackles in 2012, including 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Ansah likely would have registered more sacks (he had team-high eight quarterback pressures) if not for the Cougars boasting another terrific pass rusher in junior outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy (13.5 sacks).
Taking full advantage of Ansah’s ability to create mismatches, the BYU staff moved him all over the field in 2012, lining up as an stand-up rush linebacker (left, right and middle), a classic defensive end (left, right) and even as a nose guard, at times.
A creative NFL defensive coordinator will likely find Ansah’s versatility, size and power similarly useful.
STRENGTHS: Rare combination of size, athleticism and natural power. Has a long, well-distributed frame with room for additional muscle mass without a significant loss of quickness. Flashes an explosive initial punch to the offensive lineman to gain space.
Possesses rare balance that allows him to maintain his feet despite taking long-strides that gobble up space between he and the quarterback with surprising speed. Balance and surprising lateral agility is also evident in changing directions. Has good — not great — strength but very good natural explosiveness to bull rush his opponent into the pocket.
Slips off blocks when the ball-carrier is near, latching on with his long arms and big hands for the drag-down tackle. Seemed to improve nearly game to game in 2012, especially when it came to locating the football. Began to sniff out screens and draws as the season wore on, demonstrating good awareness and hustle to complement his physical traits. Already shows excellent recognition and use of hands in pass defense, getting his hands up to knock down nine passes in 2012.
Possesses significant untapped potential and is an ascending talent whose best football is ahead of him.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks elite first-step quickness off the snap. Relies too much on his speed, size and an explosive first punch to shock his opponent with his initial surge, struggling to break free if the blocker grabs a hold of Ansah’s jersey or chest plate.
Must learn to chop with his hands most consistently and powerfully to break free once engaged. Allows his pad level to rise and can be pushed back in the running game. Has only played football since 2010 and has just one season as a starter.
COMPARES TO: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants — Ansah is not the same terror-off-the-edge pass-rusher that Pierre-Paul was coming out of South Florida, but he’s similarly gifted and plays with greater commitment to the run. Like there was with Pierre-Paul, there is some risk factor with Ansah, but his upside is through the roof.